For those hal­cyon days

AL­WYN VILJOEN pon­ders a chop in the Jeep Rene­gade

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING -

STU­DENTS of car de­sign can stop learn­ing about Fi­bonacci ra­tios and how those Bauhaus prin­ci­ples gave use­ful shape to any­thing from seats to di­als.

For nowa­days, the de­sign­ers who grew up with CAD seem to have di­vided the mar­ket into two groups — those who understand tat­toos, and those who don’t.

Cars for the un- inked are rather plain, with cran­nies that must open and nooks that must close — the clas­sic eight­ies Land Cruiser comes to mind.

Cars that please tat- wear­ers have curves in sur­pris­ing places and play­ful mo­tifs hid­den in ev­ery shaven crevice.

The Hyundai Veloster used to be the ul­ti­mate car for skin- inkers, what with its ex­u­ber­ant curves on top of curves, a cute lit­tle Shark re­lief in the dash­board and that third door.

The Veloster has now been de­throned, how­ever, by the Jeep Rene­gade, which ups the ante with tiny inked pro­files in the win­dow lin­ing and a spi­der re­lief in the fuel in­let pipe.

I must con­fess I was pre­pared to dis­like the Rene­gade that we tested on prin­ci­ple, and not only be­cause both came in vir­u­lent ca­nary yel­low or be­cause I don’t have any tats.

Get­ting all the wrong ideas

I had my sus­pi­cions that — deep down — the Rene­gade is a very su­per­fi­cial car.

There is the badge engi­neer­ing for a start. If you don’t know it yet, be­hind the trade­marked seven bars of the Jeep grill sits a Fiat 1,4 Mul­tiAir en­gine.

There is the 56- page “brochure” that takes for­ever to down­load silly pic­tures, like a mous­tached bloke cy­cling un­der wa­ter, but of­fers only a few lines about the de­sign of the trape­zoidal wheel arches and not a word about tech­ni­cal specs.

And then there is the pop­u­lar myth that the Rene­gade is a small cross­over. Its a big ve­hi­cle that al­most ri­vals the Nis­san Qashqai in size, okay? That back bench com­fort­ably seats three peo­ple, with a large, 351- litre boot for their lug­gage. We checked.

There is also the weighty mat­ter of a 1 320 kg kerb mass. Sure, the 1,4 Mul­tiAir en­gine won The Best En­gine award back in 2010, but surely its 103 kW and 230 Nm are too puny to pro­pel the Rene­gade’s bulk any faster than an ice floe?

But most of all there is the sky­high price of R375 990 for the 1,4T two- wheel- drive model.

The Fiat 500X with the same driv­e­train costs less than R320k, so why pay more?

It dares you to push harder

At low revs in stop- start traf­fic, the long gear ra­tios and high revving power band did noth­ing to dis­pel my mis­giv­ings. The nanny slip con­trol also re­quired shut­ting off be­fore I could get up a sandy in­cline.

It was only when we hit the Mid­lands’ curvy roads, where I could feed the Ital­ian mill the revs it was starv­ing for and boy, that this lit­tle rene­gade proved all my as­sump­tions mostly wrong.

On the op­tional 18- inch Gran­ite Chrys wheels ( yours for only R6 900), the three test driv­ers agreed that the small­est Jeep de­liv­ered a planted drive that dares you to push it harder.

The grip con­tin­ues long af­ter our lim­ited tal­ents ended.

The top- heavy Rene­gade, we learnt, is sur­pris­ingly fun to drive if you keep the rev nee­dle in the power band and trust the elec­tronic sta­bil­ity through the cor­ners.

Note, th­ese sums did not add up to the same to­tal of en­joy­able driv­ing just an inch lower on the stan­dard 17- inch wheels. In­stead, the elec­tric steer­ing then acts like a thick jer­sey — ac­cen­tu­at­ing the curves, but smothering the de­tail, like the nail I picked up in the left front wheel.

Why Jeep driv­ers pay more

The nail caused a slow leak that I would nor­mally only no­tice by the time I am sliding into a cor­ner. The Rene­gade, how­ever, comes with tyre pres­sure sen­sors on each rim, and the one on the left lit up the dash­board with news of the leak, and con­tin­ued to show the pres­sures of each tyre. Best of all, there is a full- size spare in the boot, so you don’t have to wait for a flat bed to come tow you to town to change the tyre, as most lux­ury Ger­man cars in­sist you should.

And when a few friends hooted and waved in pass­ing in the shop­ping mall, even I had to ad­mit this car makes peo­ple smile.

I was be­gin­ning to see why Rene­gade own­ers are will­ing to pay so much.

In­stead of be­ing su­per­fi­cial, this big lit­tle Jeep may have what it takes to be­come a font of hal­cyon road trips for those lucky enough to af­ford one now, and a cult car for those in the know later. Just be sure to or­der the 18inch wheels.

PHO­TOS: OEM SUP­PLIED

The 1,4 Jeep Rene­gade ( 103 kW/ 230 Nm) has en­tered the com­pet­i­tive niche for crossovers on its own eye- pleas­ing terms, and as such, the lit­tlest Jeep faces stiff com­pe­ti­tion from th­ese other head turn­ers out there.

Among other ri­val head turn­ers, the cur­va­ceous 1,6T Nis­san Juke Tekna ( 140 kW/ 240 Nm) lists for R331k.

The sleek 2,0 Mazda CX3, ( 115 kW/ 204 Nm) is the cur­rent bench­mark for small crossovers and lists for R278k.

The bulky Mini Cooper Coun­try­man ( 100 kW/ 230 Nm) sells for R343k and while not a clas­sic cross­over, it is still a head turner.

The Fiat 500X re­tails for R320k, and shares a plat­form with the Rene­gade, which re­tails for R56k more.

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