2015 Jeep Renegade: The Lightweight Pugilist

Strong points
  • Rugged looks
  • Off-road capabilities (Trailhawk)
  • Interesting list of available features
Weak points
  • A little expensive
  • Automatic gearbox needs improvement
  • Very large front pillars hamper visibility
Full report

It was created in America, but the 2015 Jeep Renegade is built in Italy alongside the also-new 2016 Fiat 500X crossover. A sin for a typically all-American brand perhaps, but most Renegade buyers probably won’t even realize it, so it I guess it doesn’t really matter. Let’s hope its reliability is more North American than Italian.

Buyers are probably smitten by the Renegade’s stubby shape and tough-guy looks. Jeep’s signature round headlights and vertical-bar grille are perfectly suited to the crossover’s attitude, while the taillights integrate unique X-shaped backup lights. Note that unique doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will like them.

Two engines are offered in the Renegade, and each gets its own transmission. A turbocharged 1.4L four-cylinder engine produces 160 horsepower, and it’s mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. This powertrain is actually fun to use, with light clutch take-up and a good amount of low-end torque for quick getaways. Too bad the plastic shift knob feels downright cheap.

Those who prefer avoiding a clutch pedal can opt for the 2.4L four-cylinder mill, teamed up with a nine-speed automatic. This bigger engine develops 180 hp, and that should be more than enough for anyone in the market for this type of vehicle. On the other hand, the automatic is tuned for driving efficiently. Unfortunately, it seems unsure which one of the nine gears is the best for the situation, and shifts are occasionally jerky.

The Renegade comes with a front-wheel drivetrain, which will get us to Walmart and back without breaking a sweat. However, for tackling our harsh Canadian winters and keeping the little Jeep’s resale value reasonable, a 4x4 system is available as well. Called Active Drive, it sends power to the front wheels under normal driving, but can reassign up to 50% of available power to the rear wheels if slippage is detected. A rotary dial on the centre stack allows a choice between various drive modes, which alters the powertrain’s behaviour.

Heading to the mall

The Renegade comes in four flavours, although the two most affordable ones, Sport and North, taste pretty much the same. Their appearance takes a down-to-basics approach, while the Limited benefits from silver-painted grille and trim as well as a longer list of standard features.

The 2015 Jeep Renegade’s ride is very car-like. Despite its short wheelbase, the little crossover isn’t jittery while cruising down city streets, and it’s quite smooth on the highway. Driving the Jeep and the Fiat 500X back to back, I found the latter to be even smoother, although they were admittedly riding on different tires.

Space up front is adequate for a subcompact crossover, and don’t be surprised to learn that two occupants will be much more comfortable in the back seat than three, given the vehicle’s width and lack of floor space for the middle passenger. The 525-litre cargo hold is roomy enough for the weekly trip to the grocery store, and folding down the split seatbacks results in a very usable volume of 1,440 litres.

Heading to the beach

Apart from some funky paint colours, the Renegade gets even cooler by adding the My Sky removable roof system. Two composite panels can be detached, providing an open-top driving experience. The front panel can even be power retractable, too. However, at higher speeds, the draft and wind noise coming into the cabin can quickly get tiresome.

In addition, many sound systems are available for making the trip to the beach more enjoyable. A basic four-speaker stereo is found in the Sport, but includes a USB port for plugging in handheld music players. More comprehensive Uconnect systems are optional, including 5.0 and 6.5-inch touchscreens, Bluetooth capability, satellite radio compatibility, more speakers and navigation.

Heading to the cabin

The only Trail Rated 2015 Jeep Renegade is the Trailhawk. It features Active Drive Low, which means it’s equipped with a 20:1 crawl ratio, a Rock drive mode, higher ground clearance and skid plates for hitting the trails and tiptoeing over rough surfaces. And tow hooks if you or someone else gets stuck.

Creeping up and down the fairly challenging Lyman Trail at FCA’s Chelsea Proving Grounds in Michigan, I was surprised at how well the little Renegade could handle itself. Its belly occasionally scraped the surface because the wheel ruts were getting deep, but it easily tackled the complete course, and felt rock solid doing it. I didn’t need the tow hooks after all.

The 2015 Jeep Renegade has everything to please, expect a bargain price tag. It starts at $19,995 before freight and delivery charges, and for that sum, you don’t even get air conditioning, unlike in the base trims of the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3. Uplevel versions top the $30k mark.

That probably won’t stop the Renegade from being a popular choice in the subcompact crossover segment, punching the lights out of a few rivals along the way.

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