Jeeps are known for being tackle-everything, go-anywhere, win-everything, crawl up the Rubicon Trail kinds of rides. It’s been that way since World War II and continues today with the Wrangler, Grand Cherokee, and Cherokee. But, can a little Fiat-based crossover follow in its ancestors’ mud tread?
Give Jeep credit; it found ways to stretch its design language far beyond the iconic Wrangler and long-running Grand Cherokee. First, it was the Cherokee’s pinched face and now this conglomeration of avant-garde styling and an homage to 75 years of Jeep heritage. Omaha Orange paint draws attention to Jeep’s iconic grater grille, black matte hood applique, round headlamps, and jerry can taillamps. Yet, buff fenders, black roof, 17-inch aluminum wheels, all-terrain tires, and cartoonish proportions somehow all work together for a cool off-road vibe. It looks especially fetching with Trail Hawk off-road accoutrement.
Interior style is derived from outdoors equipment and the Fiat parts bin. Anodized orange accents around the shifter, air vents, and speakers echo rock repelling clasps and there are roomy cubbies in the doors and console for your outdoorsy stuff. Seats are canvas, but the fronts are heated and the rears fold flat to hold backpacks, bicycles, or your big haul from the outlet mall. Grip the thick heated leather-wrapped steering wheel and go.
In the spirit of Wrangler, the Renegade’s MySky roof can be retracted and removed to view puffy clouds and soaring birds. Back inside, enjoy keyless entry/starting, ambient interior lighting, and thumpin’ audio system. An infotainment system with 6.5-inch touchscreen, USBs, voice controls, and Bluetooth makes connecting and commanding a click. Look at the back-up camera to keep fenders unscathed.
Behind Jeep’s famous grille and lamps is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that cranks out 180 horsepower and 175 lb.-ft. of torque – all routed through a 9-speed automatic transmission. That much power won’t challenge sporty rivals, but it’s plenty to get around town, crawl over rocks, and get down the Interstate. Besides always having the right amount of power when you want it, the 9-cog transmission’s key benefits are fuel economy ratings of 21/29-MPG city/hwy.
In Trailhawk kit, the Renegade is a proven traveler of the Rubicon Trail, the ultimate proving grounds for all Jeeps. Its crossover architecture is fortified with skid plates for the transmission, transfer case, fuel tank, and front suspension. An increased ride height and unique facias allow a 30.5-degree approach, 25.7-degree breakover, and 34.3-degree departure angles. Note the red tow hooks should you get beyond your capabilities.
Hopefully you won’t need them. Renegade’s Selec-Terrain system allows drivers to dial in the powertrain for Auto, Snow, Sand, and Mud plus Rock mode exclusive to Trailhawk models. Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist provide drivers every advantage. Fully cranked, the Renegade can ford up to 19 inches of water. It’s no Wrangler, but is the probably the most capable vehicle in its class.
This is more remarkable when you realize the Renegade is a near-twin to the Fiat 500X crossover and that both are built in Melfi, Italy on architecture shared with other compact and mid-size cars in the Italian-American automaker’s realm. That family tree imbues Renegade with tight, spirited handling and a comfortable ride that’s more European than American. I’d almost call it fun.
A real renaissance Jeep, the Renegade proves it can speak Italian and tackle trails. You may think the styling would look better in Toon Town than in Moab, but it grows on you quickly. Kudos to Jeep for taking risks – just like its customers. Jeep’s smallest sibling starts at $17,995, but came to $30,950 as-tested, putting it against the Subaru Crosstrek, Mini Countryman, Hyundai Tucson, and Fiat 500X.
Contact Casey at AutoCasey@aol.com; follow him on Twitter and YouTube: @AutoCasey.
2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk
- Five-passenger, 4WD crossover
- Powertrain: 180 hp 2.4-liter I4, 9-speed auto trans
- Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
- Wheels f/r: 17”/17” alloy
- Brakes f/r: disc/disc
- Must-have features: Style, Capability
- Fuel economy: 21/29 mpg city/hwy
- Assembly: Melfi, Italy
- Base/as-tested price: $17,995/30,950