The new Jeep Renegade represents a number of firsts for the US carmaker. It’s their first entry into the miniature SUV market for one thing, while it’s also the first Jeep to be exclusively built in Europe and then sold in the US and other markets, instead of vice versa.
To look at, the Renegade is very much a blend of European and North American influences. It’s got the iconic Jeep grille and headlights, for example, and various nods to its heritage around the cabin, though it’s not quite as square as the Wrangler. Style-wise, I still find it hard to say whether I like it or not. The front grille is fantastic – pure Jeep (and chrome) – while the rear, including the lights, is certainly interesting. When you look at it from the side, however, it does seem a little squat, like the offspring of the aforementioned Wrangler and a Skoda Yeti. It’s more adorable than macho.
Don’t be fooled by the cute and compact exterior, however. It’s surprisingly roomy and the quality is impressive, lending the Renegade a more upmarket feel. There’s a decent sized glovebox and plenty of cubby holes including (and I love this one) a small cargo hold accessed by pulling up the front passenger seat cushion. Boot space isn’t fantastic to begin with – 351L – though it does increase to a more respectable 1,297L once you fold the three rear seats, and is at least quite wide and accessible. In the central console you’ll find an impressive 7-inch touchscreen media centre. Unlike some examples, this one is actually quite easy to use – pairing a phone via Bluetooth wasn’t the usual teeth-grinding annoyance. Next door, the instrument cluster features a second screen which displays information including current speed, fuel economy and directional information from the sat nav.
Alongside the media centre in this particular model (2.0L, Limited trim) is driver lane assist, cruise control, a speed limiter, reversing sensors, a decent sound system, heated front seats and steering wheel, and headlights that allow you to see around corners. Optional extras on our test model included an alpine white paint job (€600) and the function pack, which includes folding mirrors and keyless entry (€550).
It was a little disappointing, however, to discover that the seats must be adjusted by hand (it’s a hard life), while the hand brake is electronic – there’s a lot to be said for the manual version. A reversing camera (€200 optional extra) would come in handy too – despite the sensors bleeping urgently, there was still usually two to three feet of room to spare. If parking isn’t your forte, you can always opt for the complete parking pack – €950 will provide you with the rear camera, blind spot detection and parallel/perpendicular park assist.
Pedal to the metal
On the road it takes a bit of coaxing from the clutch to get going, but once it does you’ll be motoring along nicely in no time, and gear changes are completely smooth into second and above. Relatively comfortable on the tarmac (though somewhat bouncy), with less than sharp feedback via the steering wheel, road noise is fairly limited – despite an almost vertical windscreen and large wing mirrors. This version takes 9.5 seconds to get from 0-100km, helped along by a 2.0L 140hp engine from Fiat. There’s plenty of choice, however – ranging from a 1.6L 110hp petrol (FWD) to the 2.0L 170hp 4WD automatic. Though claimed fuel economy figures are 5L (56mpg) combined, I found it to be 8 on the nose (35mpg) without too much heavy handed driving.
The Renegade is a mixed bag during day to day life in the city. Parking is difficult without the electronic aids, and visibility when reversing is impacted by the pillars, while the boxy front can make it a little hard to judge spaces. And, if you’re tall enough, you might find your view of traffic lights and signs can be restricted on approach by the rearview mirror, which is mounted lower on the windscreen than you might expect.
Off the tarmac
What is clear is that the Renegade has got off-roading in its DNA. There are several nice touches hidden in plain sight around the cabin, including a mud splash on the rev counter instead of the usual red line, and a tiny printed WWII Jeep Willys ascending the windscreen surround. But it’s not all stickers and tailored rev counters – the Renegade can actually go off road. Tasked with traversing a hilly and muddy environment it performed admirably, even without the likes of hill descent control, though the lower ride height means you’ll need to be extra careful. Having also had the chance to test it out in the surprise snow in March, it’s more than capable of holding its own in slippery conditions. You won’t be tackling any competitive trails, but rural laneways and mucky fieldwork won’t be a challenge. If you want the peak of off-road experience, however, you’ll have to fork out €40,500 for the flagship Trailhawk edition. That comes with mud and snow tyres, a fuel tank shield, hill descent control, skid plates for the transmission and front suspension, alongside all-weather floor mats, heated front seats and steering wheel and leather upholstery.
For ordinary driving, however, the model you’ll really want is the 1.6L. I also test drove the 120hp Longtitude model and, despite being a lower trim level, it wasn’t much of a step down. For one thing, it’s a lot smoother to drive – less jumpy in first gear. Secondly, it’s smaller and narrower than the 4×4 version, a lot handier to manoeuvre around the city streets. It’s also a little easier on the eye, much more proportional. There are some drawbacks. The (smaller) media centre, for example, wouldn’t recognise my phone – ten minutes of frustration and spinning wheels followed by an apology. Perhaps I just need a better phone. The boot was larger than its 4×4 cousin, but that’s because it came with a DIY patch kit rather than a spare tyre. There’s a simple fix – opt for the Limited trim.
So, as a compact 4×4 proposition, it it worth it? It’s a little more expensive choice, starting from €31,600 (the Skoda Yeti, for example, starts at €27,990). If you’re buying it for road use only, the 1.6L FWD Renegade (€27,600) is well worth a look. But, if you think you’ll need some rough and off-road experience, the well-built Renegade 4×4 holds its own against the competition.
Price: RRP €34,850; €36,000 as tested
Engine: 2.0L MultiJet II
0-100KM/H: 9.5 seconds
CO2: 134g/km (annual tax of €280)