For those halcyon days
ALWYN VILJOEN ponders a chop in the Jeep Renegade
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.
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.