- Really IS a Jeep
- Quiet on most roads
- Off-road capability when needed
- 'Easter egg' design touches
- Clever removable roof panels
- Styling too cute for some
- Rear-seat room unimpressive
- Safety scores unknown
- Fuel economy not yet rated
The 2015 Jeep Renegade is a smart blend of ruggedness and livability that works as well in crowded cities as on muddy roads.
While it may be larger and heavier than the original World War II-era Willy Jeep, the 2015 Jeep Renegade is absolutely the smallest Jeep sold in decades. It's smaller than everything else in the lineup, fully 16 inches shorter than the "compact" Cherokee SUV. Its minimal size reflects its mission: to extend the Jeep brand outside North America to conquer a share of the growing market for very small SUVs around the rest of the world, where even the Jeep Cherokee is too large, let alone a Grand Cherokee.
The Jeep Renegade is targeted as much at South America, Europe, and Asia as the U.S.--though it's likely to do very well in its homeland as well. It offers true Jeep functionality in a package that's actually not much smaller than the compact crossover utilities of 10 or 15 years ago, plus modern features, far better safety ratings, and decent fuel-economy numbers as well.
Reflecting that adaptation to global markets, the Renegade is offered with a remarkable array of 16 different powertrains globally. We'll only get two in North America, however. The base engine is a 160-horsepower turbocharged 1.4-liter four, putting out 184 lb-ft of torque, paired with a six-speed manual gearbox. For more power, a 180-horsepower 2.4-liter four producing 175 lb-ft of torque is combined with a nine-speed automatic gearbox, clearly the only such nine-speed in any subcompact on the market.
All-wheel drive is a $2,000 option with either engine, and in true Jeep fashion, it includes settings for extreme conditions: Mud, Sand, or Snow, plus a hill-descent braking mode. The top-of-the-line Trailhawk model, with an inch more ground clearance and different front and rear bumpers to allow steeper approach and descent angles, adds a Rock mode and the ability to crawl at very low speeds.
The design of the 2015 Renegade neatly splits the difference between rugged and cute. It's a tall, slab-sided, and upright little utility, but its stylists deliberately oversized some of the details to emphasize its heritage. The headlights flanking the seven-bar grille are large and round, with clear lenses that let you see a little stylized Jeep-front icon in the projectors, if you look closely. The rubber-lipped wheel arches are large and trapezoidal, the bumpers on both ends are stamped to show off their strength, and at the rear, the rectangular taillights have an "X" pattern in them that was appropriated from the one stamped into WWII fuel cans to strengthen them. It all sounds a little contrived, but by the end of our day-long test drive, it all seemed familiar and appropriate.
Inside, the dashboard and console are slightly more robust versions of what you might find in a subcompact. There's hard plastic over larger surfaces, soft-touch vinyl where passengers may come into contact with a panel, and otherwise slightly oversized controls. The two center air vents sit in a little pod on top of the dashboard that resembles nothing so much as the cartoon character Wall-E. Ventilation knobs are large, round, silver, and easily to understand at first glance.
The little Jeep is very capable off-road, as its engineers were anxious to prove. Our test drive included a remarkably steep climb up rutted dirt and gravel mountainside roads, and then a descent at close to 45 degrees in which the Renegade braked itself and controlled the traction on each wheel as it slowly crawled down the steep track. It can traverse boulders almost as large as its 16-, 17-, or 18-inch wheels, ford streams, and generally acquit itself well in the kind of dirty, muddy, off-roading Jeeps (or their designers) revel in. It's no Jeep Wrangler, but it's good for a little utility.
Still, Renegades will likely spend 95 percent of their time on city and suburban streets. As the entry-level Jeep, it's suitably refined and surprisingly un-Jeep-like from the inside. It all just works, and if it weren't for the military-inspired textures, truck-like styling of the controls, and numerous Jeep logos hidden all over the car, you might not know it came from the Jeep brand at all. (We counted almost a dozen Jeep grille images, X-shaped impressions, plus a map of the Detroit skyline in a rubber bin pad, a tiny Yeti climbing up the edge of the rear windows, and others.)
On the road, the little Jeep is surprisingly quiet and refined for such a tall, bluff vehicle. Tire noise varies enormously, from virtually none to quite a lot on certain rough concrete surfaces, but there's virtually no wind noise at speeds of 70 mph or less. That's doubly impressive when you factor in the relatively vertical windshield and the nice big rectangular door mirrors.
The seats are comfortable and nicely bolstered, and the Renegade is clearly wider than other subcompact AWD entries, meaning the shoulders of the two front-seat riders are suitably separated. Rear-seat room is acceptable for two adults if the front passengers are willing to move their seats toward the dash, but this is still a subcompact, and rear-seat room isn't its strong suit. There's substantial cargo room behind the rear seat, which folds flat, as does the front passenger seat—allowing long items to be carried inside diagonally from dashboard to rear corner.
The Jeep Renegade sits on a version of the platform underpinning the Fiat 500L, with some additional engineering for strength. Fully 70 percent of its body structure is made of some type of high-strength steel, and it's been designed with all the latest crash tests in mind. Seven airbags are standard, as is a rearview camera, and available electronic safety systems include Forward-Collision Warning Plus with automatic braking, lane departure warning and correction, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. Jeep executives made no predictions about the Renegade's performance on crash safety tests.
The 2015 Renegade comes in four trim levels: the base Sport (starting at $18,990 for the base 2WD version), the mid-level Latitude ($22,290), and the top-of-the-line Limited ($25,790). All-wheel drive is a $2,000 option. All can be ordered with either powertrain and with front- or all-wheel drive. Then there's the Trailhawk model ($26,990) with its greater off-road capability, which only comes with all-wheel drive and the larger 2.4-liter engine with the nine-speed automatic. All prices above include the mandatory $995 delivery fee.