Compared to Jeep’s other smaller SUV offerings, the Renegade is completely in a league of its own. It separates itself from the rest of the Jeep range with a unique appearance, but also the rest of the small SUV spectrum with a 9-speed transmission and Jeep’s legendary off-road capability.
As my wife pointed out while navigating NYC traffic, the interior of the Renegade is as if looking through the eyes of Will Smith with his patented high top from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. It’s airy, current with today’s high-tech atmospheres, funky, fresh and cool. The Limited comes with a 7-inch TFT display as standard offering, which you can equip with optional navigation and the cabin is exceptionally quiet for a taller SUV; one that you might think would be a buffeting nightmare.
It’s very European and for good reason, because 62-percent of the Renegade’s parts are made in Italy. As part of the Fiat/Chrysler initiative to make better, smaller cars for us Americans (and the rest of the world since the Renegade will go to more than 100 global markets), the Renegade features a host of Italian gear but don’t worry, the Jeep tradition of going anywhere and being “Trail Rated” still applies, it’s just more 21st chic along the way instead of brolic bulldozer.
The 9-speed transmission means that even with only 180 horsepower, acceleration is decent and won’t make you succumb to crawling to your destination, unless that’s your objective. Moving slowly is something Jeep’s excel at off-road — though slow-speed on-road shifting could be a bit smoother. First, back to the basics. Two 4X4 modes — Active Drive and Active Drive Low — allow for “full-time” four-wheel drive, which is really just AWD with a disconnecting rear axle, and a low mode that offers a 20:1 crawl ratio. Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system in the Limited offers four selectable Terra Firma options: Auto, Snow, Sand and Mud, but the option you’ll use 99% of the time will be auto and for good reason because it’s totally competent in most conditions and with 7.9-inches of ground clearance, the only thing that will stop you will be the most extreme trails. And let’s face it; most of the Renegade clientele will be heading to beaches rather than Baja.
It doesn’t seem like it, but the Renegade is actually wider than the bigger brother Wrangler by almost six inches. The reason is because the high roofline in the Renegade throws your perceptions for a tailspin while still being shorter than the Wrangler. Trust us, it looks smaller but unless compared side by side, it’s a bit bigger.
Handling is surprisingly stable for an SUV with the proportions of Will Smith’s high top. Because of the independent suspension all around — with respectable Koni shocks providing the damping — the Renegade offers a compliant ride on the road with a stiff enough structure to not feel like a boat in the water. It’s a high-tech mixture of steel, aluminum and magnesium, which your passengers will thank it for. Confident on regular roads and commanding off, the Renegade is refined, rugged and raw.
Regarding the proportions of the Renegade, the exterior has a retro vibe to it that is as cool as a pair of classic Chucks. Chunky fenders mean there’s plenty of room for some aftermarket wheels and tires, which we believe will greatly enhance the presence and allow for even greater capability. But even without some meaty tires, the Renegade gets looks wherever it goes because it’s a different kind of Jeep, and not one that gets passed without notice. *cough, Compass, cough*
There’s a certain cool to the Renegade that only a few vehicles — or even style icons — can pull off. It’s one of those things that if you didn’t need it at the time, you might just buy based on how it made you feel. When this Jeep first came out it was one of the most anticipated cars I wanted to get into. And that’s huge coming from a major sports car fan.
While the Renegade might not be perfect — there is definitely some kinks to be worked out with the 9-speed transmission — it’s a major step for getting younger and more progressive drivers into the Jeep family. Sometimes it takes Italian flair and American heritage to make something exceptionally cool.
Efficiency: 21/29/24 mpg (city/highway/combined)
0-60 MPH: 8.8 seconds
Top Speed: 115 mph
Horsepower: 180 horsepower
Torque: 175 lb-ft
Cost: $26,795 (base) / $31,390(as tested)