The 2016 Jeep Renegade is based on the same platform as the Fiat 500X and Fiat 500L. Yes, you’ve read right, Jeeps are now based on Fiats.
Don’t worry Jeep enthusiasts, the Wrangler still exists and it’s here to stay. That being said, since the compact crossover/SUV market has been booming lately with new products from every corner of the globe, the Jeep brand, being an SUV-only carmaker, had no choice but to expand its lineup and take part in this highly demanded segment of car-based “cute utes”.
That’s why Jeep is ditching the popular Patriot and Compass brothers in favor of this much more refined and compelling Renegade. I had the opportunity to go for a drive in a fully equipped Limited model and I can tell you right away that a European platform is precisely what the Jeep nameplate needed to remain competitive in this segment.
The first thing that strikes you about the way the Renegade looks is the fact that it’s a lot more boxy and truckish than its competition. And that’s refreshing. The Renegade, with its nearly flat windshield, tail lights with an integrated X intended to make them look like jerrycans, short wheelbase and high stance looks like something that was meant to be in a cartoon. It actually looks like it was made out of Lego blocks. Now that’s cool. In fact, the Renegade looks masculine, cheerful, and above all, loads of fun.
The proportions are also bang on. Remember, this is supposed to be compact a SUV, but on the road, its boxy design language makes it look somewhat large. That box design also means massive interior dimensions and superior practicality.
Not only did Jeep designers nail the design of the 2016 Renegade, they’ve also filled it up with playful Easter-egg design cues from Jeep’s off-road heritage. From tiny Jeep grilles found all over the interior, to a tiny Willys-style Jeep climbing the A-pillar, this meticulous attention to detail not only sets the Renegade apart from its Italian cousin, the 500X, but translates into an entertaining game for its occupants.
Finding all Easter eggs is incredibly fun; there are even tiny maps with coordinates located inside cup holders and under the seats. It’s brilliant!
These fun design cues add depth to the Renegade’s owner experience. With a much better appointed interior, complete with better quality materials and improved fit and finish, the Renegade immediately feels much more refined than the models it replaces.
While all this Easter egg stuff may be enjoyable, what Jeep enthusiasts really want to know is if the Renegade has enough off-road credentials to wear the iconic 4-letter name. The answer is yes.
During my test drive, I took this little trucklet up north to the Laurentians to find some snow. The Renegade, unlike some of its competitors, which are fitted with carlike all-wheel-drive systems, comes equipped with a real 4x4 system complete with brake lock differentials to mimic the characteristics of actual locking diffs. This system, although not as effective as a real locking differential, remains a much better solution for off-roading than conventional all-wheel-drive. Jeep also confirms the Renegade was submitted to the same “Trail-Rated 4x4” tests as the rest of their lineup.
In the Renegade, the system goes even further by offering the driver 4 selectable modes (Auto, Snow, Sand, and Mud) that dramatically alter throttle response, transmission characteristics, and traction. Auto is the Renegade’s default setting, where it’s essentially front-wheel-drive and engages the rear wheels upon wheelspin. Behind the wheel, the transition is seamless.
The little Renegade, set in Snow Lock mode, had absolutely no difficulty getting around, even in deep snow. And although it won’t drive over trees and climb rocks, it’s a lot more competent than one would imagine. We even parked it in about 3-feet of snow to take pictures and it crawled itself out with very little fuss.
On the road, the Renegade’s Italian roots become apparent thanks to compliant, composed, and rather nimble road manners. Turn in is sharp, reflexes are quick, and except for the occasional nose dive under hard braking, it’s just as fun to drive around town as any modern hot hatch. At some occasions, it even felt like a Fiat 500 Abarth. And that’s a good thing.
The Renegade is also easy to park and to see out of from the inside. Except for very thick A-pillars, it’s overall very easy to operate.
It’s the playfulness of the Renegade that really shines when you’re sitting behind the wheel. No matter what kind of surface you’re on, it’s eager to play. Turn off traction control on a snow-covered backroad, get up to speed, lift off the throttle, and yes, that rear end will lift, gracefully correcting its line in a composed and civilized manner the moment you give it some throttle. Furthermore, it’s free from annoying electronic nannies that prevent you from having fun, so yes, it will drift if you ask it to.
Limited trim, such as my tester, comes standard with the larger of two four cylinder engines. In this case, it’s a 2.4-litre unit that develops 180 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque. Its power delivery is linear across the entire rev range. It’s an engine that gets the job done, but won’t set your hair on fire with its acceleration times. That’s just not what the Renegade was designed for.
Base models come fitted with the same 160-hp, turbocharged, 1.4-litre engine as in the Fiat 500 Abarth mated to a manual 6-speed transmission. Unfortunately the 6-speed is not available on the larger engine. Instead, the 2.4 comes mated to the same 9-speed automatic as in the larger Cherokee and Chrysler 200.
The goal of this transmission, of course, was to improve fuel economy, and although the Renegade averaged a very reasonable 6.6 liters per 100 km during my test drive, I don’t think the 9-speed is the best transmission for this vehicle. It just feels like the engine has trouble keeping up.
More often than not the box hunts for gears, especially when driving up hills where it always seems to be looking for the right ratio. It always seems to be in the wrong gear. It also emitted irritating clunk sounds upon upshifts during cold starts. Yes, you can manually shift the transmission with the shift lever, but it annoyingly won’t allow you to downshift two gears at once.
Although choosing the manual transmission leaves you with less power, I’d still recommend it over the automatic.
The 2016 Jeep Renegade comes at an entry price of $20,495 for a front-wheel-drive Sport model and tops out at $32,795 for the 4x4 Limited trim. There’s also a Trailhawk model with added off-road features sold for $31,135.
My recommendation would be a Sport model with the manual transmission and the 4x4 option ticked off. That would be, in my opinion, the closest you could get to a “real Jeep” without ruining your budget while retaining car-like driving characteristics for daily driving.
In conclusion, I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the overall Renegade experience; it’s clearly a better product in every way than the Compass and Patriot could have ever dreamed of being. Jeep now has a vehicle capable of taking on the Japanese and European competition with confidence. With its cheerful and rugged looks, affordability, fuel economy, functional and well-appointed interior, practicality, and surprisingly competent off-road capabilities, the Renegade may be just what the Jeep brand needs to remain competitive in the growing crossover segment without losing its soul.
Special thanks: Lasalle Chrysler/Jeep
Photo credit: Myle Appearance
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