2015 Jeep Renegade debuts: American-designed, Italian-crafted, "Trail Rated"

/ Updated: March 4, 2014 10:29 AM PST

GENEVA -- The first thing that you'll notice upon approaching the 2015 Jeep Renegade is how compact it is. About the size of a Nissan Cube, the all-new Renegade will be the smallest model in Jeep's lineup when it hits the road and trail later this year.

The automaker stresses that while this Jeep Jr. may be small in stature, it won't be any less capable than its larger siblings -- at least the "4x4 Trail Rated" Renegade Trailhawk model shouldn't be.

Beneath its bubbly Tek-Tonic styling, the "American-designed, Italian-crafted" Renegade is based on the Fiat-Chrysler "Small Wide 4x4" architecture, sharing its roots with the likes of the Fiat 500L and upcoming 500X. From there, the Renegade is highly influenced by Jeep's other odd looking little crossover -- the new Jeep Cherokee -- borrowing many of its powertrain technologies from its big brother.

Under the the hood, you'll find one of 16 different engine, transmission, and drive-train combinations depending on where you are in the world; some will join the Renegade when it returns to America, some are destined for the global market. Familiar to the Cherokee and making an appearance on the Renegade is a 2.4-liter Tigershark MultiAir four-cylinder engine that is mated to a segment-first nine-speed automatic transmission. The Renegade's nine-speed can also be paired with the new 2.0-liter MultiJet II diesel engine, which will be available in the U.S. market.

In addition to the standard front-wheel drive configuration, the Renegade will be available with the owner's pick of two all-wheel-drive systems: Jeep Active Drive and Active Drive Low. Both are "full-time 4x4 systems" that feature a disengaging rear axle to reduce drivetrain losses and increase efficiency in situations, such as freeway cruising, where the full 4x4 capability isn't required. Both systems feature four selectable drive modes (Auto, Snow, Sand, and Mud modes), but only the Jeep Active Drive Low includes a selectable 20:1 crawl ratio.

The optional Jeep Active Drive Low becomes a standard feature for the Renegade Trailhawk trim level, which also features an exclusive "Rock" setting for the Selec-Terrain system and Hill Descent Control. This model's ride height also get a 0.8-inch bump which, in conjunction with the unique front and rear bumpers, grants the Trailhawk 30.5-degree approach, 25.7-degree breakover, and 34.3-degree departure angles and a 19-inch fording depth. The addition of skid plates and red front and rear tow hooks help out should you find yourself bumping up against those limits.

Jeep 4x4 diesel logo
The Trailhawk can be configured with a torquey diesel engine and the Jeep Active Drive Low 4x4 system with 20:1 crawl ratio. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Jeep makes a lot of "best-in-class" claims for the Renegade when it comes to things like wheel articulation, off-road capability, and approach angles, but with this class filled with "lifestyle vehicles" like the Kia Soul, Scion xB, and Nissan Cube, that's a pretty low bar to clear.

The youthful, quirky Renegade shows promise with a selection of premium infotainment options and a few unique amenities. The most obvious are the two "My Sky" open-air roof systems. One is a manual removable roof panel, the other is a "premium power tilt and slide" panel, and both are essentially glorified dual pane sunroofs.

We are excited about including the segment's largest full-color instrument cluster display -- a massive, configurable 7-inch display between the speedometer and tachometer that displays information relative to the driver. There's also the available two flavors of the Chrysler Group's Uconnect infotainment systems, offering Bluetooth connectivity, HD Radio, SiriusXM Radio, and USB and auxiliary audio via either a 5-inch or 6.5-inch color touch screen. Navigation equipped models also boast SiriusXM Travel Link for traffic, weather and more.

Two variants of the Uconnect touch screen infotainment system are available on the 2015 Renegade. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Models featuring the new Uconnect Access system will also feature an embedded cellular antenna that grants the infotainment system one-touch access to roadside assistance, 911 assist, and the ability to receive and read text messages aloud.

Fleshing out the Renegade's tech offering is a solid selection of available driver aid technologies, including Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic alert, and a rearview camera with dynamic trajectory guides.

I won't spend a lot of time discussing the Renegade's Tek-Tonic design theme, which features more rounded corners and circles than you can shake a Zune at. Like the polarizing design of the new Cherokee, this is either a look that you'll love or hate, with the general consensus falling toward the latter. However, I'm excited to see Jeep taking chances with its design. The Renegade may look like Fisher-Price's take on "Baby's First Wrangler" or the offspring of a Jeep Compass and a Nissan Cube, but it's certainly not bland. Feel free to share your thoughts on the style in the comments below.

2015 Jeep Renegade
Pricing and availability of the 2015 Jeep Renegade and Renegade Trailhawk will be announced later this year. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The 2015 Jeep Renegade will be sold globally starting later this year. US pricing and powertrain availability will be announced later, closer to launch.

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2015 Jeep Renegade

Part Number: 2015JEEPSTER
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