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Jeep’s core values are applied to a Fiat-based compact crossover, but established rivals like the Mazda CX-5, Nissan Qashqai and Skoda Yeti have set the bar rather high

Another new crossover hatchback must hardly seem like a landmark to most car industry watchers as its stacked to the roof with them. 

But suspend your disbelief, because the Jeep Renegade comes from a company that reaches back into its seven and half decades of 4x4-making history, confronting the new corporate context in which it finds itself and boldly stepping forward into the 21st century, so it’s reason to sit up and take notice.

The Renegrade is full of visual references to Jeep’s history, with my favourite being the armrest cubby’s Moab desert

The Renegade is Jeep’s first all-new model introduction for almost a decade. It is the first Jeep ever to be built outside of the United States. And perhaps more significant than both, it’s the first car to be born directly from the collaboration of American and European designers and engineers brought together as part of Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne’s gradual takeover of the Chrysler Group, which began in 2009 and was completed early 2014.

The Renegade promises to be a different kind of Jeep, but quite how different is what we’re here to ascertain. Built in Fiat’s SATA plant in Melfi, Italy (the one that has been cranking out Puntos for the past two decades), the Renegade shares its platform with the Fiat 500X and goes in search of a piece of the pie thus far enjoyed by the Mini Countryman, Renault Captur and Vauxhall Mokkasupermini-based small SUVs all.

However, the Jeep is generously proportioned compared with those rivals, as well as quite well endowed mechanically, putting it into competition with full-size crossovers and giving it all to prove.

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The Renegade looks ready to surprise and confound, with Jeep’s 4x4 brand equity combining with Fiat’s touch with small cars to make for the perfect start in life for a compact crossover.

Distinctiveness, character and capability are given, but will the substance be right? And will the execution be in tune with what buyers want from a crossover? Will the Renegade be the European breakthrough that Jeep has been waiting decades to make?


Jeep Renegade rear

‘Small-wide-4x4’ is the pleasingly descriptive name of the Renegade’s platform. Shared with the Fiat 500X, its roots trace all the way back to the Fiat Punto of 2005 but it has long since been developed to accommodate differing wheelbases, body widths and suspensions. It confers on the Renegade a transverse, front-mounted engine layout and predominantly front-wheel drive.

From there on, the Renegade departs from crossover convention with the freedom-loving glee of its American roots. Although shorter than a Mazda CX-3, the Jeep is also wider than the Mazda and more than 160mm taller in top Trailhawk spec – taller, even, than a BMW X3. This is a boxy, square-jawed, high-rise Jeep in the traditional Willys mould.

A number of visual features pay homage to the Willy’s Jeep, such as the rear doors, rear lights and front grille

You may either see that as a refreshing departure from the norm or something of a visual anachronism, but don’t be surprised if the car’s visual charm puts you in the former camp when you see it in the metal.

Suspension is all-independent, while all engines have four cylinders, with all but the entry-level petrol unit being turbocharged. Petrol options range from 108 to 168bhp, diesels from 118 to 168bhp, in each case giving the Renegade more heart than the average small crossover – if you’re willing to pay for it.

A Jeep’s driveline is equally important, and the Renegade’s provides genuine off-road capability – but again, as long as you’re willing to pay for it. Four-wheel drive is delivered via an electronically actuated clutch – the same GKN ‘rear-axle disconnect’ system used on the Range Rover Evoque – but only on high-end trim levels. All of the petrol models, excluding the flagship 168bhp Multiair turbo, are exclusively front-wheel drive.

The cheapest four-wheel-driver is a 138bhp 2.0-litre diesel in mid-spec Longitude trim, priced at just over £24,500. It’s a car whose 190mm of ground clearance is approached by that of a Skoda Yeti Outdoor and beaten by a Subaru XV. So it’s pretty clear that the Renegade doesn’t offer distinguishing off-road ability across the full breadth of its model range – which stands to disappoint a good portion of its owners.

Splash out in excess of £28,000 on a top-of-the-range 168bhp turbodiesel Trailhawk model and you’ll get 210mm of ground clearance, front and rear bumpers tweaked for approach and departure angles in excess of 30deg, underbody skid plates and a nine-speed automatic gearbox with proper torque multiplication and a crawler ratio – more of the kind of stuff on which Jeep has built its reputation, in other words.

But most people will surely look for a happier medium of price and capability – as did we with our 138bhp 2.0-litre Multijet diesel test car, fitted with six-speed manual gearbox and active four-wheel drive, in Limited specification.

Jeep Renegade interior

There are predictable shortcomings and limitations here, among them only moderately comfortable front seats, decidedly mixed material quality levels and an unintuitive, under-provisioned and averagely rendered infotainment system.

But, by the skin of its teeth, the Renegade has the charm, equipment level and practicality to cover for those failings, so you can continue to feel as good about the car having climbed in as you may have begun to when surveying its plucky exterior – assuming you’re so inclined.

Despite the seats not being all that comfy, there is plenty of adjustment with the Renegade’s

The driving position is broadly sound, with plenty of head and leg room. Taller drivers could do with more steering column reach adjustment but will be pleased with the quantity of vertical base height adjustment – once they’ve diced with the flimsy, sharp-edged adjuster lever. The seat cushions are a bit flat and unyielding, though, and the squabs are short for taller drivers.

The quality of the cabin mouldings varies from respectable (roll-top dash) to disappointing (interior door cards, centre console), but there’s enough imagination to the detailing to distract you from the worst bits. The Jeep Wrangler-derived grille is used quite endearingly as a recurring motif on the speakers and seatbacks, while the chunky, geometric forms of the infotainment surround, air vents, air-con controls and cupholders are appealing and different.

The infotainment system in our Limited trim test car sees two key upgrades to the Renegade’s infotainment set-up: Jeep’s 6.5in Uconnect central multimedia system with DAB radio and sat-nav, and its 7.0in colour premium instrument cluster screen. The latter is quite useful, relaying route directions and trip computer information at a good, clear size.

But Uconnect lacks the graphical sophistication and easy navigability of the best new multimedia set-ups, and while it offers some app-based functionality, it doesn’t integrate the more obvious social media channels.

Jeep is clever enough to include button shortcuts for the features you most commonly need to switch between, and the scroll knob on the bottom right corner of the unit means those who find it easier not to use the touchscreen interface on the move don’t have to. But processes such as switching the navigation to ‘north up’ and disabling auto-zoom aren’t as simple as they ought to be, and the mapping lacks detail.

Second-row space is passable. It’s not as good as you’ll find elsewhere in the crossover market but just about good enough for bulky child seats and growing teenagers. Boot space is adequate but not brilliant; the hold is tall but not particularly wide or long. A false floor does at least make loading easier and saves some space for smaller items underneath.

A 60/40 split-folding rear bench is standard, divided conveniently to give maximum through-loading space in right-hand-drive cars. For those who need to make more of their Renegade’s carrying flexibility, a 40/20/40 split back seat and a folding front seatback are both options. A well-equipped Renegade could therefore probably be made into a very practical second car. Primary family transportation would stretch it, though, which is an accusation that can’t be levelled at plenty of other crossover hatchbacks at this price.

As for the trim choices for potential buyers, there are five to choose from - Sport, Longitude, Limited, Trailhawk and 75th Anniversary. The entry-level Sport Renegade endows the crossover with intelligent traction control, hill start assist, electronic stability and roll mitigation control as standard, while inside there is air conditioning, 6-speaker audio system, and Fiat's Uconnect infotainment system with a 5.0in touchscreen display.

Upgrade to Longitude and not only can you get a four-wheel drive Renegade, but also it comes with heated door mirrors, cruise control, rear parking sensors and front foglights thrown in, while Limited models add chrome exhaust, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats and steering wheel, front parking sensors, leather upholstery, sat nav and a 6.5in touchscreen infotainment display. There is also the inclusion of Fiat's Forward Collision Warning Mitigation and lane departure warning systems.

The range-topping Trailhawk model gets numerous additional features, which include hill descent control, reinforced protection plates for the fuel tank, transfer case and transmission, rear privacy glass and numerous Trailhawk specific decals. Currently rounding off the range is the limited edition 75th Anniversary Renegade, which has all the standard features from the Limited model and comes with a Bronze exterior details, a choice of black or Sandstorm and Tangerine upholstery and an electric sunroof.

Jeep Renegade side profile

The 2.0-litre diesel engine creates a regrettably agricultural vibe as it settles to its vocal idle. Where most modern cars produce about eight decibels less, the Renegade allows 54dB of engine noise into its cabin at idle, rising to 70dB at a 70mph cruise. It’s certainly not the start you’d hope for from a car that’s claimed to offer ‘the good manners of a passenger car’, and wider test experience suggests it may be a bigger problem in right-hand-drive examples than in European-spec left-hookers.

It’s a shame because, beyond refinement, the Renegade’s mid-range diesel engine has the right sort of character, being punchy at low and medium revs, quite strong in overall terms and always willing to work.

The brake and clutch look quite small but don’t feel that way under your foot

Dipping under the 11.0sec barrier for the 0-60mph sprint puts the car on a roughly level footing with most of its diesel rivals – most of them lighter but less powerful. But being able to accelerate from 30-70mph in fourth in about the same time as those rivals makes the Renegade feel that little bit more flexible and forceful from low revs than most of the direct opposition. The engine is decently responsive, too, and while its clatter becomes all the more noticeable as it works, it spins fairly cleanly to higher revs, losing its verve only above 4000rpm.

The accelerator pedal is linear and easy to manage, but the same can’t be said of the Renegade’s clutch pedal and gearlever, both of which feel rubbery and lack reassuring positivity when you’re engaging drive.

The gearlever doesn’t like to be hurried through the gate, with third gear in particular suffering from a lack of mechanical definition.

Brake pedal feel is respectable, allowing you to bring the car smoothly to a stop without making it pitch untidily. In something this tall, that’s welcome – and speaks of good off-road controllability. Outright stopping power isn’t brilliant but is acceptable enough, given the car’s mid-range 17in wheels and the damp conditions of our test.

Jeep Renegade cornering

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles can consider the Renegade a success here in as much as the sophistication of its ride and handling are in the ballpark for the class. That doesn’t mean this is a particularly wieldy, comfortable or keen-handling car – or even that it has any of the virtues we’re inclined to praise in a high-rise family hatch. But it’s competent, being adequately responsive, grippy, stable and easy to drive, while also feeling alternative – like a Jeep. Which may have been precisely the compromise that was aimed at.

Jeep or not, the car could certainly steer much better. Perhaps inevitably, the Renegade has inherited the slightly sticky, pendulous, over-assisted steering we’ve encountered on other cars with the same platform in recent years, such as the Punto Evo and Fiat 500L.

The chassis is civilised enough to keep you comfy and secure, while gently reminding you that it’s ready for a sortie down a muddy track

Rarely can you guide the car with the fluency and precision that a keener driver would appreciate, and never with any meaningful feedback from the front wheels.

If the car’s occasionally jostling, bumbling, firmly damped ride offends, it’ll probably be because you’ve got no affinity for the heavy-duty, old-school SUVs the Renegade seeks to reference in just about everything it does – and if so, you’d be unlikely to find yourself experiencing it for long anyway.

For anyone with even the remotest fondness for what might be called a ‘proper’ off-roader, meanwhile, the Renegade’s ride is actually part of its appeal. Body movements are more pronounced than those of most crossovers and aren’t dealt with subtly, but they’re reined in well enough to keep the car on line and under control, even when pushing on.

Grip levels are moderate but respectable and don’t deteriorate with the pronounced but ultimately controlled body roll exhibited through tighter, harder-charged bends. Up to the point that you start testing the effectiveness of the four-wheel drive and torque vectoring systems to shuffle power between the rear wheels, the cornering balance is decent and the authority of its steering likewise.

Off road, the Renegade’s four-wheel drive system finds strong traction and conserves forward momentum well. With both the torque vectoring and hill descent control systems relying on the brakes to work, tougher tracks can set a test that the brakes can’t live up to indefinitely.

Still, the car will go farther and harder into the rough than many would believe — and most owners are ever likely to require.

Jeep Renegade

This is where the case for the Renegade begins to unravel. It feels very much like a car originally intended to take Jeep into what marketeers call the B-SUV segment, alongside the Skoda Yeti and Renault Captur. But it’s as if those same marketeers realised that, in order to adequately represent the Jeep brand, the Renegade would need more power, more mechanical specification and more 4x4 capability than that segment routinely offers –and all of that inflates the car’s price.

And so to all but those in love with the idea of a downsized Jeep or who’ll make regular use of its off-road talents, the Renegade ends up simply looking like a curious alternative to a full-size crossover such as the Nissan Qashqai, Mazda CX-5 or Peugeot 3008: characterful and capable, sure, but also downmarket, with its supermini-level material quality levels, and lacking in space.

CAP expects the Renegade to outperform the Nissan Qashqai in percentage terms over four years

Jeep uses the high equipment levels of the car to justify its price, pointing out that a like-for-like Mini Countryman Cooper D will cost you £1750 more than a Renegade 1.6 Multijet Limited, considering that sat-nav, climate control, 18in alloys and leather are all standard on the Jeep and costly options on the Mini.

But it’s an argument that won’t hold water for a great many because, first and foremost, it makes the Renegade look expensive on paper.

We would recommend opting for the cheapest 4x4 model – 2.0-litre Multijet 140 Longitude, as front-wheel drive versions miss the point, and add 17in alloys and the Function 1 pack (consisting of electric folding door mirrors and keyless entry and start). Although there are other equipment packs which may take your fancy, albeit they are quite expensive. For example the Parking Pack adds a rear-view camera, blind spot monitoring and parking assist, while the Visibility Pack includes auto lights and wipers, xenon headlights and an electrochromatic rearview mirror.

Credit to Jeep for offering the varied and flexible finance deals on the car that it’ll need to attract the younger buyers at whom it’s aiming. And for creating an environment for those deals to flourish by delivering better residual values than we’ve seen from Jeep in a long time.


3.5 star Jeep Renegade

As a portent of what to expect from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the Renegade offers some reassurance. It’s proof that the group understands the Jeep brand and has ambitions for it. 

It also shows that Jeep’s dual-purpose remit continues to make it difficult for the car to match the dynamic sophistication of the best European crossovers, and perhaps that FCA’s engineering can still only take its cars so far.

Charmingly authentic — but also pricey and rather rough and ready

This is a likeable car and a reasonably effective one. That it doesn’t ride or handle as neatly as some of its opponents and isn’t as polished to drive on the road is at least partly because it aims for – and delivers – more off-road capability than those cars. Which is, after all, what a Jeep is for.

And yet on refinement, steering, ride tuning and cabin finish, the Renegade could be improved without changing its nature, while its value has been eroded by over-engineering and questionable market positioning to the point where, for mainstream buyers, it’ll be a hard purchase to justify.

While it is a step in the right direction for Jeep, the Renegade still falls short of the equivalent Nissan Qashqai, Ford Kuga, BMW X1, Skoda Yeti and Mazda CX-5. Until Fiat Chrysler Automobiles address the power steering, the ride and mechnical refinement, the Renegade will struggle to against its European crossover competition.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Jeep Renegade First drives