2015 Jeep Renegade SportPosted on January 26th, 2015
Compact SUV goes off the grid
By Nina Russin
I’m sitting behind the wheel of the new Jeep Renegade Trailhawk on top of an impossibly steep hill at the off-road driving park in Hollister, California. Our Renegade is number three in the caravan of vehicles on the longer of two trails Jeep has mapped out to show us the car’s off-road capability.
The driver in front of me is waffling, not sure if he should trust the car to get him down the hill. The grade is so steep that anyone trying to walk down would end up butt surfing.
I can see his brake lights flicker on and off as he inches his way along. The spotter is losing patience, as am I. As a Jeep owner, I’m confident that the Renegade will do exactly what the engineers have promised, if this guy would simply lock the differential, engage the rock crawl mode and slip the car into first gear.
After what seems like an eternity, it’s my turn. I engage the downhill descent control and steer into the trail. I can hear the antilock system chugging away beneath my feet, doing the work of a very skilled stunt driver. My job is easy. With my feet off the brakes, I enjoy the scenery on the way down.
Its off-road prowess makes the newest Jeep seem like a baby Wrangler, but the small SUV is more than that. Engineers developed an all-new small wide 4×4 platform, incorporating two Fiat engines and two transmissions: a six-speed manual and nine-speed automatic.
Unlike the Wrangler, the Renegade is unit body constructed and features a four-wheel independent suspension. Its smaller size and improved aerodynamic profile give the Renegade better fuel economy than its larger sibling: 31 miles-per-gallon on the highway. The independent suspension yields a smoother ride over uneven terrain such as the pothole-filled streets Midwestern drivers experience on a daily basis.
Priced under $20,000
Pricing for the base Sport model starts at $17,995 excluding the $995 destination charge, making the Renegade a good candidate for first-time buyers. The fully off-road capable Trailhawk is priced from $25,995.
Product planners anticipate that the mid-grade Latitude that starts at $21,295 for the front-wheel drive version will be the volume leader, adding appealing features such as a rearview camera, satellite radio and Bluetooth interface to the base model.
Engine options include a turbocharged 1.4-liter block that comes with the six-speed manual gearbox and the 2.4-liter Tigershark that comes with the nine-speed automatic.
I had the opportunity to drive both at the media program in Northern California, starting in the front-wheel drive Sport for the on-road portion before switching to the Trailhawk with the bigger engine once we arrived at Hollister.
Power for the long run
Buyers whose off-road requirements don’t go beyond unimproved dirt roads should seriously consider the smaller engine. When paired with the manual gearbox, the turbocharged four-cylinder has ample power for motoring around town and surprisingly good performance at altitude.
Our route took us through some rush hour traffic in San Jose before climbing over the mountain to the seaside burg of Santa Cruz. Drivers in this part of California are, by necessity, fairly aggressive, being used to daily bottlenecks on area freeways. I had no problems keeping up with the pack and passing the occasional slower vehicle on the highway.
Once on the two-lane road through the mountains, the engine proved its true mettle, climbing the grade with ease. Turbocharging has the advantage of improving fuel economy and reducing parasitic power loss at altitude. In this case, power at the top of the hill was virtually indistinguishable from the bottom.
The six-speed manual transmission has a light enough clutch pedal to keep the driver’s job easy. Gears have plenty of range so the driver doesn’t find himself shifting constantly in stop-and-go traffic. The engine’s sweet spot is 2500-3000 rpm thanks to the turbo that reaches peak torque at relatively low speeds.
An electric power steering system saves weight under the hood and gives the Renegade a 36.3-foot turning circle. I felt well connected with the wheels through the hairpin turns on the two-lane mountain road.
The car’s thick rear pillars create blind spots in the back corners, so I’d recommend the optional blind spot monitoring system for those who can afford it.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the Renegade in firm, linear fashion.
Engineers did a good job of minimizing noise intrusion to the interior, which is significantly quieter than the Wrangler.
In a sea of compact crossovers, the Renegade’s unique retro styling sets the car apart from the crowd. Designers incorporated the brand’s seven slot grille and square headlamps as well as hexagonal wheel wells. Unique tail lamps have an X pattern inspired by military gasoline cans. Color options range from bright red and orange to more conservative slate and white.
The Trailhawk model has a unique hood, blacked-out grille and available black roof. It sits higher than other models, with more aggressive approach and departure angles and standard tow hooks.
Easter egg hunt
Designers peppered the Renegade interior with ‘Easter eggs,’ styling cues that are a nod to Jeep’s off-road heritage. A few examples include a map of Moab on the center console of the Trailhawk model, hexagon-shaped cupholders similar to the wheel wells, silhouettes of mountain climbers on the front and rear glass. A color splat indicates the engine’s rev limit on the tachometer: the design team’s homage to BASE jumping.
Second-row seats fold flat, so owners can easily load in bicycles, skis and snowboards. Available roof rails make it easy to add a roof rack or cargo carrier.
All models come with a seven-inch thin-film-transistor display in the gauge cluster that includes average fuel economy, ambient temperature, audio settings and other information.
All cars come with Jeep’s Uconnect infotainment system that includes 911 emergency notification. Two My Sky open-air roof systems are available: one with power retractable and removable panels and the second with fixed removable panels.
The Jeep Renegade comes with sevens standard airbags, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control with roll mitigation and hill start assist, active front headrests and tire pressure monitoring.
The new Jeep Renegades begins rolling into dealerships at the end of February.
Like: A stylish compact sport-utility vehicle affordably priced with a versatile interior and true off-road capability.
Dislike: Satellite radio is not standard equipment on the base model.
Model: Renegade Sport
Base price: $17,995
As tested: $ 20,485
Horsepower: 160 Hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 184 lbs.-ft. @ 2500 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Off-road: Trailhawk model only
Fuel economy: TBD2015, Best Value, Best Value Offroad 2015, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, Jeep, performance, pricing, standard safety
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