Over the years, Jeep has tried and mostly failed with their compact and small crossover offerings. The now-defunct Liberty and probably soon-to-disappear Patriot were good tries, but not very successful. They lacked the essential Jeepness that makes a Jeep what it is. At their heart, Jeep vehicles are good off-road, sure, but they’re also reminders of the days past when a serious off-road vehicle could also double as a (really rough) daily drive and everyone felt rugged for having one.
The recent small models from Jeep have been a bit too campy and unsure of themselves, losing that rugged appeal in a grasp for the elusive “fun factor.” Finally, though, Jeep has figured it out and this time around, the Renegade has it.
The Jeep Renegade is immediately identifiable as a Jeep model upon first impression. It has the boxy look, rounded lights, slotted grille, and odd stance all Jeeps carry. It’s unique and fun to look at, but it’s also kind of sophisticated in its own way. This brand of sophistication is more about fun than ride comfort or luxury, of course. Also fitting with Jeep.
The exterior of the car is very obviously rife with Jeep-y references, and closer inspection shows even more of those “Easter Eggs” in the design. The little round headlights with a slotted grille between that’s become the trademark for Jeep is found hidden in the headlamps, tail lamps, on the windshield, and more. Inside, there are even more of them, making up the speaker surrounds, the cooling vents in the rearview antenna system, the floor mat, etc. They’re everywhere. It’s like the design team had a couple of extra days left over after creating the Renegade and decided to spend it figuring out places to hide things. It’s great.
The Jeep Renegade is a small vehicle, but it’s not tiny. The square shape has a lot of advantages, including maximizing interior space. The front seats are very good and the rear seating is very good for the class. Compared to the Fiat 500X, which shares a chassis and many components with the Renegade, the rear seating is cavernous.
On the road, the Jeep Renegade has a good feel and confident appeal, though it’s not what anyone would call comfortable or powerful. The base engine is a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder that comes straight out of the Fiat line. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, and a nine-speed automatic is optional. This engine is probably adequate, given its turbocharging and relatively high output (160 horses, 184 pound-feet of torque), but we think that the better choice is the 2.4-liter four-cylinder upgrade, which adds about 20HP (making 180) and 177 pound-feet of torque. On the highway, this engine feels like just enough to make the Renegade a competent drive.
Off-road, the Jeep Renegade lives up to its Jeep name. Although ground clearance is not really high (sitting at about 8 inches or so), it is much better than nearly all rivals. Terrain-selectable 4WD is standard, of course, and the Trailhawk edition adds lower gearing in the differential and one more drive mode selection.
One thing every Renegade must have is the removable roof panels. There are options to forego them, of course, but that would be silly. Why wouldn’t you want to be able to take chunks of the roof out and drive that way? We can’t think of a good reason. These tops can be removed by hand with twist locks similar to those found on the larger Wrangler with the paneled hard top option. The panels lift out easily and store in the cargo area on the floor in a special bag or under the rear deck’s floor panel if the spare tire is not opted for.
In every way, the Jeep Renegade is everything that a small, moderately priced, fun little Jeep should be. After a week in it, wherein it was used as a family drive and a fun times getaway machine, we fell in love with the little Renegade. It’s what’s been missing from the Jeep lineup for a long time now. We’re glad it’s back.