Wild child

Jeep’s mi­cro-SUV goes where oth­ers fear to tread

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

RENE­GADES are al­ways a prob­lem, as the fast-grow­ing mi­cro-SUV seg­ment is about to dis­cover.

Jeep’s take on the baby cross­over adopts the same high-rid­ing hatch for­mula as its ri­vals but then ups the ante with a Trail­hawk ver­sion that com­bines com­pact di­men­sions with se­ri­ous off-road prow­ess.

Jeep ac­knowlsedges that most cars in this class are front­drive, which is why it has 2WD ver­sions to help cut the price, along with all-wheel drive vari­ants for those who want to step up in per­for­mance and ride height.

Be­ing Jeep, it also has a true four-wheel drive that will clam­ber up steep slopes, ford streams and rock-hop with the best of them.

The squared-off two-box body has the head and legroom to take four adults in com­fort, backed by a de­cent 351L cargo area and an ex­u­ber­ant twotoned in­te­rior with metal bezels on most of the dash con­trols and a seven-inch dig­i­tal driver’s dis­play. No sur­prise that Jeep is chas­ing “youth­ful and ad­ven­tur­ous” cus­tomers with this ve­hi­cle.

VALUE

The Rene­gade is go­ing to be a prob­lem child for Jeep Australia in terms of pric­ing, for a cou­ple of rea­sons.

The Aussie dollar’s decline against the green­back and euro (the Amer­i­can brand’s new­est car is made in Italy along­side the Fiat 500X) won’t do it any favours when it comes time to set prices be­fore the Oc­to­ber launch.

Just as trou­ble­some is the stable­mate Pa­triot, now $25,500 drive-away.

The Rene­gade is a demon­stra­bly bet­ter car than the Pa­triot in ev­ery area, from driv­ing dy­nam­ics to in­te­rior de­sign, so it is hard to see this light SUV be­ing priced be­low the larger Pa­triot. That will give the im­pres­sion that the Pa­triot and sim­i­larly sized Compass are be­yond their useby date, even though a re­place­ment for the pair isn’t due un­til 2017.

In the US the base Rene­gade Sport front-driver sells for $US18,990, climb­ing to $US26,990 for the top-spec Trail­hawk 4WD. A straight cur­rency con­ver­sion equates to $24,400-$34,700.

Ri­vals such as the Nis­san Juke and Peu­geot 2008 start at about $22,000, while the Skoda Yeti is $23,490 and the Holden Trax costs from $23,990.

The Jeep has a higher qual­ity in­te­rior with smart use of soft­touch sur­faces, a range of dig­i­tal dis­play sizes and an airi­ness the com­pe­ti­tion can’t match, an­other span­ner in the pric­ing works.

DRIV­ING

A front-drive Rene­gade Sport with 1.4-litre turbo en­gine and six-speed man­ual was the ap­pe­tiser in the mod­els rolled out for me­dia testing in the hills around San Jose. Not many peo­ple will buy it but those who do will have the per­for­mance pick of the lit­ter.

The en­gine wants to rev and does its best work from above 2500rpm. As the torque cham­pion of the petrol en­gines, it eas­ily over­comes the base Rene­gade’s rel­a­tively hefty weight of 1381kg and doesn’t need as many gear shifts, even on de­cent in­clines with tight turns.

The Australia line-up is ex­pected to start with a man­ual

Those who buy the 1.4-litre turbo with sixspeed man­ual will have the pick of the per­for­mance lit­ter

1.6-litre, largely to keep a lid on costs. The US doesn’t get this vari­ant, so we’ve yet to drive it. The out­puts won’t chal­lenge the turbo sib­ling for ac­cel­er­a­tion times.

The Limited and Trail­hawk use a 2.4-litre four-cylin­der matched to the best ex­am­ple of Jeep’s nine-speed we’ve driven yet. Good thing, too, as the en­gine it­self doesn’t feel like a head­line act.

Much im­proved on up­shifts, the auto can still hes­i­tate be­fore de­cid­ing how many ra­tios to kick down in re­sponse to right­foot pres­sure.

The ride is sportier than regular light SUVs, to the point where it can be tire­some on badly bro­ken or ridged sur­faces. The up­side is that body roll and float­i­ness are all but elim­i­nated.

Grip is no­tice­ably ab­sent, though, so most own­ers aren’t likely to push the Rene­gade too hard. Given how well the sus­pen­sion works and the so­lid­ity of the body — this ve­hi­cle uses the great­est pro­por­tion of high-ten­sile steel of any Jeep — the tyres are the ob­vi­ous cul­prit and I’d be try­ing bet­ter af­ter­mar­ket hoops to im­prove its con­tact on bi­tu­men.

The elec­tric steer­ing is di­rect and has de­cent heft but is largely life­less. An elec­tric park brake is more user-friendly and has freed up space in the cen­tre con­sole for a pair of full-sized cupholders.

The MySky re­mov­able roof pan­els, a nod to the Wran­gler’s top-down abil­ity, stow in a bag be­neath the boot floor.

Off the beaten track, the regular all-wheel drive mod­els en­joy 200mm of ground clear­ance, backed by Jeep’s Se­lec-Ter­rain drive mode setup that op­ti­mises steer­ing, shift points, throt­tle map­ping and sta­bil­ity con­trol in­ter­ven­tion for var­i­ous sur­faces.

It eats gravel roads and mud with ease. The plas­tic cladding around the lower body and wheel arches is there for prac­ti­cal rather than dec­o­ra­tive pur­poses.

The Trail­hawk takes of­froad­ing to the next level, with a low-speed crawl abil­ity, an ex­tra off-road mode, hill de­scent con­trol and 220mm of clear­ance backed by 205mm of wheel ar­tic­u­la­tion and de­cent ap­proach/de­par­ture an­gles.

VER­DICT

Apart from driver ap­pre­hen­sion, lit­tle will slow this lit­tle off-roader down.

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