What is it?
The Jeep Renegade is something of a different kettle of fish for the compact crossover segment – which still doesn't have what you’d call a proper, old-school 4x4 within it: a car with plenty of grunt, a low-range transfer box and ground clearances to put a Land Cruiser to shame.
Most manufacturers would say that’s because compact crossover buyers simply aren’t asking for one, and certainly aren’t willing to pay a premium for one. But to a car-maker like Jeep, given how fast this part of the market is growing, that’s an irresistible invitation to launch one – whether the market wants it or not.
The Renegade is a 4.2-metre SUV-in-miniature that’s been designed and developed in the USA, is based on a heavily adapted Fiat supermini platform, and is being built in Italy alongside the forthcoming Fiat 500X.
Powered by a choice of MultiAir turbo petrol and Multijet turbodiesel engines, it offers clutch-driven lockable permanent four-wheel drive, an ultra-short crawler transmission ratio, hill descent control and as much ground clearance as a Range Rover Evoque – provided you plump for the range-topping Trailhawk diesel auto version that we tested.
What's it like?
The Renegade’s supermini underpinnings are a bit misleading; inside and out, the car’s a closer match for a Nissan Qashqai than a Nissan Juke. As such, its nearest rival would be a Skoda Yeti or a Vauxhall Mokka – both proof that bridging the gap between the ‘B’- and ‘C’-segment SUV can produce sales success.
Boot space is on a level with a Ford Focus-sized family hatchback, while passenger space is more generous – with headroom in ample supply. The seats themselves are a touch flat, hard and short in the base for optimal long-range comfort, but they’re entirely comfortable over middle distance.
Jeep’s Fiat parts bin cabin materials are a mixed bag; there are fairly rich mouldings on parts of the fascia, but the switchgear’s all classic Fiat Group stuff – relatively plain and dull-looking. And yet the Renegade carries its material plainness well because there are enough characterful flourishes to lift the ambience just above the humdrum. Large, squared-off cupholders; oversized, stylized air vents; bevel-trimmed instruments; even a grab handle ahead of the front passenger seat.
The Renegade isn’t a particularly refined car to drive, but the entirely reasonable way it conducts itself comes as a relief in the wake of the under-cooked Jeep Cherokee. Those oversized door mirrors and upright A-pillars make for plenty of wind noise at motorway speed, and the 2.0-litre diesel engine and automatic transmission could both be smoother – but performance is just about strong enough to be a selling point.
The chassis, meanwhile, is decently balanced, stout and stable – and also adequately quiet over scarred roads. The ride fidgets somewhat at high speeds, but the car’s primary controls are sensibly weighted and placed, and they feel broadly consistent, though lacking in tactile feedback.
On standard-fit Goodyear ‘M&S’ tyres, the Renegade Trailhawk develops a limited quantity of lateral grip on tarmac, and suffers with a squidgy sense of directional imprecision at high speeds.