You say you want a small crossover/SUV? We can’t blame you.
It’s just about the hottest-selling segment in the industry, and it looks like the small family sedan is taking a firm backseat because of it.
And while there are a lot of nice choices out there, there is a problem. They all sort of look alike. There are notable exceptions like the mutant amphibian Nissan Juke. And the squat-and-squashed Mini Clubman. But in general, and HRV, CRV, CX-3, CX-5, RAV4, Forester, Rogue all look – and function – like relatives at a family reunion.
Is the Jeep Renegade the cure for the common crossover?
The look is a great start. With the round headlamps and the horizontal bar grille the front end is pure Jeep, and we love it. Okay, better make that a 7/8th’s scale Jeep, because of the smaller physical size. But it’s got presence and personality.
Our Renegade worked even harder to stand out from the crowd with a citrusy exterior called Omaha Orange. On top of that, our tester was a Trailhawk 4X4, which looks a little more butch, thanks to a taller ride height, black 17-inch alloys, and meaty 215/65R 17-inch white-letter tires. With a blacked-out patch on the hood, and black moldings around the body, you get an interesting blend of cute, rugged, and boxy.
It immediately reminded us of the kind of Jeep you rent if you’re on vacation in Hawaii.
While you might have a chance to take in a local Luau, the Renegade does its best to entertain with 30 or so “Easter Eggs” that have hidden Jeep words, designs or characters hidden throughout the vehicle inside and out. We won’t spoil the fun…
One badge you can’t miss is the prominent “Trail Rated” plaques on the outside. No baseless boast, Jeep is serious about bona-fide off-road capabilities before they let any of their vehicles wear the badge, and the cute Renegade is no exception.
Inside, you’ve got more of that Jeep goodness. The tall, upright stance and large windows give excellent visibility, whether you’re on the Road to Hana or the Road to Costco.
The interior is functional in a square-jawed, get-it-done way, with gauges that are easy to see, controls made easy to find and manipulate, and a durable solid look.
Which I not to say you’re roughing it. Our tester had cushy heated power front seats trimmed in Lux Leather (wasn’t he the bad guy in Superman?), dual-zone climate controls, a 9-speaker, 506 watt, gut-rumbling Beats premium audio system, navigation, and Jeep’s excellent Uconnect info-tainment system.
We really liked the fat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and the 7-inch, TFT screen between the gauges that displays navi prompts, select-terrain info, Parking assistance, a digital speedometer (our favorite) and other information.
It does make the 5-inch touchscreen in the center console look a little skimpy, though. To make up for it, our tester had the optional My Sky open-air, dual panel roof. You can use it as a traditional power roof, or completely remove both panels for nearly unobstructed viewing. Nice for Hawaii, or just about anywhere.
When it comes to utility, Renegade’s 40/20/40 folding rear seat makes easy work of the bring-along, while a height-adjustable cargo floor gives added flexibility. And if you have the urge to bring along a longboard, the front passenger seat even folds forward.
So it’s got the looks and the goods, how’s the drive?
Let’s start with the plusses. The ride is excellent –give thanks to that long-legged off-road suspension and the high ground clearance. Handling feels solid too. The high stance doesn’t really make you want to grab a twisty road, but it’s easy to zip around in traffic.
We didn’t go off-roading, but if you do, the Trailhawk is loaded with technology to help get the job done, including a Selec-Terrain dial that optimizes the 4WD system for Snow, Sand, Mud, or even Rock crawling. The Trailhawk features Jeep Active Drive Low 4×4, to further enhance its capabilities. It’s hard to imagine anything this small with better off-road athleticism, except for maybe a mountain goat. Wearing hiking boots. Impressive.
We were less impressed with the Renegade’s Zip. It’s pokey. The 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder Tigershark engine sounds like it should punch hard, with 180 hp, and 175 lb-ft of torque in a small vehicle. The problem here is weight. At over 3,500 lbs. It’s a lot of mass. Part of that is due to the 4WD system and associated components. If you’re not going off road, a front-wheel drive model may make more sense, and give more giddy-up.
The other less-than-stellar performer was the 9-speed automatic. This transmission has had some problems in the past, and Jeep/Chrysler/Dodge has been working feverishly to sort them out. But honestly, the 9-speed auto’s in other vehicles we’ve driven – like Honda’s new Passport – haven’t been great either.
It seems like too many gear choices causes analysis paralysis, and the Renegade ends up hunting for gears or being slow to decide. We found that a moderately steady increase of throttle sent the message most clearly to the transmission, and we made good progress with a minimum of fuss.
It did make us wonder about the base model’s 1.4-liter Turbo with the 6-speed manual transmission. It would probably suit the Renegade’s fun-loving attitude perfectly.
And the fact is, fun can be had quite cheaply. The base Renegade Sport FWD starts at just $17,995. That’s a whole lot of personality, practicality and fun for the price of an entry-level Corolla.
Jeep gives you 6 levels of Renegade, including a swanky 75th Anniversary Edition and a rather mean-looking Dawn of Justice Special Edition. The Trailhawk is, appropriately, the king of the mountain, and starts at $26,745.
Our tester was liberally-equipped, and added the Premium Trailhawk Group, ($1,545 of leather-lined goodness), Keyless Entry System ($125-nice), Safety and Security ($695- includes Blind Spot Warning, definitely worth it), Ginormous My Sky Power Retractable/Removable Panel roof (very reasonable at $1,470), Beats Premium Audio ($695 – a necessity with the My Sky roof) and Remote Start System ($125 –cheap and super useful.)
All totaled up, you’re looking at $32,095. Not inexpensive, but lots of models and options should help you find a sweet spot to fit your budget.
We really loved our time with the Renegade. It does everything you’d want a small crossover/ute to do, offers impressive off-road performance, and most importantly, serves it up with such endearing personality and style that it makes every drive feel like you’re on vacation. And that’s a cure for the common crossover we can all support.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.