Un­like what you’ve seen be­fore

Go! Camp & Drive - - Contents -

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.

Big sur­prises

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...

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