First Drive

FIRST DRIVE: 2015 Jeep Renegade

The smallest Jeep yet is based on a Fiat and built in Italy

2015 Jeep Renegade

SAN JOSE, CA – The Jeep brand is one of the most iconic in the industry. Dating back to the Willys MB of 1941, it epitomizes ruggedness and off-road ability.

The purists were shocked when the Compass and Patriot were introduced. “How could Jeep do that – dilute the brand with these obviously soft-roaders.”

Wait until they see the 2015 Jeep Renegade – the smallest Jeep yet, based on a Fiat and built in Italy!

Global footprint

Jeep is now a global brand and Renegade is its entry into the burgeoning subcompact SUV segment which accounts for more than 2.7 million vehicles a year in more than 100 countries.

Jeep wants a piece of this action and the Renegade will be sold in more than 100 markets. It expects sales to be evenly split between North America and Europe initially, but sees European sales growing faster.

The current players in the space are the Kia Soul and Nissan Juke with the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3 joining the battle within the next few months. But none can or will boast the abilities of the newest Jeep which arrives in Jeep stores next month.

Defining style

The Renegade has all the defining Jeep styling touches – a seven-slot grille, big round headlights and trapezoidal wheel arches. It was designed in the U.S. but is being built in Italy on a version of the same Fiat-Chrysler “Small Wide” platform used for the Fiat 500L.


For this application, the platform has been strengthened and modified to accommodate a 4x4 drivetrain. It also gets unique suspension components.

The Renegade comes in Sport, North (badged Latitude in the U.S.), Trailhawk and Limited trim levels. It will be available with 16 powertrain combinations in markets around the world, but North American buyers will have just two options.

The standard engine is a turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder producing 160 horsepower. The other is a normally-aspirated 2.4-litre four putting out 184 horsepower and used in a variety of Chrysler and Jeep vehicles. Both engines are built in Michigan.

The 1.4 is paired with a six-speed manual transmission and the 2.4 with a ZF nine-speed automatic.

FWD or AWD

The Renegade comes in front-wheel-drive and two versions of Active Drive, a full-time all-wheel-drive system that can send 100% of engine output to any drive wheel. Active Drive Low, standard on the Trailhawk, adds a low range and a 20:1 crawl ratio in first gear.

Both Active Drive systems include Selec-Terrain, which allows the driver to select from Auto, Snow, Sand and Mud modes – and the Trailhawk adds a Rock mode. The system automatically adjusts things like throttle response, traction control, and transmission to suit the selected conditions.

Before hard-core Jeep fans dump too much negativity on the newest and smallest Jeep, they should take one for a drive – a Trailhawk model if possible.

It has all the traits expected of a Jeep, including the ability to ford almost half-a-metre (19-inches) of water and tackle some exceedingly difficult rock crawling situations – which I experienced first-hand.

Go crazy places

Jim Morrison, director of the Jeep brand says when consumers see the Jeep name on a vehicle they expect it to go “all kinds of crazy places. “We know we had to deliver on these expectations,” he said.   

The Trailhawk  has a 2.0-cm factory lift, additional suspension travel, distinctive front and rear fascias with steeper-approach-friendly bumpers, skid plates, a different steering ratio, bigger brakes and 17-inch aluminum wheels wrapped in more aggressive rubber. It is differentiated not only by its Trailhawk badges but red tow hooks and TrailRated badges.

While the Trailhawk model is aimed at the offroad set, the others are the volume models with an extensive list of standard equipment, even on the base ($19,995) Sport 2WD model.

It includes: hill start assist, power windows, tilt/telescope steering wheel, remote keyless entry, fold flat front seat, electric parking brake and a removable, reversible and height-adjustable cargo floor.

Prices range from that floor level up to $31,995 for a Limited model, which includes a wide array of features including a heated leather steering wheel, leather interior, power heated seats, dual-zone climate control, 18-cm customizable display centre, back-up camera and 18-inch alloy wheels.

Options include a dual panel moon roof that can be retracted or removed and stored, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and rear cross-path detection

Surprisingly roomy

There is a lot of room inside for such a small vehicle – it's 17-cm shorter than the Patriot. In addition to the tall seating position and resultant visibility, there 524 litres of cargo space with the seats in place and 1438 with them folded down. The front seat back also folds flat for long loads.

The interior is exceptionally well done in terms of style, materials and execution. There is no sense that you are in an economy-based vehicle. Lots of bright colours and style!

Jeep designers have made it a practice to toss in a few “easter eggs" – styling riffs spread around. In this case they include distinctive tail lights with vintage military gas can detailing, a topographical map of Moab, Utah on the rubber mat and the console bin and even a splattered paint motif for the redline on the tach, inspired by the design team’s weekend paintball sessions.

Klaus Bussee, head of interior design for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in North America said he picked his youngest designers and turned them loose. “Do what would appeal to you," he told them.

Unexpected comfort

The Renegade can venture off road or handle nasty traction situations with ease. But it also provides a surprisingly comfortable ride. Much of the credit for this dual personality can be attributed to Koni frequency-selective damping (FSD) shock absornerss at all four corners but the independent rear suspension also helps.

It is very quiet thanks to triple door seals, an acoustic laminated windshield, and isolated rear-suspension cradle.

The first Jeep saw extensive use in Europe 70 years ago for a totally different purpose. This newest one is built there and will be introduced there before crossing the Atlantic.

Naysayers, your fears are unfounded. The Renegade will spread the Jeep gospel, not dilute it.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Model: 2015 Jeep Renegade

Price Range: $19,995 - $31,995

Engines:

Turbocharged 1.4-litre SOHC four-cylinder (Sport & Latitude), 160 horsepower, 184 lb-ft of torque (@ 2,500 rpm)

2.4-litre SOHC four-cylinder (Limited & Trailhawk), 180-horsepower, 175 lb-ft of torque (@3,900 rpm)

Transmissions: Six-speed manual with 1.4-litre engine; nine-speed automatic with 2.4-litre engine

Length: 4,232 mm

Width: 1,886 mm

Wheelbase: 2,570 mm

Mass: 1,381-1,621 kg

Competitors: Kia Soul, Nissan Juke

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