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Maiden EV is a small car with big hopes of cracking Europe. Does it have what it takes?

Its designers have done a fair job in convincing the casual observer otherwise, but the Jeep Avenger is not your typical Jeep.

For one thing, while the odd zero-emission concept car from the maker has surfaced in recent years, this is the first purely electric production model to bear perhaps the most famous name in off-roading. For another, to date it is the only Jeep entirely styled, engineered and constructed outside of the US, teams in Italy and Poland having been given responsibility.

The Avenger also breaks new ground in terms of footprint. Discount the original Willys, dating from 1940, and the Avenger is the most compact Jeep ever conceived. (The 61bhp hero of World War II is about an arm’s length shorter.)

You should also know that, behind the signature seven-slot grille, the short overhangs and the bevelled proportions, the Avenger has about as much in common with the beloved Jeep Wrangler as it does the Vauxhall Corsa, with which this pint-sized new Jeep shares a platform.

Given all of the above, it's only natural to wonder whether this is a real Jeep at all.

So long as the Avenger achieves its aim, Stellantis, parent company to Jeep and 13 other makes, won’t care what the purists think. This car is tasked with redefining Jeep in Europe and invigorating limp sales figures propped up only by lingering popularity in Italy. No surprise, then, that the new EV takes the form of a compact crossover. As Jeep Europe boss Antonella Bruno says, this is “the right car at the right time”. 

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In the UK, the range has recently acquired pure-petrol and mild-hybrid options but it’s the electric version, tested here, that’s been front and centre of the marketing efforts from day one, mostly in unmissable Sun Yellow.

Mining such a popular vein presents the Jeep with no shortage of rivals, of course. Ford, Renault, Smart and a host of good-value Chinese and South Korean brands now swim in the compact crossover pool and looks alone aren’t enough for any car to succeed in the long term.

So let’s find out whether there is if not traditional Jeep ruggedness then at least appreciable substance behind the style.

The range at a glance

Models Power From
1.2T 99bhp £23,335
1.2 T e-Hybrid 99bhp £25,045
Electric 154bhp £35,645

Jeep originally planned to sell only the electric Avenger in the UK but has since decided to also offer both the 1.2-litre pure-petrol version and a mild hybrid.

We have yet to test either of those cars but the basic petrol version is of particular interest, owing to its simplicity and temptingly modest price in entry-level form.

Whichever powertrain you choose, there are three trim levels: Longitude, Latitude and Summit. As you go up the rungs, the Avenger gains the usual amenities and some ADAS functionality, but there isn’t much that can’t be optionally added to the lesser trims. 

DESIGN & STYLING

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Daniele Calonaci, head of Jeep’s Europe design team, has described the challenge of “concentrating” the brand’s DNA into a four-metre-long car.

It’s why generous cladding adorns the sills and bumpers, and why the front and rear skidplates aren’t simply painted silver but are in fact made from real aluminium.

The Avenger also has the greatest ground clearance in the class. At 200mm, it’s only 10mm shy of that offered by the Suzuki Jimny – the plucky kei-class 4x4 known to occasionally humble a Toyota Land Cruiser on narrow trails.

Mind you, the Japanese car does have considerably better approach, departure and breakover angles, not to mention two driven axles.  For now at least, the little Jeep is front-wheel drive only.

Built at Stellantis’s Tychy plant in Poland, the Avenger is underpinned by – and indeed was the first vehicle to use – Stellantis’s new e-CMP2 modular platform, which is now being rolled out across other small EVs in the group’s empire, such as the Citroën ë-C4, DS 3 E-Tense, Vauxhall’s electric Corsa and Mokka models, and the Peugeot e-208 plus its propped-up sibling, the e-2008.

For the Avenger, one of the chief benefits of the new platform is that it allows for small overhangs (so important in achieving that chunky, four-square aesthetic) at no cost to energy absorption in the event of an impact.

Wheel travel has also been improved, with  extra capacity of tyre width. Our top-spec Avenger Summit, riding  on fine-looking 18in wheels that neatly fill the car’s squared-off arches, wears 215-section rubber all round.

Meanwhile, the passive suspension is by MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear – typical for Stellantis products of this type.

The Avenger’s front-mounted separately excited synchronous motor made its world debut in this car. This was the first unit supplied by eMotors, a joint venture between Stellantis and Japanese specialist Nidec. It’s said to be more efficient than its precursor and makes figures of 154bhp and 192lb ft.

These figures sound reasonably potent for a car of this size, although they look less impressive when you take into account the Avenger’s kerb weight, which is predictably bloated by the 54kWh drive battery.

Weighing 1601kg on our scales, the Avenger isn’t embarrassingly hefty and it has a usefully low centre of gravity, but it’s worth noting that the 1.2-litre petrol model has a claimed weight of just 1182kg.

Off-road notes

The Avenger’s designers have injected some tough-guy personality into the car’s exterior but rock rails and locking diffs have been left firmly on the shelf.

Unlike the Wrangler, the Avenger is not Trail Rated – Jeep’s moniker for cars signed off on the infamously brutal Rubicon Trail. This car should, however, get you quite a bit farther down a dirt track than your typical compact EV.

For one thing, while its geometries are no rival for something like a Suzuki Jimny, its short overhangs, good ground clearance and short wheelbase mean approach, departure and breakover angles are generous.

The Avenger also sports a SelecTerrain system with modes for snow, mud and sand. There are, of course, limits to how the ESP and traction control systems alone can maximise capability on these surfaces, but they ought to make a tricky situation a little less tricky – unlike, perhaps, the Avenger’s efficiency-minded low-friction tyres.

INTERIOR

The Avenger is quite clever in how it shapes your perceptions. The car can hardly be described as a ‘proper’ off-roader in mechanical terms, yet when you first slide aboard, it does give quite a convincing impression of something tough and capable, a little like the Jimny always has.

The scuttle feels high and the roofline low, with the broad, flat bonnet lapping up against the base of the windscreen. The steering wheel is small and neat, the switchgear is utilitarian, the digital displays are only as large as they need to be.

The body-coloured dashboard bar not only brightens the cabin but also adds to the sense of ruggedness, in some way bringing the exterior design inside

And while there is plenty of adjustability in the driving position, your fundamental posture is one of being perched up, with a commanding view forward, even if you are not in fact especially far off the ground. It all contrives to make the Avenger feel interesting and faintly adventure-ready.

Storage is strong too. There is a deep cubby in the centre console, the door pockets are of a good size and there’s an extremely useful shelf that spans half the width of the dashboard. It’s great for keeping oddments within easy reach, instead of having to ferret around blindly in the usual storage spots.

This cabin is certainly built to a price, though. There is a fair amount of hard plastic in here, and if you don’t have the yellow dashboard bar to enliven matters, the inside of the Avenger can feel drab.

The Cupra Born, Smart #1 and BYD Atto 3 all feel considerably plusher. Anywhere other than the front row, ergonomics aren’t especially impressive either.

Rear leg room is among the least generous in the class, and boot space is adequate for a B-segment car but also falls some way short of that offered by rivals from Peugeot and Kia.

Multimedia system

You would think that the driver display itself would be consistent across the range, but it isn’t. The entry-level Avenger gets only a 7.0in display while mid-range Altitude and top-spec Summit have a 10.25in unit.

Apart from size, the big difference is that the larger item is configurable, giving the driver the ability to flick between readouts for navigation, efficiency and media using buttons on the steering wheel. 

The central touchscreen is decently crisp in its graphics and is the same one found in numerous other Stellantis-built cars – everything from the Fiat 500 to the Maserati MC20, in fact. It’s high-mounted but unintrusive and offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, both of which are integrated well.

As well as the usual functions, this display is also used to access climate controls and ADAS.

In the front, you will find two USB ports, but there’s only  one in the back. Don’t expect too much from the six-speaker sound system, either.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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Nearly 200lb ft of immediately available torque and efficiency-optimised tyres (in this case from Goodyear) could very easily translate into traction problems, particularly on a damp surface (as was the case when we performance-tested the car).

But the Avenger doesn’t suffer from any such issues because, as well as powering the drive motor, its nickel-manganese-cobalt battery pack essentially doubles up as an additional traction control device.

As we'll shortly discover, this car hides its considerable kerb weight well in handling terms, but when it comes to straight-line performance, the extra weight of the battery has a clear effect. Accelerator response itself is good: it is appreciably immediate in the default driving mode and hardens into something satisfyingly sharp when you move into Sport, but progress thereafter is steady, as shown by our recorded 8.3sec 0-60mph time.

By comparison, the MG 4 EV recorded 7.1sec and the Smart #1 a mere 5.6sec. Yes, those rivals are notably more powerful than the Jeep, but they’re also even heavier and, what’s more, they’re no more expensive when comparably equipped. The MG 4 is conspicuously cheaper, in fact.

It feels as though the Avenger should be quicker, and while it is possible cold test conditions hampered its performance, even the official 0-62mph time is a stately 9.0sec. Those in search of effortless overtaking prowess should look elsewhere. Either that, or wait to see if Jeep launches a dual-motor version of the Avenger.

Meanwhile, braking suffers from a somewhat springy pedal feel, although this is not uncommon among EVs from less premium brands. The Avenger does at least have a well-calibrated regenerative braking mode (marked ‘B’ on the strips of drive mode selection buttons).

RIDE & HANDLING

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There’s little reason to dwell on the Avenger’s handling credentials. The nutshell is that this car moves with surprising neatness and accuracy but the driving experience pulls up short of generating anything in the way of real entertainment.

The reason its composure can be chalked up as ‘surprising’ is because, due to the floor-mounted battery pack, the centre of gravity is simply much lower than the bodywork suggests.

The Avenger has a satisfying feeling of alertness to the way it changes direction and is nicely balanced. Both traits are recognisable from modern small Peugeots built on the same platform and they give this little Jeep a good degree of ‘fun-loving city car’ feel, despite the beefy stance.

The steering is also geared sensibly and makes the Avenger an intuitive companion even on tortuous routes, even if the rack has a conspicuous lack of feel, with  a rubbery quality to the way it moves through those initial degrees either side of dead ahead.

Mostly, though, the Avenger should be praised for its easy drivability. It’s happy to be either flowed or hustled on any road, which is all you can reasonably ask of a small electric crossover masquerading as a 4x4.

Comfort & Isolation

As we have established, there is very little wrong with the driving position in the Avenger, although several testers noted the absence of adjustable lumbar support and the somewhat flat seats, which lack much bolstering.

In this respect, there are worse culprits among  the Jeep’s numerous competitors, not least the Smart #1, although others do noticeably better, such as the Cupra Born and, to a lesser degree, the MG 4. These cars are better long-distance options, not least because they also offer a more recumbent posture.

Nevertheless, in terms of ride quality, the Avenger rolls along smooth roads mostly without a care in the world. It doesn’t have the choppy vertical control that tall cars with short wheelbases sometimes show, yet neither does it roll languidly in corners.

On an uneven road, there’s a level of head toss as the comparatively basic suspension struggles to isolate one side of the car from the other, but most roads don’t pose serious problems in this respect, and when they do, there’s no compact crossover that isn’t vulnerable to this effect.

So the Avenger is, on good roads and particularly when driving at a decent pace, easy company indeed. Problems arise when speeds drop off and the road surface deteriorates. Or, in other words, the precise conditions in which your typical Avenger is likely to find itself in this country.

This car struggles to absorb short, sharp suspension inputs, particularly at the back axle. Ride quality can sometimes feel plain crashy, which is likely to be a direct trade-off for the composure with which the Avenger dispatches good, smooth roads.

In terms of acoustic isolation, the Avenger is average. It is not notably loud or quiet, and therefore probably deserves some credit for the way in which its blocky dimensions don’t obviously translate into wind roar, as you would naturally expect.

According to our microphones, the car is fractionally louder at all speeds than the globular-looking Smart  #1, but considerably quieter than the larger and more expensive Honda e:Ny1.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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In price, the Avenger is closely matched to another distinctively styled compact electric crossover: the Smart #1. Both cars start at around £35,000, with the most premium grade costing closer to £40,000.

There are cheaper alternatives, such as the MG ZS, but the Avenger undercuts the likes of the closely related Peugeot e-2008 and the Kia Niro EV. With its 16in wheels, the entry-level, £35,645 Avenger Longitude might also be the best-riding car in the line-up, although we haven’t yet had the opportunity to test this theory.

All Avengers are fitted with a heat pump, which should help maintain both charging speed and driving range in cooler conditions. However, a test average of 3.4mpkWh translates to a real-world range of around 170 miles, versus the claimed 249 miles. We have, in previous tests, clawed more than 220 miles out of the Avenger on a single charge and in challenging conditions, but this requires ever-judicious use of the accelerator.

By comparision, during its road test, the Smart #1 returned almost 230 miles, with its bigger battery and better efficiency.

Anybody planning on using their Avenger in a manner requiring the use of public charging stations should also note the car’s 100kW maximum charging rate, which is slower than some rivals’.

In practice, we found that the rate dropped off to below around 80kW quite quickly, so don’t expect speedy pit stops during longer journeys. 

 

VERDICT

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Over the decades, Jeep has enjoyed only very sporadic success in Europe. Models such as the blocky old Cherokee and, more recently, the Renegade and the Wrangler have appealed to certain cliques, but the brand has never cracked the mass market.

With the Avenger, this could change. The smallest Jeep product in history, and also the first pure-electric one, unashamedly taps into the current zeitgeist and is likeable enough for most of its smaller flaws – limited rear visibility and hard interior plastics among them – to be easily forgiven. It has character, it is fun to be around and in general it works well as a small but versatile EV.

The reason it doesn’t score more highly here concerns ride quality. The Avenger could go a little farther, charge a little faster and have more interior space, but it is broadly competitive in these respects. It is the sometimes crashy ride on less than perfect road surfaces, and at lower speeds, that is harder to swallow and undermines the package somewhat. We would gladly trade some handling poise for a little more plushness.

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering.