Jeep Renegade review
The Renegade is the smallest and cheapest Jeep on sale, but does it still deliver on the brand's rugged image?
The Renegade's looks may not be to all tastes, but in a class of crossovers obsessed with being curvy and fashionable the muscular and square-edged Jeep certainly stands out. It's also one of very few in the class that offers genuine off-road ability at a slight expense to on-road performance.
That's not to say it's completely inept on the road. But if you’re merely after extra space and a commanding driving position rather than exceptional mud-plugging prowess, there’s a sense that this car is just a little too focused on the rough stuff compared to what UK buyers will actually use it for. It also gets rather pricey the further up the range you go.
Overall, there's no doubt the Renegade drips with character and appeal all on its own, but it’s not the greenest, best value or nicest-driving choice in its class. So while it’s sure to be a stronger seller than bigger models in the range, this isn't destined to topple the Nissan Qashqai in the the SUV/crossover sales charts.
The Renegade is the smallest 4x4 in Jeep's range, sitting below the larger and more premium Cherokee and the old-fashioned Wrangler. It's the American brand's entry into the ultra-competitive compact crossover segment, and actually shares a platform with the Fiat 500X - one of its rivals.
Unlike the 500X, though, the Renegade doesn't go for the cute and chic approach, favouring instead an 'All-American' look with butcher bodywork and beefier styling. The two SUVs are built side-by-side at the Fiat factory in Melfi, Italy, and all UK versions of the Jeep feature Fiat engines.
It's available with a choice of two petrol (one turbo) or two diesel engines, starting from just over £17,000 for the 109bhp 1.6 petyrol but rising to around £29,000 for the 168bhp 2.0-litre diesel 4X4 Trailhawk. Entry-level models are front-wheel drive, but this being a Jeep, most of the top spec models are four-wheel drive.
The Jeep Renegade breaks new ground for the iconic US 4x4 brand. It’s a downsized compact crossover designed to wade into the furiously competitive market dominated by the Nissan Qashqai and Juke, MINI Countryman and Skoda Yeti.
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It’s not just about macho styling, though, as the Renegade is targeted at owners who want credible off-road performance. So while the Jeep and the Fiat 500X are nominally competing in the small SUV sector, they effectively appeal to very different buyers.
The Renegade comes with a wide range of running gear options, including front-wheel drive, and a part-time 4x4 system called Active Drive I that transfers torque to the rear wheels only when sensors detect that the front wheels are slipping.
For serious off-road duty, the Active Drive Low system offers low-range ‘crawler’ gearing and diff locks. Selec-Terrain on all 4x4 models calibrates the diffs to operate to maximum effect in snow, mud or rocky ground.
All UK Renegades feature Fiat-developed petrol and diesel engines, and transmission options comprise a six-speed manual, an automated dual-clutch manual and a nine-speed automatic.
There are four trim levels. The basic models are badged Sport, the mid-range versions are called Longitude, while Limited spec tops the range. The Trailhawk is the off-road flagship model with enough specialised bells and whistles to earn Jeep’s own ‘trail-rated’ accolade. Jeep reckons that’s enough to make its off-road performance ‘best in class’. Theres also more stylish special editions like the 'Night Eagle' which offer additional paint and trim options.
Engines, performance and drive
How impressive the Renegade is to drive depends entirely on the environment you’re in. If you dare to venture off-road, you’ll discover the most capable all-terrain vehicle in the compact crossover class.
Adaptive all-wheel drive with settings for different surfaces, plenty of ground clearance and good body control mean the little Jeep is almost unstoppable off-road, with much of the light-on-its-feet feel that a Fiat Panda 4x4 enjoys.
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If you want a small car that can tackle fearsome terrain and are put off by the age of the Suzuki Jimny, look no further than the Renegade, which is excellent off-piste. Whether on or off-road, the six-speed gearbox provides positive and enjoyable shifts, while the smooth nine-speed automatic is a real winner, too.
The Jeep isn’t badly compromised on the road by how capable it is off it. In fact, the Renegade Trailhawk, with its chunkier tyres, has the best ride in the range. Plus, the car doesn’t lean too much in corners and grip remains superb. However, the steering is numb, the gearbox is notchy and the engines are unremarkable. So while the Renegade is competent overall, it can't match the MINI Countryman, Mazda CX-5 or Nissan Juke for driving fun, nor the Nissan Qashqai for refinement.
As drivers spend most of their time on the road, rather than mud-plugging, it feels as if Jeep has lost sight a little of what most customers actually want from this type of car.
The Jeep Renegade comes with a range of two petrol engines and three diesels, and for typical buyers wanting a combination of strong performance and decent fuel economy, the diesels will be of most interest.
The torquey 168bhp 2.0-litre MultiJet helps make the Trailhawk model especially potent off-road; coupled with the nine-speed auto box and low-ratio 4x4, it ensures this version of the Renegade feels unstoppable.
There’s a less powerful 138bhp 2.0-litre diesel, and this takes 9.5 seconds to cover 0-62mph, compared to 8.9 seconds for the 2.0-litre in the Trailhawk. The smaller 1.6-litre diesel isn’t as powerful or smooth, and completes the benchmark sprint in 10.2 seconds.
If you want the fastest Renegade on the road, you’ll need the 1.4-litre petrol. In 168bhp guise it delivers 0-62mph in 8.8 seconds, but there’s also a 138bhp version, which takes 10.9 seconds. The entry-level 109bhp Sport has a larger 1.6-litre petrol engine, but it’s less efficient and covers 0-62mph in 11.8 seconds.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Conscious of UK fuel prices, Jeep isn’t offering the 2.4-litre petrol version of the Renegade on these shores. We still get a good choice of engines, though: 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrols, a 1.6-litre turbodiesel and 138bhp or 168bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesels. The latter is only available with the nine-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive in the range-topping Trailhawk.
If off-roading isn’t your priority, the cheapest Renegade to run is the mid-range front-wheel-drive model. Jeep claims the 1.6 MultiJet diesel achieves 64mpg, yet is still good for 0-62mph in an adequate 10.2 seconds. CO2 emissions of 115g/km put it in VED band C, so owners will pay £30 a year in road tax.
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The best petrol version, the 1.4 turbo MultiAir, is good for up to 47mpg officially, but its 140g/km CO2 emissions mean VED band E, or £130 per year.
The 109bhp entry-level petrol engine, known as the E-TorQ EVO, has a bigger 1.6-litre capacity. While it also claims 47mpg, a slightly worse CO2 figure bumps it up to road tax band F (£145 a year).
Opt for the higher-output 138bhp 1.4-litre petrol MultiAir, and Jeep promises 41mpg economy, but the CO2 shoots up to 160g/km, which means £180-a-year group G road tax. Not surprisingly, the engine is only available with luxurious Limited trim for those with deeper pockets.
The ‘ultimate’ 168bhp diesel in the Trailhawk claims up to 48mpg, and while it emits a little less CO2 than the 168bhp petrol, it’s still in group G for VED.
Overall, the Renegade range does offer reasonable levels of economy, but there are no particular efficiency stars – and there’s a version of the Nissan Juke that promises 70mpg-plus.
The Jeep Renegade range isn’t too badly hit on the insurance front, with entry-level two-wheel-drive cars sitting in group eight, and the top-spec Trailhawk in group 15. For comparison, the Nissan Juke line-up ranges from insurance group eight to a hefty group 21. The Fiat 500X falls into groups seven to 16.
Although it’s early days, the depreciation curve isn’t looking too bad for the Renegade, with our experts predicting that the car will retain around 42 per cent of its new value after three years. The class-leading Skoda Yeti manages 45 per cent.
Interior, design and technology
While the two models share a platform and running gear, the Jeep brand characteristics come through strongly on the Renegade. The design has been conceived to invoke plenty of heritage from iconic Wrangler models, as well as the latest styling themes of the premium Grand Cherokee SUV.
eep says the Renegade’s polarising, toy-like looks combine the sophistication of the Grand Cherokee with the rugged appeal of the classic Wrangler. The main challenge was to set the car apart from some of its ‘cuter’ rivals in the crossover class – hence the bluff ‘seven-slot’ nose, squared-off wheelarches and bulbous tail-lights inspired by old US Army petrol cans.
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The eccentric bodywork and dropping beltline evoke cues of Jeep’s back catalogue, but the overall effect is very spec-sensitive. In darker, military-like colours, and especially in Trailhawk guise with more off-road friendly bumpers and coloured towhooks, the Renegade looks quite purposeful. However, the standard versions are far more dumpy and likely to be just as controversial as the Nissan Juke was when it arrived on the scene.
Inside, Jeep squeezes in even more character touches. The Jeep ‘face’ of round headlights and the seven-slot grille is embossed into the rear-view mirror, speaker surrounds and the tailgate. The vent surrounds are apparently inspired by base-jumping equipment, the pod-like central vents by ski goggles, and you even get a mud splatter graphic instead of a redline in the rev counter.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
It’s a pity that the Renegade’s funky cabin doesn’t enjoy the same hi-tech features as the new Cherokee. The infotainment system centres in Limited versions around a 6.5-inch touchscreen sourced from Fiat and Alfa Romeo models, rather than the impressive new 8.4-inch interface exclusive to new Jeep cars.
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Models below the Limited get a more basic five-inch touchscreen, with infotainment functions including steering wheel controls for audio and telephone, plus standard Bluetooth and a USB port. The 6.5-inch screen system in the Limited also includes sat-nav and 3D graphics.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The upright, boxy body means the Renegade offers a decent amount of space for five people. But in spite of some very obvious ‘design’, the interior can feel a little low-rent, with an all-black dash and some less-than-appealing plastics. Still, there are some colourful trim options available to brighten things up.
Standard equipment on basic cars includes 17-inch alloy wheels, a five-inch touchscreen and electric mirrors, plus air-con and electric windows. If you go for the Limited version, you get useful touches like automatic wipers and lights as well.
This model also brings parking sensors – almost a necessity in a car that’s surprisingly difficult to park considering its compact dimensions, as the thick front and rear pillars make vision awkward at times. Otherwise the Renegade is reasonably practical, with useful storage in the glovebox and a couple of cup-holders between the front seats.
Trailhawk models are designed with a more utilitarian feel inside and out; they’re set apart by details like rubber mats instead of carpets in the footwells and rugged exterior trim.
Backing up these tough looks are a number of other useful changes such as reshaped bumpers and a 20mm increase in ride height, giving the Renegade Trailhawk better off-road clearance. There are also underbody skid plates to protect vital parts should you bash a rock. This model benefits from improved fording ability, and – perhaps surprisingly – has the best ride quality on the road due to its chunky tyres, which absorb bumps.
Jeep has cannily designed the Renegade with dimensions to sit between supermini-sized compact crossovers and larger cars such as the Ford Kuga and new Hyundai Tucson. That, along with its boxy shape, means interior space is a relatively strong suit.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
The doors open outwards by 70 degrees at the front and 80 degrees at the rear, aiding access, while the raised ride height means the Renegade isn’t difficult to climb into.
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While there are three seatbelts in the back, the middle seat is quite narrow and knee room is in short supply for all rear passengers. Head and shoulder room is better, though, and Isofix child seat mountings are standard.
The boot offers a competitive 351 litres of space with the seats in place, and up to 1,297 litres when they’re folded. This is similar to rivals like the Nissan Juke and the MINI Countryman – the latter has an impressive 450-litre boot capacity, but only 1,170 litres with the seats folded.
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Only top-spec Renegade models are available with 40:20:20 split folding seats as an option, and the load space isn’t the easiest to use, as the boot lip can be awkward. On the plus side, there’s a reversible floor, giving you a ‘wipe clean’ option.
The 2.0-litre diesel Renegade is a decent tow car, with a 1,500kg capacity. Pick the 1.4-litre petrol model, and that drops to a relatively weedy 907kg.
Reliability and Safety
With new products like the Renegade, Jeep will be looking to improve on its patchy reliability record. The brand ranked a disappointing 26th out of 32 in the manufacturers’ chart of the Auto Express Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey. It came 25th in the build quality category (Land Rover was only four places higher up the list), and 29th for reliability (two above Land Rover; four behind Fiat).
The only Jeep model to feature in the individual top 200 cars chart in Driver Power 2015 was the Grand Cherokee, which ranked 70th; there’s clearly still work to do. More worryingly, Fiat – which now owns Jeep – finished a poor 24th in the 2015 manufacturers’ chart.
The Renegade is based on the Fiat 500X crossover, and given the parts sharing between the two brands, we’re not reassured by the ownership satisfaction potential. So while we look forward to seeing the car make an appearance in future Driver Power top 200 charts, we don’t hold out too much hope for a strong showing.
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Still, the smallest Jeep scores well on safety, with the range offering up to 60 distinctive safety features as the brand set out its stall to produce the safest car in the class. This investment has paid off, as Euro NCAP awarded the Renegade the maximum five-star rating in its independent crash tests. The car scored 87 per cent for adult protection, 85 per cent for child protection and 65 per cent for pedestrian protection.
All models benefit from a high-strength steel body construction, as well as a multitude of airbags. Plus, automatic city braking features on the options list, so the Renegade stands every chance of living up to its tough looks in the event of an accident.
The Renegade comes with Jeep’s standard three-year/60,000-mile warranty cover. This is a reasonable package, but it’s hardly industry leading, and given the brand’s reputation for reliability issues, perhaps Jeep should offer more peace of mind. Buyers can pay for extra cover, of course, up to a maximum of seven years or 100,000 miles.
Services are required annually or every 12,500 miles, which is similar to the competition. Parts for the Renegade shouldn’t be too expensive, either, given the component sharing with high-volume Fiat models.