Jeep looks to bring some off-road credibility to the econobox segment.
According to Fiat Chrysler, 2.7 million subcompact SUVs are sold globally every year. In America at least, the majority of those sales are going to Kia and Nissan, whose Soul and Juke dominate the urban-crossover landscape. But those funky boxes don’t have the off-road abilities implied by their SUV-inspired shapes, and that’s where Jeep sees itself coming in. Its all-new Renegade has the hipster looks and everyday efficiency to entice shoppers, while also offering the rugged capability for which Jeep is well known.
Underneath the Renegade’s dorky but still sorta cool sheetmetal lies what Fiat Chrysler calls its Small Wide 4×4 architecture, which really is a modified version of the Small Wide platform that underpins the Fiat 500L. Unique suspension components and increased structural rigidity help separate the Renegade from the small Fiat people mover. The Renegade’s taller stance gives it longer suspension travel and front wheel-drive models offer 6.7 inches of ground clearance. The off-road-oriented Trailhawk 4×4 model sits 0.8 inch taller still and provides 8.7 inches of ground clearance as well as up to 8.1 inches of rear-wheel articulation and 19-inches of water-fording ability. Jeep also says that the Renegade has best-in-class approach and departure angles.
But if the success of the Soul and Juke are any indication, the main points of appeal in this segment are urban usability and polarizing design rather than off-road capability. Despite its small size—7.2 inches shorter overall than the current Jeep Patriot—the Renegade offers 118.6 cubic feet of interior volume. Standard Koni frequency-selective shocks work with the Renegade’s four-wheel independent suspension, bleeding off damping on sharp jolts and firming up for good body control on the highway. And the Jeep uses triple door seals, an acoustic laminated windshield, and an isolated rear-suspension cradle to help quiet the cabin.
The Renegade will be available with 16 powertrain combinations in markets around the world, but U.S. buyers will have just two options. The base engine is the 1.4-liter turbo four from the Fiat 500 Abarth, here producing 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque and paired exclusively with a six-speed manual. The step-up powertrain is a 2.4-liter Tigershark four-cylinder that makes 184 horses and 177 lb-ft, and which backs up exclusively to Chrysler’s nine-speed automatic. Both powertrains can be had in front- or four-wheel-drive form. Jeep claims a class-leading coefficient of drag, and says that its B-segment crossover will deliver 30-plus mpg on the EPA highway cycle. That would put the Renegade right on par with the mileage delivered by the Soul and Juke.
The Renegade has two all-wheel-drive systems from which to choose. Jeep Active Drive is a full-time system that can send up to 100 percent of engine torque to any drive wheel as needed. Jeep Active Drive Low is standard on the Trailhawk 4×4 model and adds a low range that gives the Renegade a 20:1 crawl ratio in first gear. Jeep Active Drive Low also employs hill-descent control and Selec-Terrain traction control with Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud, and, on the Trailhawk model, Rock 4×4 driving modes.
Jeep’s designers needed to toughen up what is really a wee little thing, and so the Renegade has short overhangs, trapezoidal wheel arches, and trinkets inspired by the military and extreme sports. The “X” design on the taillights suggests military equipment or jerry cans, while the “air-pod” vents that sit atop the dash are meant to look like the performance goggles worn by downhill skiers. And in what’s becominga trend among Fiat Chrysler vehicles, there’s a hidden Easter egg meant to tie the vehicle to a spiritual home: The small storage bin beneath the center stack is lined by a rubber mat embossed with a topographical map of Moab.
The IP features analog tachometer and speedometer gauges, and redline on the tach is displayed using a splatter-paint motif inspired by the Jeep design team’s weekend paintball romps. Those gauges flank either a standard 3.5-inch monochrome display or an optional and customizable seven-inch TFT display, which transmit vehicle, trip, and infotainment info to the driver. The latest iteration of Uconnect infotainment is displayed at the top of the center stack via a 5.0- or 6.5-inch touch screen. And like any new vehicle these days, the Renegade is available with a litany of driver-assist features, including blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, rear parking sensors, a backup camera, and rear cross-path detection.
The second-row seats split 60/40 as standard, but a 40/20/40-split with cargo area pass-through is available. There are 12.4 cubic feet of storage space behind the rear seats, and that swells to 50.8 cubic feet with the second row folded flat. The front passenger seat can be folded flat, too. One nifty feature: The Renegade’s standard sunroof incorporates manually removable roof panels that can be stowed beneath the floor.
Jeep says that the Renegade, now that it has debuted at the Geneva motor show, will head into production late this spring. It will go on sale in Europe this summer before arriving in American showrooms in December. The brand expects initial sales volumes to be split 50/50 between Europe and North America, but ultimately sees the Renegade as its volume seller in Europe and for sales numbers there to outpace those in America. Which sounds about right. If the Cherokee and Compass/Patriothad Jeep purists gnashing their teeth, this thing just may have them wearing their chompers down to nubs, and people in our country prefer their crossovers and SUVs to be one or two sizes larger. But we say right on to Jeep (and Fiat Chrysler) for creating something interesting, and something that might finally make the brand truly global. If you hate it, well, you’re not alone. But you also don’t have to buy one.
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