2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk: Los Angeles to Detroit in Winter
by Travis Langness, Social Media Editor on January 18, 2016
It's pitch black outside and I'm at the wheel of our long-term 2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk, crawling along behind a long line of truckers. We're in the only passable lane on the highway and visibility is abysmal. The few motorists that are brave (or stupid) enough to keep driving in these conditions are moving at a snail's pace, following taillights and snow-plow tracks with a blind faith that the road will continue to exist in front of them.
We pass another jack-knifed semi and a late model Ford Ranger stuck in the center median. The driver is spinning all four tires in what looks to be three feet of snow. I feel like it's a sign.
My friend Liam and I have been on the road for eight hours, but we're still at 100 miles from our destination of Keystone, South Dakota and the weather isn't letting up.
"We could just turn around and get a hotel for the night," he says. We're both worried, but I resist the urge to indulge his perfectly reasonable suggestion.
"Yeah, but then we'd have to go back in these conditions too, right?" I'm trying to convince both of us at the same time. "I'm okay to keep going if you are," I say. He trusts me and I reward his loyalty with Red Bull for both of us, beef jerky and an extended break while I fill up the tank.
The Renegade is small, so when a big gust of wind hits the highway, it shimmies, shakes, and feels like it moves all four wheels at once. I see three more semis tipped over on the side of the highway and consciously attempt to take deep, purposeful breaths.
Then, by some wild stroke of luck, our perseverance is rewarded. The weather clears up.
Snow plows clear and prep the highway, the snow becomes a light flurry and we're suddenly in the clear. The brutal weather system passes and within 90 minutes, we make it to Keystone intact. From the looks of it, our arrival doubles the town's population that night.
Keystone was the halfway point for my drive to the Detroit Auto Show; 1,400 miles from Los Angeles and 1,400 miles from Detroit. It's a veritable ghost town in winter but it's also home to the Black Hills Mountains and Mount Rushmore, the second stop on our trip. The next morning, we drove up the hill to see some big presidential faces, then shivered back into the Renegade, seat warmers on high.
Rain accompanied us out of California, then light snow through Nevada, Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, but Day Three was the worst. From Mt. Rushmore to Detroit, there was still plenty to deal with, but stress levels were much lower. Along the more relaxing legs of the trip, where I had time to poke around and settle in to the Jeep, I added to my long list of lasting impressions.
I learned what it takes to best the EPA highway fuel economy rating (more on that later), I figured out that it's way too easy to hit the "4WD LOCK" button when you're digging around in the front storage bin, and I know that I'd pay double the asking price for the remote-start system. It's worth every penny, especially when it's eight degrees outside.
The Uconnect system that powers the radio, navigation and Bluetooth, is one of the best on the market. For the Renegade, it's also a must-have.
The Jeep was big enough for the two of us, but not much else. We carried winter clothes, camera bags, some food and other essentials, but there wasn't much room left in the trunk and no one in the back seat would've been happy.
Ride quality was choppy and stiffly-sprung in the city, but on long-haul highway stretches, the Renegade Trailhawk was surprisingly comfortable. It settled down and cruised like a champ.
For power, the Jeep was, simply put, not powerful enough. The 180-horspower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder and nine-speed automatic transmission have trouble, especially on mountain passes and long grades. It's got personality, but this is a slow car.
When I handed off the keys in Detroit (Features Editor Mike Magrath is driving it back from Detroit as I write this from my cushy, heated apartment in L.A.), I realized I wasn't worried about the Jeep. I wasn't looking over my shoulder with nostalgia or fond memories about the car.
I typically use long road trips like this to bond with our long-term cars, especially the good ones, but after six days there just wasn't any connection. I had a blast, saw amazing things, explored breathtaking landscapes and in the end I had respect for the Renegade. But I didn't love it.
Travis Langness, Social Media Editor @ 11,977 miles