The Jeep Renegade is no outlaw, and actually, it’s quite friendly as an urban off-road alternative.
This new subcompact Jeep crossover shares Fiat 500L architecture and builds on it with a complete Americanization of Jeepness, including Easter eggs.
The five-seat Renegade is sold in four trim levels in front- or all-wheel drive with two choices for power. Starting prices range from $18,990 to $27,140 for the off-roading Trailhawk model to $27,890 for the loaded Limited 4X4; pricing includes the $995 freight charge from Melfi, Italy.
It’s a bit of a reach to make a trail-rated Jeep out of a Fiat, but the engineering upgrades are convincing for those who know off-roading. The Renegade’s independent suspension allows up to 8.1 inches of wheel travel and up to 8.7 inches of ground clearance on the Trailhawk model. Four-wheel disc brakes have 12-inch vented rotors front, 10.95-inch solid rear, which are plenty for this rig.
Two Selec-Terrain four-wheel-drive systems — Jeep Active Drive and Active Drive Low 4×4 — dial up five modes of traction: auto, snow, sand and mud modes — plus rock mode on the Trailhawk.
I tested a Renegade Limited 4X4 that was $29,210, which included the $1,245 package of GPS navigation and the upgraded Uconnect 6.5 with touchscreen. Standard equipment includes leather-trimmed upholstery, cornering front fog lights, heated steering wheel and heated front seats, rearview camera, eight-way power front seat with four-way lumbar (but just a four-way manually adjusted front passenger seat), height-adjustable cargo floor, floor mats and 18-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires (no spare).
New features for 2016 include an option for a nine-speaker BeatsAudio option with a 6.5-inch subwoofer and 506-watt amplifier. Rain-sensing wipers are now standard on the Limited and Trailhawk models, and optional on the midrange Latitude.
$30,000 is a little rich for a subcompact car, but the tester packaged enough features and refinement to bolster a Jeeper’s expectations. The cabin is quite roomy with a raised view and easy entry and exit. Front headroom is tall at 41.1 inches, and the 41.2 inches of legroom will accommodate someone over six feet tall, though maybe not comfortably for long — the seat bottoms are short. Second row headroom of 40.5 is still huge with a people-friendly 35.1 inches of legroom, but it’s still a space for small people. Cargo space ranges from 18.5 cubic feet to 50.8 with the 60/40 split back seat folded.
The base model engine-transmission is a 160-horsepower, turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder with six-speed manual or optional nine-speed automatic. Fuel economy is 24-mpg city, 31 highway and 27 mpg combined (two or four-wheel drive) on the recommended premium fuel. The onboard computer pegged my average mpg at 30.3, which, oddly, did not change in a week of aggressive driving.
The uplevel 2.4-liter Tigershark four-cylinder has 180-horsepower and 175 foot-pounds of torque at 3,900 rpm. It is available only with the nine-speed automatic.
With its curb weight of 3,348 pounds, the power was just adequate on the Limited tester. Its biggest drain is the nine-speed automatic, which is tuned for max fuel economy. There is no sport mode to sharpen shift responses, and while off-the-line pickup is good, the midrange power is weak. I began to use the accelerator as an on-off switch, mashing it to the floor when I needed immediate power. And even then there was a three-count before anything happened as the sensors aligned and decided on a gear. Usually there was more engine noise than action, especially on a hill. There also were some abrupt shifts, particularly when first starting out for the day, and some confusion about which gear it wanted. Towing is not its strength, but 2.4-liter 4X4 models can pull up to a ton.
On the road, it’s a little goat of stiffness and determination with a jumpy ride. It’s not harsh, just active, but also not my choice for a cross-country run. The cabin is tall but feels inset from the side glass, and the windshield pillars curve inward — almost cocoon-like, with a broad base at the side mirrors.
Fiat Chrysler designers do excellent work when creating multitasking features in a very small space. There are lots of storage nooks, hefty visors with extenders (but with a big gap of coverage on driver’s left) and large dials for temperature, fan and vents. The Uconnect infotainment portal is a pleasure to use for phone connectivity, music, texting and more.
The Easter eggs are nifty Jeep icons imprinted inside and out, such as a graphic image of a World War II era Jeep along one corner of the windshield blackout border. Look for a trail map relief in the rubber mat of the small tray at center console; there are Jerry can X stampings in the taillights and elsewhere; and the Jeep seven-slot grille and round headlights are repeated many times.
These are just more fun details in this new Jeep that make it almost too sophisticated to beat up off-road. But it’s quite at home on the mean and potholed city streets.
Mark Maynard is online at email@example.com. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage