Jeep’s micro-SUV goes where others fear to tread
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.
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.
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.
Apart from driver apprehension, little will slow this little off-roader down.