Last year the Jeep Renegade arrived, a compact SUV expected to replace the aged Patriot and Compass. Based on a Fiat derived chassis along with the Fiat 500x, the Renegade instead went on sale along side the older and more traditionally styled Jeep twins.
Fast forward to 2016, the Jeep Renegade has caught on with sales around 9,000 copies a month yet still outsold by the the decade old Patriot and Compass by two to one, selling around 20,000 a month combined.
Why? Consider the Renegade with its bold and some might call risky styling statement. Then there’s the fact that it’s the first Jeep manufactured exclusively off our shores, built in Brazil, China and for our market in Italy.
The Patriot and Compass also overlap the Renegade in pricing, the Patriot being withing $500 apples to apples across most trim combinations. Throw in the fact that dealers can slash pricing on the Patriot and Compass and you have a pretty tough competitive state going on right in the Renegade’s own home.
One then must ask, what does the Renegade offer up that’s worthy of stepping off from the tried and true. First as we found out in our recent test drive is an entirely different flavor and theme. The Renegade is the new kid, with the new tricks, and the new vibe.
Styling is the first place the Renegade earns its name. It’s bold and brash, controversial even some might say. Unlike the larger Cherokee that could also be called disruptive, the Renegade does tap into Jeep DNA with its round headlamps and seven bar grille.
Jeep logos and icons are aplenty, hidden in the headlamps and tail lights to remind you of its heritage. Our tester unapologetically featured 16-inch black steel wheels without wheel covers. They might be plain, but tie in with the black cladding around the lower half not to mention the latest styling fad.
The cabin draws heavily upon the Jeep iconography as well with lots of playful design touches that remind you where you are. A classic Jeep can be seen crawling up the edge of the passenger side windshield if you look close, a map on the center console, and even the grille icon shows on the speaker grills and inside rear hatch. It’s fun.
Best of all, in spit of being a bargain basement crossover SUV in Plain Jane trim, the interior is made of high quality materials throughout that feel like they are going to last. The plastics are rugged, the switchgear well laid out and a step up from cheap.
The seats are trimmed with a nice enough cloth, though finding a comfortable driving position is a bit challenging. They are tall and don’t have enough adequate height adjustment to allow drivers both tall and short to push the clutch to the floor without pulling the seat too far forward than feels natural.
Rear seat passengers too will find a seating position not quite right, though here it’s too low. Those seats do fold down in a 60/40 split for a near flat load floor however for all that gear you’ll want to pack along.
Our tester had optioned the MySky removable roof panels that can open up the cabin to the airy feel of a convertible. The panels come off in about five minutes reasonably easy and stow away under the rear cargo deck. Unfortunately with this option you lose the spare tire in lieu of an emergency inflator, to give you a place to store them. We’re not sure it’s worth the trade-off in an adventure SUV.
Also optioned in our Renegade was the first step-up Uconnect 5-inch touch screen audio system. It’s not a huge step up, but has a large enough screen to display the included backup camera well. With AM/FM only, it can also connect to your phone for audio.
It comes in both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. The latter has two available systems, Active Drive and Active Drive Low found on the high-level Trailhawk. Our Renegade Sport test vehicle had the base level Active Drive, a system that can be set to lock manually for all four wheels or set on automatic where it will only send power to the rear wheels when needed. A console mode switch can also vary the power delivery and traction control based on selected terrains.
The Renegade comes with two engines. With a six-speed manual transmission like ours, it comes only with a 1.4 liter turbocharged four-cylinder good for 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. It’s rated at 24 mpg city, 31 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined.
We found power to be more than adequate, though you do need to rev it to really get moving. The good news is that it’s a sweet sounding and refined engine that is more than willing to please in this regard. It’s a much more enjoyable experience than the larger 2.4 liter Tiger Shark engine you get stuck with when optioning the 9-speed automatic.
Fuel economy was a big payoff too. In our week of combined city, highway and off-roading we achieved 30 mpg. On one freeway road trip of 100 miles we even saw as high as 36 mpg, very impressive.
Build quality inside and out seems to be of a higher level than some Jeep models we have sampled from North American assembly plants, so the matter of it coming from “Over There” should not deter buyers greatly.
Our 2016 Jeep Renegade 4×4 Sport with options came in at $24,470 with options but starts at a pretty impressive $19,995. Of note however, air-conditioning is part of a $1,500 option package. In the big picture however, we feel the Renegade offers a distinct alternative in a compact crossover SUV market where few examples can be had in a plain-wrapper trim with a manual transmission. And for those who want more, there’s plenty of it.