From £30,7096
Jeep's first plunge into electrification is on in its most popular and smallest model. Is it worth splashing out for?

What is it?

“It’s the start of a new era!” Jeep says. “It’s to reduce your fleet CO2 average!” we say. Regardless, it’s a show of confidence in the rough and tough US maker that it’s the first Fiat Chrysler Automobiles brand with a European presence to receive a plug-in hybrid powertrain. 

And it won’t be the last. It’ll come as no surprise that Jeep is one of the biggest polluters in the group’s stable, and even FCA’s emissions credit pooling with Tesla will go only so far to remedying that. So Jeep needs electrification to do some of the legwork. The ever-popular Jeep Jeep Renegade takes priority but soon to follow are a plug-in Jeep Compass and Jeep Wrangler, and all models will feature some form of battery propulsion by 2022. 

The Renegade 4xe (pronounced 4-by-e) joins an ever-growing rank of plug-in SUVs, but Jeep touts the Mini Countryman PHEV as its main challenger. Pricing is broadly similar, although the Jeep is more comprehensively equipped as standard. 

It makes use of a 1.3-litre turbo petrol engine, itself giving 128bhp (or a sprightly 177bhp in top-spec Trailhawk trim, which we’re not driving here). That’s combined with a 59bhp electric motor mounted over the rear axle in all models for four-wheel drive without the need for a second driveshaft.

Those output figures are healthy enough, but they’re lugging a car that’s between 130kg and 200kg heavier (depending on spec) than the pure combustion-engined variants. Despite an 11.4kWh battery crammed under the passenger compartment, Jeep claims there has been no loss of space, although the hardware under the boot floor robs 20 litres of outright capacity. 

What's it like?

Visually identical to the pure petrol and diesel models, save for a charging flap mirroring the fuel cap on the other side and a bit of badging. Unlike some PHEV variants, there are three trim levels on offer, from the base Longitude up to Trailhawk, which brings off-road tyres and plenty of rugged addenda.  

Inside, it’s also standard Renegade fare, aside from some subtly placed powertrain mode buttons and a new instrument cluster. Oddly, Jeep has elected to provide both an analogue rev counter and power use dial, but no analogue speedo, with the (admittedly clear and bright) central display the only source of that info.

Solidity and utilitarianism take priority over elegant design and posh materials inside, although the classic Jeep ‘easter eggs’ dotted about the place raise a smile and remind you that this is not an identikit faux SUV. 

Moving off in electric power, there’s the usual eerie augmented whirr to warn pedestrians of your presence. However, our test car sometimes drowned this out with a rather loud transformer-like buzz, which is apparently part of the cooling process.

It’s sprightly enough in EV mode, meaning it’s easy to avoid the engine firing up below the EV top speed of 81mph, at which point the engine is forced into play. And boy does it make itself known when that happens. The four-cylinder unit isn’t the quietest in this application and sounds and feels ever more strained the further you venture up the rev range. It’s fine once up to speed, but that’s mostly because wind noise from the Renegade’s brick-like aerodynamics takes centre stage. Frankly, in refinement terms, it’s off the pace out of town.

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Outright performance is entirely adequate for ambling about on this base variant, but it doesn’t really feel as brisk as the figures suggest when full thrust is demanded. It’s not exactly underpowered, yet somebody reading the spec sheet and expecting it to feel leagues ahead of lesser Renegades might be underwhelmed. 

Part of that could be down to the six-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox, which, while smooth enough, doesn’t offer the change speed and ratio choice of more modern dual-clutch systems. More's the pity that the 237bhp version (that's total system output) – which, from a brief drive, is noticeably perkier – is available on only the bells and whistles Trailhawk in the UK. 

Efficiency-wise, a mixed 58-mile route around hilly northern Italy depleted the battery in a respectable 27 miles - actually beating the official figure. Even once apparently empty, the Renegade generally keeps enough juice in reserve to pull itself up to about 15mph without the engine thanks to braking and coasting regenerative top-up. Off-throttle regen braking can be enhanced with a button down by the gearlever, but it’s not too fierce even then. 

The indicated 58mpg returned over our test route is probably (at an informed guess) 25mpg or so better than an equivalent pure petrol version would manage on the same route.  Whether that’s worth the extra initial outlay – it's around £5500 pricier than an equivalent pure petrol 1.3 – depends entirely on personal circumstances. We’ve no doubt the lower benefit-in-kind rate will appeal to fleet users, though.

One unexpected benefit of the battery’s added weight is a ride comfort boost. Although it's aided by modest 18in wheels, this Renegade felt noticeably more settled over pockmarked terrain than other versions we’ve tried. The trade-off is pronounced body lean, which combined with the elastic, wholly remote steering means piling into bends at speed is best avoided. Grip is strong enough, but the 4xe feels every bit of its circa-1600kg mass and wouldn’t see which way a Countryman went on a twisting B-road. 

However, the Renegade has an ace up its sleeve. Unlike the Countryman and other faux 4x4s, its talents in the rough stuff are genuinely surprising - helped further still by the precise, smooth metering of power in EV mode. If proper off-road ability is a must, little else can touch it at this end of the market. 

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Unlike a number of plug-in hybrids the 4xe doesn’t support more rapid 22kW charging: 7.4kW is as fast as it gets, meaning a 0-80% charge takes around an hour and a half. Jeep has teamed up with Engenie for an app-controlled home wallbox that, it claims, can be installed without an electrician, although one will be needed to upgrade it from domestic 3kW to the full 7.4kW. 


Should I buy one?

Outside of the realms of dynamic polish, there’s a likeable car in the Renegade 4xe. Its distinctive looks, characterful cabin and (especially in Trailhawk form) a feeling of invincibility in the rough stuff are refreshingly different from today’s small SUV norm. 

If this is a must-have for you, then perhaps the Renegade 4xe’s appeal is greater than this modest star rating would have you believe. But we must consider it in the context of rivals and the general buying public, who aren’t likely to need much more than the modest mud-plugging ability most four-wheel-drive crossovers offer in any real-world scenario.

In that context, the Jeep falls short. Its plug-in powertrain offers a decent EV range and smooth low-speed running but is below the class standards in terms of high-speed refinement and drivability. Its on-road handling is mediocre at best, despite a decent ride. Put simply, it lacks the overall polish you would expect at this price point.  

Jeep Renegade 4xe specification

Where Italy Price £34,500 On sale Now Engine 4 cyls, 1332cc, turbocharged, petrol, plus electric motor Power 187bhp at 5500rpm Torque Combined system output not specified Gearbox 6-spd automatic, e-axle Kerb weight 1600kg (est) Top speed 113mph 0-62mph 7.5sec Fuel economy 134.5mpg CO2 52g/km Tax band 12% Rivals Mini Countryman PHEV, Kia Niro PHEV





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AaronOwen 5 September 2020

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Old But not yet Dead 5 September 2020

Painfully expensive

It really is a £20k product, that with PHEV should be no more than £25k. No matter, but if I were Jeep UK it would not be wise to order more than  a couple for each dealer .

si73 6 September 2020

Old But not yet Dead wrote:

Old But not yet Dead wrote:

It really is a £20k product, that with PHEV should be no more than £25k. No matter, but if I were Jeep UK it would not be wise to order more than  a couple for each dealer .

si73 6 September 2020

Jeeps do seem way overpriced

Jeeps do seem way overpriced but I have read they're cheap in the US, so is it just us being ripped off? To be fair though all its phev competition are also stupidly priced but I can't help but like this due to its Tonka toy styling, and I do wonder if it's as compromised as the reviewer says, after all I've driven a fair few cars dismissed by reviewers and enjoyed them and also found nothing special in cars they rave about, like a Golf.
xxxx 4 September 2020

For the private buyer that can afford 34.5k

Why not get an 4wd xc40 200ps for exactly the same money and enjoy driving and stop thinking about that 500 quid a year you're saving on petrol by driving this flawed pos. You never know it might be your last year, if it is not you will get the money back come resale time.