World’s original off-roader maker begins the switch from mechanical to electrified tech

Find Jeep Renegade 4xe deals
Offers from our trusted partners on this car and its predecessors...
New car deals
Nearly-new car deals
From £23,490
Sell your car
In partnership with
Powered by

The remarkable growth of the Jeep brand’s European business since it became part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, now itself part of Stellantis, has been fuelled by several models but none more so than the one we’re revisiting this week: the smallest and cheapest Jeep but one of the most important, and now also one of the most technically bold - the Jeep Renegade.

The Italian-built, Fiat-platformed Renegade was unveiled in 2014, and in its second full calendar year on sale (2016) turned Jeep into the 100,000-a-year player in the European car market it had previously only ever dreamed of becoming. The bonanza didn’t stop there. The firm broke through the 150,000-unit threshold in 2018, with 45% of its Continental sales volume coming from you know where. Now the car is leading Jeep into the electrified era.

Trailhawk gets a two-tone bonnet as standard and can be had with a contrast roof as an option, but the former is a sticker decal rather than a painted finish, which might seem like another perceived quality bugbear

Arriving on UK roads late last year, the Renegade 4xe became Jeep’s first plug-in hybrid and it will be the first of several PHEV models set to drive down the lab-test CO2 emissions of its showroom fleet.

This won’t be some bit-part player adopted by a few but avoided by those who want ‘a proper Jeep’, either. It’s expected to account for a sizeable proportion of the car’s sales mix, and in one key respect – by dint of being one of only three four-wheel-drive options – it could be regarded as among the few proper Jeeps in the Renegade model range.

Back to top

The Renegade line-up at a glance

Substantial change has come to the Renegade line-up in mid-life. There is now only one diesel engine on offer, and it’s the sole Renegade with mechanical four-wheel drive. The only way to get two driven axles otherwise is to go for a PHEV. The electrified versions come either with or without a turbo for the 1.3-litre petrol engine. Trim levels range upwards from Longitude to include Limited and Trailhawk models. Other trim levels are on offer in non-hybridised cars.


2 Jeep Renegade 4xe 2021 RT hero side

The Renegade’s European production base is the old Fiat Sata plant in Melfi, Italy. The facility is shared with the closely related Fiat 500X, but the Renegade is also more distantly related (via Fiat’s Small-Wide compact car platform) to the Fiat 500L and Fiat Tipo.

Like all other Jeeps save for the Jeep Wrangler, it has a unitary or monocoque chassis and independent suspension at all corners. Unlike others, it’s pretty diminutive – only just over 4.2m long, with a wheelbase of less than 2.6m – although a full complement of four passenger doors and two rows of seats make it a reasonably practical proposition.

Range-topping Trailhawk versions of the Renegade, intended for extra off-road capability, get M+S tyres and 15mm more ground clearance than their range-mates

Since 2018, Jeep has offered European buyers 1.0- and 1.3-litre petrol engines, in the latter case with and without turbocharging, with and without four-wheel drive, and developing up to 188bhp. A 168bhp 2.0-litre diesel is also available.

The new Renegade 4xe (pronounced ‘four-by-ee’) joins the range at the upper end of the buying spectrum. Its 1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is ostensibly the same as you’ll find in other Renegades, but the driveline to the rear isn’t.

While the 4xe’s petrol engine drives the front wheels through a specially adapted six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission, a mechanical four-wheel drive system is dispensed with and an ‘electric rear axle’ is adopted instead. This consists of a 60bhp, 184lb ft synchronous motor packaged over the rear axle and fed by an 11.4kWh drive battery that’s carried along the transmission tunnel immediately ahead of the 37-litre petrol tank.

The 4xe is available in two mechanically distinct variations. Lower-trim versions use a 128bhp combustion engine, while the range-topping Trailhawk variant gets 178bhp of piston power, for up to 237bhp of total system output. That’s a broadly competitive figure for a compact plug-in hybrid SUV.

As the ‘maximum capability’ version of the 4xe, the Trailhawk also gets 15mm more ground clearance than lesser trims, as well as underbody protection plates, M+S (mud and snow) tyres and the full range of electronically controlled, off-road-intended traction control and hill descent modes.


13 Jeep Renegade 4xe 2021 RT cabin

Compact, boxy and pugnaciously cute as it may be, the Renegade just about counts as a proper four-seat, five-door family car. To squeeze three on its back seat would be a trial, but two younger adults fit just fine.

The relocation of the 12V battery to the side of the boot compartment, along with the packaging of the electric drive motor and power inverter under the floor, has affected boot capacity. The storage space is a little narrow and shallow by class standards and there’s only 330 litres under the load-bay cover, which is a good deal less than even a Volkswagen Golf hatchback offers until you start folding seats and loading to the roof. However, there is space for a full-sized spare wheel under the floor if you want one. If you don’t, the split-level boot floor makes the best of what storage volume there is.

Renegade has plenty of ‘Easter egg’ surprise design features, but the inch-high outline of Bigfoot striding along the base of the rear window is our favourite

The driving environment is quite distinctive, characterful and colourful in places, although some notable low points on perceived quality rather betray this Renegade’s status as ostensibly a pretty cheap crossover with an expensive powertrain. Luckily for Jeep, its cars have always had functional cabins finished quite sparsely and with plain, tough materials.

The Renegade’s certainly feel quite plain; not always so tough or hard-wearing, though. The shiny, wobbly mouldings used around the steering column are like those that other manufacturers only fit to prototypes. Elsewhere, flimsy, rough-feeling seat adjustment levers, dull-looking ‘leathers’, wobbly exterior mirrors and hollow-sounding doors might leave a slightly sour taste in your mouth.

The driving position is medium high, granting good visibility in most directions, on a broadly comfortable driver’s seat that lacks some adjustability. The secondary controls are chunkily proportioned. Having a good-sized scroll knob for the touchscreen infotainment system, for example, would be useful when driving in gloves or with dirty hands.

Jeep’s alterations to the instrument pack for the PHEV version of the Renegade didn’t seem to make quite so much sense to our testers. By removing the standard car’s analogue speedometer and replacing it with a fixed ‘power/ charging gauge’, it has taken away something useful and replaced it with something at least a bit superfluous.

Being told how hard the car’s powertrain is working or regenerating power at any one time seems a little needless when the position and action of your right foot can inform you just as well. That’s true particularly considering that the digital speedometer that has been added is generally given too little prominence on the wider instrument layout, although that does depend on the display mode you’ve chosen for the slightly antiquated-looking digital trip computer.

Jeep Renegade 4xe infotainment & sat-nav

All Renegade 4xe models come with an infotainment offering that includes a 7.4in central driver display and an 8.4in ‘UConnect’ touchscreen with a factory navigation system, an in-car wi-fi hotspot and wired smartphone mirroring for both Apple and Android handsets. (Wireless device charging isn’t available.)

It’s a slightly basic-looking but pretty comprehensive set-up and Jeep’s layout of shortcuts makes it usable enough. There are built-in software app screens that allow you to manage the car’s charging preferences and to keep track of what it’s doing in its various off-roading modes; and if you download the UConnect app to your smartphone, you can connect to the car remotely to check its condition and prepare it for departure.

The car’s factory navigation system can be a little fussy when you’re programming a destination; it didn’t accept voice commands every time for us; and the mapping it displays lacks a little bit of detail and graphical sophistication.


25 Jeep Renegade 4xe 2021 RT engine

Some manufacturers are starting to integrate the technology associated with PHEVs into the driving experience in a pretty slick and seamless way. It’s early days, of course, but Jeep isn’t at that stage.

This firm’s models were among the original ‘dual-purpose’ off-roaders, and you might well consider this one a ‘multi-purpose’ vehicle of a sort. What it lacks, however, is much in the way of overarching consistency between its various and discrete operating roles – a matching strength and refinement about its motorway performance, for example, as it has when running in zero-emissions urban mode, or the ability to cruise sufficiently economically in ‘range-extended mode’ so that you might consider it frugal for more than just short-range pootling.

Charging port is on the nearside rear quarter panel, opposite the fuel filler. The fastest charge it will accept is at 7.4kW AC, taking about two hours to go from empty to full.

The car performs well around town when there is charge in its batteries. The electric rear axle is evidently geared short to satisfy Jeep’s requirements for the Renegade off the road. Away from rest and up to about 40mph, then, it’s very easy to avoid rousing the combustion engine (you can simply select Electric driving mode to be sure not to) and there’s plenty of torque for nippy, enjoyable bursts of acceleration.

Seek to maintain the same nippiness between 30mph and 50mph, though, and the engine chimes in pretty frequently when you switch back to Hybrid mode. Above 50mph, that engine runs more often than not – and you’ll know when it is. The 1.3-litre petrol four-pot feels a little rough and sounds particularly noisy when working at revs, and there’s a slightly diesely clatter about it when warming up.

Our performance figures bear witness to a car that’s fairly assertive from low speeds, but a lot slower at motorway pace and beyond, when the electric motor has run out of gearing and effectively shut down. The 14.4sec the car needs to get from 60mph to 100mph is no quicker than a pretty average family hatch.

Jeep’s six-speed automatic transmission, meanwhile, does seek to present a consistent performance level by blending the combustive and electric power available under your foot, but it often does this by slipping and delaying the engagements of lower intermediate gears and it isn’t the most convincing juggling routine.

At times, particularly after the engine has just started, the 4xe’s accelerator pedal can feel numb and dead, and when running in E-Save mode (in which the petrol engine has to run as a charger for the drive battery while also providing motive power for the car), there’s a notable dullness and clunkiness about the powertrain’s responses.


27 Jeep Renegade 4xe 2021 RT on road front

There are a few notable dynamic compromises of the Renegade 4xe to acknowledge in this section, relative to a typical compact SUV – which the Jeep isn’t, needless to say.

You don’t produce genuine off-road ability in a 4x4 of this size and type without a permanently raised ride height or a set of tyres that, because they’re ready to deal with mud, grass and loose surfaces, don’t grip on dry asphalt as keenly as they otherwise might. Then, of course, you don’t leave the dynamic compromise you’ve already struck entirely unaffected when you add a couple of hundred kilograms into the car by way of batteries and electric motors.

Its retention of Jeep-grade off-road ability results in compromises to its ride and handling, but they’re easier to rub along with than the light, elastic feel of the steering

Nobody would expect this car to handle like a Jaguar I-Pace, then, and although it’s a little rough and poorly resolved to drive in some ways, the Renegade’s handling isn’t objectionable, either. When we road tested the regular Jeep Renegade at the end of 2016, we reported that it had an “occasionally jostling, bumbling, firmly damped ride” and “slightly sticky, pendulous, over-assisted steering”, but it still handled inoffensively enough to satisfy those predisposed to its “throwback, proper off-roader” dynamic ethos. The 4xe rings most of the same bells.

It has a vaguely teetery-feeling, roll-happy sort of lateral body control, and a busy, occasionally fussy and pitching primary ride on cross- country A- and B-roads. That lateral body control imposes a natural speed limit on your cornering, although it needn’t necessarily be considered a restrictive one; and the primary ride can become a little tiresome on long motorway journeys, when the car’s body seldom settles for long, and on choppy B-road surfaces.

If you like the cut of this car’s jib, though – and this is quite an easy car to like – you’ll simply adapt to the Renegade’s way of doing things. However, it’s not like so many modern Land Rovers, whose off-road capabilities seem to come at little or no cost to on-road refinement or drivability.

The lightness and elasticity of the steering was a bigger bugbear for most testers than any of its other dynamic transgressions, because it makes the Renegade less intuitive to place than it need be. The car’s grip level may be only moderate during harder cornering, but its stability isn’t in question, the tyres and electronic stability controls neatly preventing you from putting the sort of lateral load into the chassis that would test its roll control to breaking point.

The way the electric rear axle keeps the chassis on line when you’re gently goading it through a corner, meanwhile, is quietly impressive – even if that clunky auto ’box can still cause waves of steering corruption when it decides to engage drive at the front axle as you exit a bend.

Off-road notes

In Trailhawk form, the Renegade offers plenty of off-road capability, although not so much that you couldn’t beat it with the right second- hand Land Rover or Toyota. The car’s near-30deg approach and departure angles are its best assets off road.

It actually has a lesser wading depth and only 5% more ground clearance than a Toyota RAV4 PHEV. Braked trailer towing capacity, at 1150kg, is also a little disappointing. The Renegade is designed to tolerate the odd light underbody grounding contact, but you’ll be surprised at the slopes and hollows it will tackle without grounding out.

The standard M+S tyres make for plenty of grip on mud, dirt and grass, and low-speed controllability is good in the more serious off-road driving modes, which desensitise the accelerator pedal usefully. The slightly spongy-feeling brake pedal can be a frustration both off the road and on it, though.

Comfort and isolation

Electric motors may not be noisy things, but boxy Jeeps with upright windscreens, big door mirrors and chunky tyres tend to be. Suffice to say, the Renegade doesn’t exactly sail along serenely even when its combustion engine is shut down. (It certainly doesn’t when it’s running.)

Our road test noise measurements were taken with the car in Hybrid mode and the petrol engine shut down at both 30mph and 50mph, and yet, at 50mph, plenty of petrol-engined family hatches we’ve tested recently run more quietly. The wing mirrors generate plenty of flutter and the door seals aren’t brilliant at shutting out the rush of the air.

There’s generous head room in both rows of seats, although the front ones don’t have particularly supportive or adjustable cushions. Outright leg room is only average up front, while a lack of telescoping reach adjustment on the steering column will make the car less comfortable than bigger off- roaders for longer-legged drivers.


1 Jeep Renegade 4xe 2021 RT hero front

The Jeep Renegade’s boxy proportions will help it to assume the visual presence it needs to mix it with bigger compact SUVs that can be bought for the £36,500 price of the range-topping 4xe, but the car’s limited inward practicality may not trick family buyers quite as easily.

Plenty of PHEV SUVs are pricier still, of course. And yet the Renegade 4xe doesn’t quite have the electric range it would need to squeeze into an 11% benefit-in-kind company car tax classification and to reach out as an outstanding fleet option, either. As it is, the 14% bracketing of our test car still ought to appeal to plenty. But it does seem odd that Jeep isn’t offering a cheaper, sub-50g/km, road-tyred, mid-spec version of the Renegade 4xe that might bring its 237bhp hybrid powertrain to a wider fleet audience.

CAP’s forecast is particular savage for the Renegade’s first year of ownership. Rival PHEVs fare better.

Electric range for the car proved to average around 21 miles on test – the kind of showing that we were used to from PHEVs five or 10 years ago but now looks a bit tokenistic and might be unlikely to drive down your monthly fuel budget too far.

Disappointing real-world fuel economy when the car is running on a depleted battery won’t do much to help there, either. You’ll do well to breach the 40mpg barrier on a long motorway cruise.


29 Jeep Renegade 4xe 2021 RT static

Developed with a clear eye on off-road capability as well as on-road dynamic sophistication, the Renegade 4xe has a tougher brief than so many of its plug-in rivals.

An equivalent Mini Countryman or Vauxhall Grandland X could be awful to drive off the Tarmac and very few owners would ever know. But a Jeep must be a Jeep; even the littlest one in the range must claw and climb slopes, and squelch and scrabble through mud, water and dirt, when called to.

This is a car for those with off-road driving in mind, so either go the whole hog with the Trailhawk or don’t bother

The good news is that even a new-age electrified Jeep will do that – and do it quite well. The 4xe is every bit as capable as a more conventional off-roader of its kind. So, with muddy tracks, soggy camping pitches and the odd sandy beach in mind, Renegade 4xe owners ought to be very satisfied with the variety of places their car will take them.

For those whose use for it won’t differ much from that of any other plug-in family SUV, though, the rougher edges of the car’s performance, ride and handling, and its slightly limited practicality, are likely to disappoint.

The Renegade remains a cheery, likeable car, but your inclination to indulge it may be more finite than you realise.

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.