For urban jungles
There are cues to the original Jeep but a 2WD Renegade is mostly city friendly — and it’s an exchange rate casualty
DON’T be fooled by the looks. Jeep’s mini-SUV isn’t the rougharound-the-edges, goanywhere off-roader it appears.
Yes, there is a Trailhawk edition that will take you off the beaten track but the majority of Renegades will be 2WD city-friendly models more suited to the mall than the Rubicon Trail.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The new-breed Jeeps, a lot more civilised than their predecessors, will appeal to the large chunk of buyers who spend most their time in the city.
There’s a slight problem, though. The falling Australian dollar has meant this little Jeep comes with a big price tag. Entry to the mini-SUV class starts with the Mazda CX-3 at $21,990 but the mid-spec Renegade Longitude in the Carsguide garage costs $34,500.
The Renegade may be a departure from Jeep DNA in its engineering but the design plays heavily on the company’s heritage. The cabin is full of reminders of what you’re driving, from the logos on the seats to the Jeep grille motif stamped on the centre console and the X in the tail-lights recalling the stamps on the jerry cans carried on the original wartime Willys examples.
The Renegade cabin is a mix of functional details, funky colours and modern materials. There’s a grab handle on the dash for the passenger, while the seat cover materials look durable and hard wearing.
Jeep says the interior is inspired by extreme sports gear and there is a Swiss Army knife feel about it.
That extends to the twin sunroofs that can be detached and stowed in the rear load area to give an open air feel.
There are still plenty of hard plastic surfaces. Not everyone is going to like the splashes of bright colour on the dash, doors and centre console but the look is a refreshing change in an increasingly vanilla automotive landscape.
It also feels roomier than others in its class, although when you compare measurements it is no longer than its rivals.
The feeling of space comes from the upright front and rear windscreens.
Standard Renegade spec brings only a reversing camera for navigating the urban jungle and the Longitude model adds blind-spot monitoring, parking sensors, auto headlights and rain-sensing wipers.
The blind-spot monitor can be a pain. Other versions simply flash a symbol in the side mirrors but the Renegade’s emits a beep. If two lanes of traffic are turning together, the alarm goes off. Frequently. The centre screen and camera display are on the small side but the menu is easy to navigate and the graphics are modern and sharp. A locking glove box, cargo cover and false floor are handy for storing valuables.
The 1.4-litre turbo engine feels zippy off the mark but the dual-clutch transmission is frustratingly jerky when you’re creeping forward in stop-start traffic.
The engine stop-start is also slow to kick back in when you lift your foot off the brake, so the car can roll backwards if it’s on an incline. The electric park brake is a deft touch, though.
ON THE ROAD
The Renegade uses a joint FiatChrysler platform, which means it drives less like a Jeep and more like a hatchback. Despite its off-roader looks, it sits as close to the ground as some sedans, which pays dividends on the bitumen — it leans less in corners and sits flatter on the road.
On the open road, the little Jeep feels quite agile. It is relatively unflustered by patchy bitumen and has surprising grip and poise, while the suspension shows a good balance between control and comfort, soaking up bumps without being too softly sprung.
The steering isn’t razorsharp but has enough feel for family duties at the speed limit. A digital speedo helps keep you out of the clutches of speed cameras.
The little 1.4-litre turbo punches above its weight. Its power output of 103kW is modest but it has a good supply of torque available at low revs, which means it feels brisker than most of its tiny-tot SUV rivals.
It also feels refined, without any of the harshness you
typically get with smaller engines in the upper reaches of the rev range.
At lower speeds, the dualclutch transmission grumbles but on the highway it shifts smartly and cleanly, wringing the most out of the engine.
Jeep claims fuel consumption of 5.9L/100km — drive the Renegade enthusiastically around town and that figure will climb into the teens pretty quickly.
A good car hamstrung by an unfavourable exchange rate, the Renegade has more character than most of its rivals and backs that up with a solid feel on the road. At $34,500, it is in danger of pricing itself out of the market.