By Shari Prymak
The Wrangler defines the Jeep brand better than any other model. Many are drawn to its nostalgic design, open top freedom, and rugged, go anywhere capability. Unfortunately, the qualities for which it is loved are the source of a wide range of issues for daily usability as well. Road noise, sloppy handling, and woeful fuel efficiency are all noteworthy parts of Wrangler ownership. That’s where, Jeep hopes, the Renegade comes in.
The Renegade is Jeep’s attempt to create a subcompact crossover that captures the essence of the Wrangler, yet does without its drawbacks. Part of this can be seen in the Renegade’s design. It has the same boxy rugged look of the Wrangler, though admittedly in a more Tonka Toy sort of way. The interior too is full of interesting touches and neat details that draw on the Jeep heritage. My favorite touch is the splattered red used to mark redline on the tachometer. It’s a cheerful place to be, and, aside from the skimpy rear seat legroom, spacious as well.
The Renegade may attempt to mimic the Wrangler when it comes to design, but there’s no mimicry when it comes to on-road manners. The ride and handling compromise is just about right for a daily-driver, and the cabin is impressively free of road noise. Yet, despite its civil on-road manners, the Renegade can still tackle the off-road when the appropriate options are selected. That’s something that certainly cannot be said of many of its competitors.
The entry level models make use of a 1.4L, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine matched exclusively to a 6-speed manual gearbox. I suspect that drivetrain largely exists to allow for the marketing-friendly, low entry price of $21,495. Most Renegade shoppers will no doubt be drawn to the optional 2.4L 4-cylinder and its 9-speed automatic transmission. It’s an okay drivetrain, if a little low on power. With a test average of 10.5L/100km, the Renegade’s fuel economy puts the Wrangler to shame, but falls a bit short of subcompact crossover rivals like the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3.
Those seeking a compromise between a sensible small crossover and a go-anywhere Wrangler should be pleased with the Renegade. It’s large and spacious, yet easy to drive and maneuver around the city. It offers a wide selection of options and configurations to suit different budgets. And although it doesn’t exactly excel as either a comfortable daily driver or off-road animal, it’s a fine compromise somewhere between the two. Its looks and its Fiat underpinnings might not be up to every Jeep-lovers tastes, but to those who are a fan, the Renegade combines a bit of the efficiency and sensibility you need, with a bit of the unique Jeep design and off-road antics you want.