2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk: No Transmission Love
by Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor on March 3, 2016
It's official. The ZF 9-speed transmission is a dud.
It's in our long-term 2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk, Honda Pilot, Acura TLX, and it was in our Jeep Cherokee. I know a lowest common denominator when I see one.
Does the ZF 9-speed ruin every car it's in? Easy, now. That's strong language. Let's not get carried awa- well, okay, you talked me into it. It does kind of ruin every car it's in.
The ZF 9-speed transmission is slow-witted and has inconsistent gearchange speed. This combination makes for a rather unlikeable gearbox. There are technical reasons among its inner workings that are responsible, but for brevity let's just say that both its hardware and calibration share the blame. That is, it's possible that running changes to its calibration will improve its temperament, but the fundamentals of its guts will make a total transformation unlikely.
What's worse is, in the Renegade, popping the gearstick into the manual gate doesn't help. You desperately want to be the shot-caller and take the reins away from the electronic overlords, but you can tap the lever dozens of times and get maybe one downshift. Maybe. Manual mode is hilariously useless in this trucklet. Well, it'd be hilarious if it wasn't so infuriating.
It seems as though the more proactive a driver you are, the less this 9-speed cooperates. That is, if you're passive and drive sedately and don't throw it any curveballs or ask much of it, the transmission will probably be just fine. If you start wanting responsive downshifts and an alert nature, you'll be disappointed.
At first I thought: "Perhaps all 9-speeds will be this way. Perhaps we are all doomed as a civilization." Then I drove Mercedes-Benz's homegrown 9-speed transmission (which is longitudinal and not transverse like the ZF niner). Turns out, not all 9-speeds are alike. The Benz box is very good indeed, and has none of the muddy characteristics of the ZF unit.
Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor @ 16,840 miles