Though slightly slower and less fuel-efficient than its competitors, the 2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk boasts genuine off-road capability with a hearty dose of character. Combined with pleasing road behavior, the Trailhawk provides a unique option for buyers in the growing compact SUV segment.
What Is It?
With a name befitting a member of the Justice League, the Trailhawk is the off-road-focused trim level of the subcompact Renegade SUV. The only engine option is a 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder rated at 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. It's paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission that sends power to the front wheels under normal conditions. The Trailhawk comes standard with Jeep's Active Drive Low four-wheel-drive system that automatically engages the rear wheels when needed for added traction.
Donned with "Trail Rated" badges and red tow hooks, the Trailhawk trim also has more ground clearance, steeper approach and departure angles, and more aggressive gearing. The Renegade's improved off-road performance results in only minor penalties to on-road ride quality.
The Trailhawk trim also amplifies the Renegade's too-cute-to-be-serious character with unique details like a topography map of Moab molded into a tray in the center console and an optional black hood decal that makes the fascia look as if it has a Mohawk. It even has a hint to its Italian heritage (it's built at a factory in Melfi, Italy) with a spider saying "Ciao, baby!" by the gas cap.
How Much Does It Cost?
Starting at $26,990, the Trailhawk-specific hardware and visual accessories command a $5,000 premium over base all-wheel-drive Renegades. That's still $800 less than the top-line all-wheel-drive Limited model, which has more standard interior features like heated and powered leather seats and dual-zone climate control. These items are optional on the Trailhawk.
Our particular test vehicle was equipped with the Preferred package that added a navigation system and a few other upgrades for $1,245. It also had Jeep's MySky removable roof panels ($1,095), the aforementioned hood decal ($150) and a tonneau cover ($75) for a total sticker price of $29,555.
How Does It Drive on Pavement?
The Trailhawk feels bigger from the driver seat than its exterior footprint suggests, yet it still retains exceptional maneuverability. Its 35.3-foot turning circle is a foot smaller than other Renegades (thanks to smaller bumpers) and also tighter than other compact crossovers like the Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V and Nissan Juke.
Accurate, nicely weighted steering makes the Trailhawk generally enjoyable to drive on the road. You expect some pitch and roll from an off-road-oriented vehicle, but the Trailhawk stays well planted. It's a little on the stiff side, though, so it's worth considering one of the other trim levels if all your driving will be on the street.
Also, our test car had a few creaks and rattles. This might not be representative of all Renegades, as our test car exhibited signs of heavy off-road use, including a broken skid plate. We'll drive another Renegade model soon to verify.
The Trailhawk is about average when it comes to acceleration. It posted a 0-60-mph time of 9.4 seconds, which is much slower than the Nissan Juke but slightly faster than the Chevrolet Trax. When it comes to braking, the Renegade's pedal felt firm and consistent, with linear feedback. Its shortest stop was 123 feet, which was slightly longer than both the Chevrolet Trax and Nissan Juke.
How Capable Is It Off-Road?
Jeep says the Trailhawk is the most capable off-road vehicle in the segment. It's an easy boast, as none of the other competitors offer a dedicated off-road trim, but the "Trail Rated" badges have merit. Don't think that the Trailhawk can tackle the Rubicon or some of Moab's most iconic trails, but its clearances and traction allow it to climb and crawl over things other compact SUVs can't.
The Trailhawk package gives the Renegade clearances that rival the larger and more capable Cherokee Trailhawk, with the same 8.7 inches of ground clearance and larger approach and departure angles (30.5 and 34.3 degrees, respectively). This means you can drive up to, over and off of steep inclines without scraping parts of the bodywork.
Though it has the clearance, the Renegade does not have a real transfer case or locking differentials. Pressing the 4WD Lock button holds the Renegade in 1st gear, which, thanks to the shorter 4.334:1 final drive, means a 20:1 crawl ratio. For reference, the all-wheel-drive Honda HR-V's continually variable transmission falls closer to 14:1 when held in its lowest gear range, while the Cherokee Trailhawk, which has a transfer case, offers a 56:1 crawl ratio with low range engaged. So the Renegade has a low-speed gearing advantage over other compact SUVs, but the absence of a low range limits its ability to crawl like more serious off-road vehicles.
The Renegade offers electronic aids found in other Jeep models that help improve off-road capability. A hill-descent control uses selective braking to govern the Renegade's direction and speed, while the Selec-Terrain system adjusts stability control, transmission shift logic, and throttle response to suit different surfaces. In "Mud," the Renegade allows more wheelspin, while in the Trailhawk-specific "Rock," the brakes attempt to simulate a locking differential by stopping wheels without traction. This mode also automatically engages hill-descent control, which does a good job of limiting the Renegade's speed on steep inclines. While these features can't replace a true low-range or locking differentials, they roughly approximate their effects without the added cost or weight.
Taken together, these features aim to give the Trailhawk the feel of a true low-range transfer without the added cost and weight. We took our Trailhawk to a local OHV area and watched a couple of side-by-side ATVs scramble up a steep rocky pole-line road. Once the dust settled we followed in Rock mode, and with a little encouragement from our right boot the Renegade steadily worked its way up the rutted track without much fuss.
On the way back the slope was too steep for the 20:1 crawl ratio in 4WD Lock, and the Renegade yawed sideways on the loose surface when we tried manual application of the brakes. Then we engaged the Hill Descent Control, which did a much better job of keeping the Renegade in control. No Honda HR-V or Chevrolet Trax could do this.
What's the Interior Like?
Though the Renegade is a small vehicle, its tall roof and wide windshield help make the interior feel roomy. The same is true for the backseat, where larger passengers won't feel uncomfortable. Though the seats were soft and comfortable, we were disappointed by the absence of vents for backseat passengers.
Reminders of the Jeep's unique character run throughout the interior: Jeep grilles embossed into interior components, a Jeep silhouette in the windshield, a Sasquatch in the rear window, topography maps in the seats and so on. We welcome the intent to add personality to vehicles in this segment, though some buyers may be turned off by the design.
Our car's $1,245 Navigation/Satellite Radio package included a 6.5-inch UConnect infotainment system, whose combination of touchscreen interface and physical dials proved easy to learn and use. Bonus was the multiple USB ports: one on the center console and one hidden in the armrest.
The $1,095 My Sky roof panels are light and easy to remove and stow. They are another nice nod to Jeeps with removable body panels, and deliver a nice driving experience — provided you stay at low speeds. With the roof panels removed, interior buffeting is intolerable above 50 mph.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Can You Expect?
The EPA rates all-wheel-drive Renegade models equipped with the 2.4-liter at 24 mpg combined (21 city/29 highway). This is slightly worse than the segment average. The Trailhawk's more aggressive gearing and higher ride height are part of the reason. Our Renegade did manage to return 25.8 mpg on our highway-heavy 115-mile test loop, so it is possible to beat the EPA rating in some situations. Its overall mileage during its stay was 21.6 mpg.
Can It Tow or Be Towed?
When equipped with the $395 Trailer Tow Group option, the Trailhawk gets a 2,000-pound trailer rating. Given its already meager acceleration, we wouldn't expect very good performance from a Renegade with a trailer of any significant size behind it.
If you want to tow the Renegade behind your RV, look for a front-drive model or use a trailer, as flat towing all-wheel-drive Renegades can damage the drivetrain. The transfer case in the larger Cherokee Trailhawk has a neutral setting that permits flat towing.
What Competing Models Should You Also Consider?
Though not an off-roader, the 2016 Honda HR-V is available with all-wheel drive and offers a similarly strong space-to-size ratio as the Renegade. Its orientation toward on-road behavior should pay dividends in ride quality and fuel economy, though it lacks the Trailhawk's personality.
Like the Renegade, the Mini Cooper Countryman is big on personality and offers better fuel economy. All-wheel drive is available, but it's mainly for negotiating slippery streets, not muddy trails.
The 2015 Nissan Juke's exterior is polarizing, but everyone can agree it looks different, and is fun to drive. All-wheel-drive models are priced similarly to the Renegade, though limited rear headroom and cargo capacity might dissuade some buyers.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
You want a subcompact SUV that can handle a dirt road without flinching. Or you just want a small utility vehicle that is more than a boring compact sedan on stilts.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
It rides harsher than the standard Renegade models, so if you don't need the off-road capability it might not be worth the added stiffness. It also has lots of unique details that are meant to appeal to Jeep enthusiasts. If you're not in that camp, those extras aren't worth the added cost.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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