JEEP RENEGADE LIMITED AWD
Unlike what you’ve seen before
Imagine yourself sitting in Italy for the launch of a Jeep. It doesn’t make much sense, right? You should rather experience this in America. Maybe in Moab, Utah. Or on the Rubicon Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains. But the Renegade isn’t your average Jeep – it’s the result of a joint project between Fiat and Jeep. Now, before you choke on your muesli or pork crackling, you need a short history lesson. When Chrysler, Jeep’s owner, threw in the towel in 2009 when the world economy took a nosedive, Fiat, a pension fund, and the American and Canadian governments bought the company together. As the new company’s financial situation improved, Fiat continued buying out the other shareholders until it gained full ownership in 2014 and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, or FCA, was established. Right, so that’s the background. One of FCA’s main goals of their 2014–2018 business plan is a certain growth in sales – sales where especially the Jeep name has to help. And that explains why they already started planning a compact 4x4, aimed at city slickers, a few years ago. If you quickly had to think of a competitor it would probably be something like the Mini Countryman or maybe even a Mazda CX-3. But hey, they’re not Jeeps.
Under the surface
The Renegade is built on the same chassis as the Fiat 500X, another soft off-roader. But the Renegade is surprisingly dexterous in the bush, especially in the Trailhawk version, which also has a proper low-range gearbox.
The model we tested was the only other four-wheel-drive model in the Renegade range, namely the 1.4 Multair2 petrolturbo that develops 125 kW at 5500 r/min and 250 Nm at 2500 r/min. These do not have lowrange gears but still have a function where you can adapt the clutch control and gears to certain conditions like tar road, snow, mud and sand. Connected to that engine is a smooth nine-speed gearbox. Yes, nine gears. Where this gearbox struggles in the bigger Cherokee, here it’s an
absolute pleasure. The reason for this is not because it’s a bad gearbox, but rather that the software that controls the Cherokee’s probably doesn’t have the same algorithms. Because where its shifts – especially if it’s too fast – drive you to drink, the Renegade’s is really brisk, whether you’re on the open road or cruising in the city.
What’s really striking about the Renegade is how spacious it is inside. If you look at the boxy shape it’s not surprising that in its class it’s one of the few vehicles where four adults can sit reasonably comfortably. The Renegade has a few visual surprises, or “Easter eggs” as the designers call it. If, for example, you opened the petrol flap, you’d see a tiny plastic spider (not scary, I promise, and I’m afraid of spiders) with a speech bubble with the words: “Ciao, baby!”. The inspiration for this was when Fiat shipped the first prototypes to America and on arrival a dead spider was discovered in one of the cars’ petrol flaps. So they decided that all Renegades would from now on have the same “Italian” spider. In the middle console there is a topographic map inlaid in rubber. There’s an old Willys Jeep hidden in the black border around the windscreen. You can go and on – there are literally dozens of hidden “Easter eggs” in and around this vehicle. Because of the short loan period we didn’t have the opportunity to test it in the bush. But when I drove it in Italy we tested it on a proper 4x4 course. With its ground clearance of 200 mm (the Trailhawk’s is 220 mm) you’ll more or less get to drive everywhere other vehicles with high range get to drive given you have the right tyres. Luckily the size of the 215/60 17-tyres is so that you’ll get off-road tyres of more or less the same size. The instrumentation is very comprehensive and the middle touchscreen has numerous handy functions. One of the idiosyncrasies, however, was that the system decided to sporadically revert to Italian. So I had to struggle through the Italian interface to revert back to English. Maybe it’s the choice words I had for those people not using their indicators before they’d even braked to turn that incorrectly confirmed the Renegade’s suspicions that I'm Italian.
For R501 900 it’s more expensive than the Mini Countryman (R424 500) and also a whole lot more expensive than the R304 900 for the Renault Duster 1.5 dCi 4x4 (manual). Bear in mind though that it’s probably the most competent of these three and that it has a nine-speed gearbox. Purely from a price point of view, it has an uphill battle. But Jeep reckons its trademark’s history and the Renegade’s characteristics will equip it to overcome those two obstacles. Let’s see what the people say.
FRESH. The Renegade represents Jeep's first foray into the market for compact SUVs, but there's a lot of hidden clues to the company's history. It has the same classic 7-slot grille and round headlights (above) as other Jeeps. Then there is the little detail in things like the rear light clusters (left) which mimics the embossed pattern on a metal fuel jerry can.