Chunky-cute looks, useful off-road, well-equipped and well-trimmed
Ride and refinement are immature, woeful gearboxes
What is it?
For the time being, the smallest, cheapest Jeep, though the Fiat-owned-but-staunchly-American company says an even smaller baby Jeep is in the works. That’s likely because the Renegade has found plenty of friends – over 800,000, in Europe, the Middle East and Africa since 2014 – for its characterful styling and low running costs, but is rather over-engineered as a tail-munching tractor for most everyday needs.
Yep, the Renegade is all about distilling that authentic Jeep ‘freedom’ pastiche into a dinky car the size of a Renault Captur or Seat Arona. Thing is, it stands apart from all the other me-too crossovers by being a true downsized 4x4, not a dressed-up supermini. You can have full-time four-wheel drive, a trail-rated Trailhawk model with various terrain modes and rearranged bumpers for greater approach and departure angles (you’ll smack it into banks and ridges less often) and there’s tech like hill-descent control and lockable differentials for wading into scenarios from a North Face catalogue.
For its 2018 facelift, Jeep treated to the Renagade to some (optional) LED light units, a refreshed and rather sharp touchscreen, and mainly, a new family of engines. Predictably in the current market, it’s petrols taking the limelight, in the shape of a 1.0-litre tri-cylinder turbo unit with 118bhp, and a 1.3-litre four-cyl turbo good for 148 or 178bhp. Pay attention here because it gets complicated: only the top-rated 178bhp petrol engine can be specced with 4x4 drive, and it’s tied exclusively to a nine-speed automatic. A six-speed manual is standard on the 1.0, while the 1.3 gets a six-speed dual-clutch.
Course, we’d like to reel off just how clean and efficient these powertrains make the Renegade right about now – but Jeep hasn’t yet homologated the engines and revealed what they’ll do to the gallon.
Diesel-wise, you can have a 118bhp 1.6-litre derv, or a 2.0-litre with either 138bhp or 170bhp. Here, it’s the basic 1.6-litre that’s a front-drive only (and therefore the CO2-saving company car darling). Both 2.0-litre Renegade diesels get a nine-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive. The six-speed dual-clutch is available on the 1.6-litre diesel only.
Jeep’s complicated drivetrain line-up isn’t helpful, but the trimlines are relatively understandable: Sport is baseline, Longitude is heartland, Limited is over-specced top-of-the-line, and Trailhawk is for green-laning enthusiasts. Outside of Utah, good luck ever spotting one.
What's the verdict?
Look, you could have a quieter, more comfortable, more enjoyable car to drive for the same money as a Renegade. The question is: do you actually want any of them? In a class of copycat pseudo-SUVs with less personality than their sat nav voiceover and all the off-road ability of copper bathtub the Renegade looks and acts a little differently, and that alone imbues it with likeable character. It’s not a crossover you’ll buy rationally – it’s the only car in its class that’s a heart-over-head purchase.
Chances are if you’ve fallen for its bonsai-Rambo looks, you’ll overlook the Renegade’s powertrain bugbears and come to see it as a treasured member of the family. If you’re simply after a diminutive, rough-and-tumble workhorse, we’d be looking at the likes of the Hyundai Kona, Citroen C3 Aircross or BMW X2 instead.