Bright-orange paint dubbed Omaha Orange by Jeep, a matte black patch on the hood and Wrangler SR-A tires with high sidewalls all scream that the 2015 Renegade wants to be taken seriously as an offroad vehicle. Knowing the harsh critics of offroad culture, Jeep likely knew it would face an uphill battle giving its newest, and smallest, model credibility.
Naysayers will need to get behind the wheel to find out that this small SUV boasts more than just looks. In Trailhawk trim, this light-hearted beast earns its retro round headlights, classic seven-bar grille and Trail Rated badge with technical chops far above its class on an offroad course. In fact, there is nothing that really competes with it considering both price and capability.
At the same time, the Jeep Renegade makes for a perfectly comfortable everyday economy car, although fuel economy comes up short. Jeep makes its UConnect navigation system available for the Renegade, combining an easy-to-use interface with useful connected features.
With its various trim levels, the Renegade covers a pretty wide range of uses. The base Renegade Sport is front-wheel drive only and goes for $18,990, very competitive among the small SUV set. Bump it up to $26,990 for the Renegade Trailhawk, and you get four-wheel drive with Jeep's Selec-Terrain system, offering five programs for tackling different types of terrain. A few other options brought the total for the example delivered to CNET to $30,245. The Renegade's small size makes it a candidate for world car status, so that Jeep offers it in the UK at £16,995 for the Sport front-wheel-drive model, and £27,995 for the Trailhawk. Australia will also receive the Renegade, although pricing was not announced at the time of this review.
Internationally, Jeep offers a 2-liter diesel engine for the Renegade, but in the US we only get a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder or a 2.4-liter four-cylinder. That latter engine comes standard in Trailhawk trim, and uses Fiat's MultiAir 2 technology, controlling intake valves with electro-hydraulic actuators. That means more precise fuel flow control than with a traditional camshaft. However, even with this technology the engine only produces 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque, on par with other engines of this size.
Jeep pairs that engine with a nine-speed automatic transmission, plenty of cogs for the Renegade Trailhawk's wide range of intended uses. The Selec-Terrain system in the Trailhawk offers programs for snow, sand, mud and rock, each tailoring torque and traction control to keep the car from getting bogged down. A 4WD Low mode helps it deal with the most difficult terrain.
You may be wondering if the Renegade is more than just a softroader. CNET editor Antuan Goodwin had the pleasure of driving an example over a technical offroad course at an event sponsored by Jeep earlier this year. Goodwin tested the 8-inch ground clearance and wading capability with a dive into a 20-inch deep mud puddle followed by a climb up a rutted incline.
"With the wheels a bit wet, the 4x4 system had to step in here and there to slow wheel spin by selective brake application, shuffling torque to the wheels with grip via computer trickery. While this system worked admirably during my day in the dirt, it's very loud. It groans, grinds, and shudders as the brakes grab this wheel and that one. Despite the noise, the Trailhawk pulled off some impressive stunts."
On a series of mountain trails, some posted with black diamonds for difficulty, Goodwin noted how the Renegade climbed an ascent strewn with rocks, loose dirt and sand. The Renegade's Hill Descent control was put to the test on a 30-plus degree hill.
"Imagine sitting at the crest of a roller-coaster's big drop, only it's made of loose silt and you're in a compact SUV about the size of a. It's a swear-out-loud kind of moment. Slowly, the Renegade crawled its way down that hill as well (while I braced myself against the floor and the steering wheel). Again, the braking system grinded and groaned the whole way down, but it got me to the bottom safely and in a controlled manner."
I put the Renegade over a series of more or less mundane road tests, and found a perfectly livable everyday car. The pricing range, averaging in the low 20s, tells some of the story. The Renegade shows a bit of economy-car feel, most noticeably in the amount of engine noise hitting the cabin. It is by no means excessive, about equal to most other cars in this price range.
The ride quality comes off as firm, with a little extra shock absorption afforded by the tires' high sidewalls, these stock 17-inch Goodyears sized at 215/65R for the Trailhawk trim. In SUV style, I enjoyed the visibility afforded by the ride height, although I noticed fairly large blind spots to either side. Jeep offers a blind-spot monitoring system, using sensors to alert the driver to other traffic, but it wasn't present on the example I drove.
Surprisingly, the Renegade didn't feel tippy as I drove it down a twisty mountain road. The suspension ably handled the turns at a reasonable speed, aided by a responsive power steering system, holding the car level against inertial forces. Chalk up that handling ability to a suspension designed for narrow Italian roads.