The 2015 Renegade certainly isn't the first carlike Jeep, but it's the first one to prove that Jeep styling and playfulness can translate successfully to a subcompact crossover. The Renegade not only looks fun, but thanks to a well-tuned suspension, responsive steering and a functional interior, it's as useful and rewarding in everyday driving as it is during off-road adventures.
What Is It?
The Jeep Renegade is a new subcompact crossover that shares some of its mechanicals with the 2016 Fiat 500X. The Renegade is even built in the same Italian factory as its Fiat cousin. The Renegade's construction uses 70 percent high-strength steel, and that's important because it means the engineers didn't have to use as much metal. In other words, they could create a lighter vehicle that's just as strong. And while the Renegade definitely doesn't feel light (its engine would certainly agree), it feels solid and strong in a way that would make its Grand Cherokee big brother proud.
When it comes to physical dimensions, though, the Renegade is tiny. It rides on a 101.2-inch wheelbase with an overall length of 166.6 inches and a width of 74.2 inches (mirrors folded). That's nearly 16 inches shorter overall than Jeep's compact Cherokee, yet the Renegade is actually wider by an inch and is notably quite tall. It definitely doesn't look like a glorified hatchback, unlike subcompact competitors like the 500X, Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3.
What Is Under the Hood?
The Renegade offers a choice of two four-cylinder engines. The standard engine, a turbocharged 1.4-liter that develops 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, is paired exclusively to a six-speed manual. We haven't had an opportunity to test that powertrain combination, as most buyers are likely to choose the 2.4-liter four-cylinder paired exclusively to a nine-speed automatic.
Boasting 180 hp, it would on paper seem to greatly outgun its more modestly endowed competitors. However, our four-wheel-drive Renegade Latitude only managed to go from zero to 60 mph in a rather leisurely 9.4 seconds. This is quicker than the HR-V (9.7 seconds) and Chevrolet Trax (10.0), but falls well short of the class-leading CX-3 (8.5). If you're looking for brisk acceleration, this is not the segment to consider.
Still, and perhaps more importantly, the Renegade's ample 175 lb-ft of torque makes it feel much quicker than its competition when driving around town or when charging up a highway on-ramp. The nine-speed transmission does a good job of getting the most out of its power, and we found it to be reasonably quick to downshift when called upon. There were several occasions where aggressive driving was met with rough shifts or delayed responses, things we noticed in some previous Renegade test vehicles. We will be paying close attention to this in the Renegade Trailhawk we purchased for a long-term test.
What Fuel Economy Can You Expect?
With the more popular 2.4-liter engine, the EPA estimates the Renegade Latitude with four-wheel drive will return 24 mpg combined (21 city/29 highway). We saw 26 mpg on the Edmunds evaluation route and 23.8 mpg overall during two weeks of testing. This confirms the EPA figures, but is considerably lower than those for the HR-V and CX-3, which both topped 31 mpg on the Edmunds evaluation route. Matching those vehicles would require going with the base 1.4-liter engine. It's rated to deliver up to 27 mpg in combined driving.
It should at least be noted that the off-road-oriented Renegade Trailhawk boasts the same estimates as other trim levels, and was only marginally less efficient than the Latitude in our testing.
Can It Really Go Off-Road?
The Renegade comes standard with front-wheel drive, but because it's a Jeep, there are two optional all-wheel-drive systems. Jeep Active Drive is the one underneath most Renegades, such as the Latitude trim level we tested, and features four Selec-Terrain settings (Auto, Snow, Sand and Mud) that tailor the four-wheel-drive system as well as the transmission shifting and steering effort to specific conditions. It allows the Renegade to operate as a front-wheel-drive vehicle most of the time, but when the system senses a loss of traction up front, it can feed torque to the rear wheels, too.
That's not entirely different from competing systems, but the Renegade's Active Drive system does differ from the norm with its 4WD Lock function that splits the torque 50/50 front to rear. With this activated, and with the Renegade's ample ground clearance (7.9 inches with 4x4), approach angle (21.0 degrees with 4x4) and departure angle (32.1 degrees with 4x4), we were able to tackle terrain that its competitors would most likely need to turn away from. We had individual wheels far up into the air on dusty, rocky terrain, yet the Renegade Latitude just kept plugging along. We couldn't even fathom doing such things in an HR-V.
At the same time, it goes to show that you don't need to get the more rugged "Trail Rated" Renegade Trailhawk in order to venture off the beaten path. Of course, that trim is even more capable, and if you really want to get dirty, it's still the one to get. It boasts tow hooks and skid plates, sits on a 1-inch-taller suspension for increased ground clearance (8.7 inches) and comes standard with an even more advanced four-wheel-drive system (optional on other trims). Dubbed Active Drive Low, it uses a lower rear-end gear ratio, hill descent control and an additional "Rock" Selec-Terrain mode for, well, going over rocks.
How Does It Drive?
The Renegade might be the least expensive vehicle in Jeep's lineup, but it's easily one of the best to drive. It doesn't seem that small from behind the wheel, imparting a sense of solidity. The four-wheel strut-type independent suspension uses high-end Koni dampers that translate into a ride that is superb for this class of vehicle. Some editors noted there was a bit too much cushion, but they were also fine with the Trailhawk's firmer, more rugged ride quality.
The Renegade Latitude not only rides smoothly but handles with a deftness you'd frankly never imagine from a vehicle wearing a Jeep badge. Having such small dimensions certainly helps, but the well-tuned suspension and linear, well-weighted steering give it a surprising feeling of agility.
We were also impressed by the Latitude's brakes. It came to a stop from 60 mph in a very short 116 feet, with subsequent panic stops showing no fade.
What's the Interior Like?
After two weeks with the Renegade, we were still finding cute, little design details and "Easter egg" flourishes like the little Willys Jeep imprinted on the windshield or the tiny Sasquatch making its way across the back window. They also speak to the fact that this little Jeep is trying to be more than simple transportation. It's fun, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that.
There's also nothing wrong with the way the Renegade's interior is built or how its controls work. Materials quality is typical for the segment, with some soft-touch surfaces mixed in with hard, but pleasantly textured ones. Construction quality was solid, as there were no signs of mismatched or loose panels.
The controls are also easy to understand, and right where you expect them. The climate controls are a bit low, but they are also enormous. Forget winter gloves; you could probably use them wearing an oven mitt. The available UConnect touchscreen interface is essentially a smaller version of the ones found in other Chrysler Group vehicles, and like those, it is well designed. Icons are large, the menus make sense and response times are reasonable.
How Much Space Is There Inside?
The Renegade stands apart from the segment with a driver seat that adjusts to a wide range of driver sizes. This is especially true with the optional eight-way power driver seat, which slides far rearward and adjusts amply in height and tilt, providing abundant space for tall and short drivers alike.
At the same time, moving the front seats all the way back in such a way does restrict rear-seat legroom, but giving the driver that option (unlike in the less flexible Honda HR-V) is appreciated. With occupants of average height up front, there is sufficient legroom in the high-mounted backseat. Headroom is class-leading, regardless of where you sit.
Unfortunately, the situation isn't as good for cargo. The area behind the backseat is narrow, not especially deep and high off the ground. Two suitcases would fit, but that's about it. Should you store the optional, removable MySky roof panels back there, your remaining space is roughly akin to a pair of pizza boxes. Folding the backseat down helps, but the resulting maximum cargo space is unimpressive, even for this segment, and especially compared to the HR-V. A road trip with multiple passengers would require minimal wardrobe changes or a roof-mounted cargo box.
What Type of Features Do You Get?
Our loaded Jeep Renegade Latitude costs $30,035. Sounds steep for such a small SUV, but it's about average for a well-optioned vehicle in this segment. In fact, the Renegade comes with a bit more equipment for the money than most rivals.
A rearview camera, Selec-Terrain, automatic headlights, a smaller UConnect touchscreen, satellite radio, and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity are standard on every Latitude ($23,295). Our Latitude test vehicle included automatic dual-zone climate control, a power driver seat, heated front seats and steering wheel, the larger UConnect touchscreen, navigation, push-button start and a blind-spot warning system.
What Competing Models Should You Also Consider?
The Fiat 500X shares the Renegade's platform, for better (nimble driving experience) and for worse (unimpressive powertrain). It puts more of an emphasis on on-road driving dynamics, however, and obviously boasts substantially different styling.
The Honda HR-V is the utility king of the subcompact SUV segment, with a versatile cargo area made possible by its so-called rear "Magic Seat." Fuel economy is excellent but acceleration is quite pokey, and taller drivers might find the front seat tight.
For those looking to venture off-road now and then, the Subaru XV Crosstrek would be a good alternative to the Renegade Latitude. Its ample ground clearance and standard all-wheel-drive system will get the job done, while its cargo capacity and fuel efficiency should be stronger than the little Jeep.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
You want the rugged looks and occasional off-roading capability of a Jeep, but desire better fuel economy, more agile handling and a lower price than the brand's other offerings.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
There's very little cargo capacity and it only gets average fuel economy numbers with the larger engine. We're also still on the fence about the occasionally recalcitrant transmission.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.