A new Jeep!
Yep. While Jeep claims it's the creator of the SUV, it has never had a competitive rival in the booming crossover class. The Renegade wants to change that. Prices are yet to be confirmed, but we’re expecting it to sit around $30k.
So how small is it?
There is some familiar Jeep styling to the Renegade: the vertical-bar grille and round headlights recalling the old Willys Jeep as well as the Wrangler, and the silhouette has a whiff of old-school Cherokee. And the designers have also thrown in plentiful references to Jeep's past inside and out. Some of them a little... chintzy.
The touchscreen surround has ‘Since 1941' etched into it, a graphic of the Willys front-end is emblazoned everywhere from the speakers to the rear light lenses, and there's a mud splatter in place of a red line on the rev counter. Oh, and the dashboard's central air vent stack is inspired by ET's head.
It's try-hard in the same way as a Mini, and certainly not to all tastes, but what the heck. There are plenty of straight-laced competitors in the almost saturated crossover market. Let's welcome one that doesn't take itself too seriously.
Does it take itself seriously where it matters, though?
Perhaps more seriously than it needs to. While it's been co-developed with the upcoming Fiat 500X - the two share chassis hard points and wheelbases, as well as a production facility in Melfi, Italy - they head off in different directions after that.
In the US of A, where Jeep expects to sell a shedload of these, off-road ability is taken very seriously. As a result, there's some proper hardware available. Front-wheel drive may be standard but there are two AWD options, the most hardcore coming with hill descent control, a crawler ratio and increased ground clearance. Both get an adjustable drive mode dial that toggles between settings such as snow, mud and sand, though helpfully you can just leave it in auto, too.
We've had a go in the top-spec Trailhawk model (yep, same naming as the new Cherokee), which comes with the more serious setup, and talented it is, too. It climbs and descends some tough inclines and declines without too much trouble, distributing torque smoothly between the wheels on ground when others are hanging up in the air. The number of customers that will actually do this is, of course, negligible, but if it's an authentic Jeep people want, the Renegade at least ticks that box.
What about on the road?
It's perfectly fine. The ride is generally compliant, refinement isn't too shabby given the slab sides and specialised underpinnings, and grip is strong in both front and four-wheel-drive versions. It handles capably without ever truly entertaining - an area that pegs it behind the Skoda and Mini - but it's never offensive.
The range of turbocharged petrol and diesel engines are familiar from Fiats and Alfas; a 88kW 1.6-litre diesel will likely be among the most popular, and is just about strong enough to tug along the Renegade on road (though fast it ain't). The top-spec 125kW 2-litre diesel is altogether more convincing, but likely to command a notably higher price, especially when specified with the nine-speed auto that complements it so well.
Yes, though probably quite sensibly there are no paddleshifters - it's easy to get a bit lost if you take manual control with the stick. Left to its own devices, the shifts aren't as instantaneous and imperceptible as in a sorted twin-clutch transmission, but it hardly matters. The gearbox judges its changes cleverly and it kicks down smoothly. Not once did we curse it for picking the wrong gear, and it made light work of the tough off-road course, too.
There is also a manual option, which has made the online American press very excited. Yes, this is still a Jeep you can 'shift stick', with a six-speed manual on most models, though not the hardiest Trailhawk.
Any more tech I should know about?
All Renegades get a 5-inch touchscreen and Bluetooth as standard, posher specs getting a 6.5-inch screen with sat nav as well as a TFT display between the dials. There's a selection of safety equipment on the options list, too, including the lane departure and collision avoidance systems that are beginning to feel de rigeur nowadays.
Bet there are loads of personalisation options too...
Bingo. There's a stocky colour palette, with traditional off-road-vibe greens and browns joined by more vibrant oranges, yellows and blues. There are loads of alloys to choose from, US army-style decals, and if you really pore over the accessories catalogue, all manner of attachable tents and kayak carriers. It wouldn't be a crossover without some outdoor hobby clichés bundled in.
When can I buy one?
It’s due in Australia mid to late 2015. If Jeep gets the pricing right, the Renegade should make a cracking case for itself - it's got some proper off road chops and a sense of fun that evades a number of its rivals.
In the meantime, check out our SUV Buyer's Guide here...