2015 Jeep Renegade

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People seem to really like small SUVs … er, crossover SUVs. New ones keep popping up like dandelions after a spring shower.'15 Renegade lead

This new Jeep Renegade, for instance.

But for once, it’s not just another… uh… pretty face.

It’s one of the very few vehicles of this type that can – when properly equipped – actually take you places a Jeep should be able to go.

And get back from.

Without a winch and a flatbed.

Yes, yes. It is based on a front-wheel-drive layout, like other small (and large) FWD-based crossover SUVs. But unlike other crossover SUVs, this one offers a gear-reduction feature that works like a truck-based SUV’s two-speed transfer case and Low range gearing, has the ability to lock the power split between the front and rear axles and (Trailhawk versions) offers four driver-selectable terrain modes, including rock crawl.2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk

Don’t try that in a Honda CR-V.

It’s doable in the Renegade.

Hence the 4WD badges rather than AWD badges.

It’s not marketing cheese.

WHAT IT IS   '15 Renegade running

The Renegade is Jeep’s newest – and smallest – crossover SUV. It is about half a foot shorter overall than the Patriot and shares mechanical DNA with the 2016 Fiat 500X, including its standard and available “Multi-air” and “Tigershark” four cylinder engines (one turbo’d, the other not). But it’s got – or offers – heavy duty equipment that’s not available in the 500x, which (like most of the others in this class) is basically a city boy not meant for venturing down to Aintree.

Base price is $17,995 for the front-wheel-drive Sport trim with 1.4 liter turbo engine paired with a six-speed manual transmission and front-wheel-drive. This one’s pretty minimalist. AC is not included, but the generous glass area (a Jeep Thing) makes this feasible, so long as you’re not stuck in traffic too much or for too long. Roll ’em down, the breeze is free. '15 Renegade 4wD

At the top of the food chain is the $26,795 Limited, which comes standard with the larger 2.4 liter engine, heated leather seats and steering wheel, a nicer LCD display, automatic climate control and 18 inch wheels.

Also available is a the stubble-chinned Trailhawk. It  comes standard with the larger 2.4 liter engine and nine-speed automatic transmission plus a specially modified all-wheel-drive system Jeeps markets as “4WD.” (Air quote explanation follows below.)

The Trailhawk’s system has four driver-selectable terrain modes as well as a gear reduction feature that mimics the function of a two-speed transfer case. You also get skid plates, a beefed up suspension and an extra inch of ground clearance.

MSRP for this model is $25,995.'15 Renegade rock   

Other Renegades can be ordered with a similar “4WD” system that’s basically the same as the Trailhawk’s but without the rock crawl terrain mode and gear reduction feature. The ride height’s lower, too – and the tires are more on-street-minded all-seasons rather than the more mud/snow/dirt-friendly M/S knobbies fitted to the Trailhawk.

Probably the closest cross-shop in terms of rough n’ ready function is the Subaru Crosstrek. At $21,595 to start with standard AWD, it is less expensive than the “4WD” Trailhawk by several thousand dollars and has similar ground clearance. But it does not offer terrain-selectable drive modes or a low range gearing function. It’s also longer by almost a foot and it’s more of a wagon than the boxy-shaped Jeep, which cuts down a lot on the head room (especially in the second row) you’ll find inside the Soobie. 

You might also want to wait and see what the 2016 Honda HR-V (a new model on deck that notches below the CR-V) and the 2016 Mazda CX-3 will offer. And if you mainly like the look – but don’t care much about the capability – there’s also the Kia Soul to consider.  

WHAT’S NEW'15 Renegade roof

The Renegade is all-new. It kinda-sorta replaces the Patriot – which is still available, at least for now.

WHAT’S GOOD

Legit as a Jeep.

New Fiat-sourced 1.4 liter engine is much stronger than Patriot’s wheezy (and thirsty) 2.0 engine.

Uniquely “Jeepy” features – like available removable MySky roof sections.

It’s not a marketing con. The “4WD” Trailhawk is more capable than the light-duty AWD-equipped competition.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD'15 Renegade diesel

Back seats are a much tighter squeeze than in the Patriot – and rivals like the Kia Soul.

Optional nine-speed automatic (mandatory with optional 2.4 liter engine and standard equipment in Trailhawk models)  “jumps forward” sometimes on downhill stretches, making the Jeep feel as though it’s accelerating even though your foot’s not pushing down on the gas pedal.

Optional 2.4 engine doesn’t boost performance by much.

Euro-spec high-mileage diesel engine is not on the menu here.

UNDER THE HOOD'15 Renegade 1.4 pic

It says Jeep on the fenders but pop the hood and you’ll find a Fiat-sourced 1.4 liter four.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The little engine is turbocharged and makes 160 hp – 12 more hp than the Patriot’s larger (and thirstier) 2.0 liter four. The turbo provides on-demand power and lower gas bills the rest of the time because you’re feeding less engine when the turbo’s not boosting the engine’s output.

You can pair the 1.4 liter engine with either a six-speed manual transmission or a nine-speed automatic, the latter being the way to go for maximum potential fuel economy.'15 Rengade 2.4 engine

As far as that – fuel economy – official numbers were not yet available when this review was written in mid-summer but we can estimate by taking a look at the Renegade’s corporate cousin, the 500x. It’s also a compact crossover SUV and is powered by the identical 1.4 liter engine. EPA says the thing is capable of 25 city, 34 highway with FWD and the six-speed manual transmission. Those are excellent numbers for a crossover SUV – and the Renegade ought to do about as well.

Or even better  – because unlike the 500x, the Renegade is available with the 1.4 liter engine paired with that nine-speed automatic, which has a gearing (and so, efficiency) advantage over the six-speed manual.

The 1.4 liter equipped 500x is sold only with the six-speed manual.

Why? Ask Fiat.

Don’t expect Saturn V acceleration, though. A fairly beefy curb weight (3,044 lbs. with FWD; several hundred more with the optional “4WD”) and a boxy – hence, less than aerodynamically slippery – profile add up to a 0-60 run just under 10 seconds.'15 Renegade dash

The step up engine (standard in higher trims) is a larger, 2.4 liter “Tigershark” four – also the same engine that’s optional in the Renegade’s sibling, the 500x. In both, output is pegged at 180 hp. Interestingly, this engine makes less torque (177 ft.-lbs.) than the 1.4 liter engine (184 ft.-lbs.) for which fact you can credit the turbocharger that’s bolted to the littler engine.

The 2.4 liter engine is, however, paired only with the nine-speed automatic. This combo’s not much quicker than the 1.4-equipped Renegade, either. Zero to 60 in the mid-high nines. It’s not awful. But it ain’t speedy, either.

Gas mileage-wise, EPA says 22 city, 31 highway – almost as good as the 1.4 liter engine manages.

That nine-speed automatic, you see.

Two “4WD” systems are available.'15 RenegDE 4WD SCHEMATCI

They differ from what has traditionally been marketed as four-wheel-drive (vs. all-wheel-drive) because they’re based on a front-wheel-drive layout, with most of the engine’s output going to the front rather than the rear wheels the majority of the time.

But unlike pretty much all the AWD systems available – at least in this class – the Jeep systems have additional functional features that provide a much higher level of capability.

The first system – optional in all but the Trailhawk – has three driver-selectable terrain modes (Snow, Sand and Mud) with each mode altering parameters such as throttle response and shift points (automatic-equipped Renegades) to best suit those driving conditions.

Trailhawk models get an additional mode – Rock – as well a gear reduction and “4WD lock” mode that maintains a fixed power-split, front to rear. It’s very similar to what you’d find in something like a Land Rover LR2 (base price $36,300) but nonexistent in compact crossover SUVs priced in the Renegade’s ballpark.'15 Renegade 3

In addition, both Renegade systems can be manually toggled into two-wheel-drive mode, just like a “real” 4×4. The difference being that all power goes to the front wheels rather than the rears but the object being the same: to reduce friction losses (and so, burn less fuel) when operating on dry pavement. Most all-wheel-drive systems cannot be disengaged; you are always in all-wheel-drive. Which means all four wheels are being powered – which means more fuel is being consumed.

Another plus: The Renegade can tow up to 2,000 pounds when equipped with its optional engine – which is 2,000 pounds more than small crossovers like the new Chevy Trax and also the Soobie Crosstrek (neither of which are rated to tow anything at all).

ON THE ROAD'15 Renegade road 1

Crossovers are as popular as bell bottom cords were back in ’78 – but for different reasons.

The Renegade, like others in this class, looks rugged (and actually is rugged, in Trailhawk form) but unlike the truck-based SUVs it draws cosmetic inspiration from, it behaves much more like a car than a truck. You get the additional ride height and bad weather/snow-day (and even some pretty serious off-road) capability of a truck-based SUV – but not the high-speed iffiness and clumsy cornering that are inevitably part of the package when you buy a “real” (truck-based) 4×4.

Nor the usually Exxon Valdez-esque gas hogginess.'15 Renegade raod 2

Your big decision here will be which engine – and accordingly, which transmission – to go with.

The 1.4 liter engine is – kind of surprisingly –  the sportier of the two, notwithstanding its slightly lower horsepower rating.

Remember that higher torque rating – 184 ft.-lbs. vs. 177 ft.-lbs.  – and take note of the fact that the 1.4’s torque peak happens much lower in the powerband (2,500 RPM vs. 3,900 RPM for the 2.4 engine), which means the thing reacts more quickly because it takes less time to reach its power peak.

Now add a six-speed manual transmission – unavailable with the larger engine – and (if you stick with the FWD version) several hundred pounds less curb weight. It’s like dropping 20 pounds and quitting smoking. Maybe you’re not gonna win the decathalon – but you’re no longer out of breath walking down to the mailbox and back.2015 Jeep Renegade Latitude

The Renegade reminds me a lot of another fun micro-sized crossover that got killed off by the Safety Nazis – the Chevy Tracker of the ’90s/early 2000s. This one’s heavier (for “safety”) but like the Tracker, the little (but punchy) engine – and being able to row through the gears yourself – make it a lot of fun to drive, even if it’s not particularly quick. Anyone who’s owned a small car with a small engine and a manual transmission knows all about this.

It’s more work – but it’s more rewarding.

The 2.4 engine is fine, too – but there are some bugs yet to be worked out with the nine-speed automatic that it comes paired with. I’ve driven several new Fiat-Chryslers fitted with the same basic transmission – and they all do the same Weird Thing. When descending a grade (lots of them up here in the mountains of rural SW Virginia) the transmission sometimes seems to jump up several gears – seventh, eighth, ninth – which makes the vehicle feel as though it is surging forward.'15 Renegade water

What’s happening is the transmission is trying to squeeze out as many MPGs as possible by getting into as high a gear as possible as quickly as possible. That’s the whole point of having several overdrive gears rather than just the usual one).

And it’s fine on the straight and level.

But these high gears do not give you much if any engine braking effect when going downhill – and when the transmission jumps from say sixth to ninth, the vehicle feels as though it is also jumping forward.    

It’s unsettling.

It also requires riding the brakes a lot. Either that, or you manually kick the tranny back down a few gears.  '15 Renegade auto shifter

The truth is no one would be selling eight and nine-speed automatics except for the pressure coming from Washington to get the fuel economy numbers up, even if the difference is only 2-3 MPG (which is negligible in real-world driving).

I wish Jeep (uh, Fiat) would at least offer the 2.4 engine with the six-speed manual, so that buyers could have that option. So why don’t they? Because too many six-speed Renegades would lower Jeep’s overall (‘fleet average”) fuel economy figures – and that would cause Jeep problems with Uncle.

Hence, the problem (surging) is handed off to you instead.

AT THE CURB'15 Renegade detail

Bill Mitchell – the famous Chevy designer who is credited with penning the lines of the stunning 1970 Camaro (among others) – was accused by a sharp-eyed critic of “borrowing” the basic shape of what became the second-generation Camaro from Ferrari (the 275 GTB). Mitchell, unashamed, replied that if you’re going to commit robbery, rob a bank – not a liquor store.

It’s a philosophy Jeep appears to have taken to heart.

Kinda sorta.

The Renegade looks a lot like the very popular Kia Soul – which more than any other model really ignited the “box car” fad that’s now sweeping the land. Like the Soul, it is tall – and wide – and short-wheelbased.

But unlike the Soul – which sits low (5.9 inches of ground clearance) the Jeep’s skirts are hiked up to nearly 9 inches (8.7 to be precise). There is also a Wrangler-esque vertical bar grille in front and numerous additional – and subtler – styling affectations to impart that “Jeep” vibe to the thing. Also some unique-to-Jeep things, like the available My Sky removable roof sections. These either raise up – or come all the way off. The panels store in vinyl covers that Jeep thoughtfully provides.

It reminds of my ’78 Camaro’s T-Tops, just without the leaks.'15 Renegade back seats 2

Like a growing number of new cars, you can get in-car WiFi, though of course it’s not free WiFi (subscription required after an initial trail period). Still, it’s cool. All but the stripped-down base Sport trim come with (or can be equipped with) a nice touchscreen system through which you can dial up UConnect Access apps , Yelp and so on. Text-to-speech smartphone capability is available, too.

The tall/wide layout provides generous head and shoulder room in both rows (second row headroom in the Soobie Crosstrek wagon is several inches less) but second row legroom in the Renegade is pretty tight – just 35.1 inches. The Kia Soul is shorter end to end (163 inches vs. 166.6 for the Jeep) but it has a much more passenger-friendly backseat, when it comes to legroom (39.1 inches). The Kia also kills when it comes to cargo room, of which there is 24.2 cubic feet behind the second row (vs. 18.5 for the Jeep) and 61.3 cubes with them folded down (vs. 50.8 for the Renegade).

Interestingly, the Fiat 500x – which recall shares its platform with the Renegade – is even less roomy in back. Just 34.8 inches of second row legroom (trust me, that’ll affect your sperm count) and only 32 cubic feet of total cargo capacity with the second row folded flat.  

THE REST2015 Jeep Renegade Latitude and Trailhawk Models

The Renegade is just the ticket for the person who wants a bit more Jeepiness than the Patriot offers but a bit less Jeepiness than the Wrangler and other Jeeps come with. It’s a very everyday driveable little ‘ute that has that extra bit of gumption to risk venturing out in a blizzard before the plows show up  – or trundling down to the stream to fish instead of parking a half mile away and hauling your gear to the stream on foot.

Speaking of which.

The Renegade’s small footprint is a big asset in city driving and also out in the woods – where a couple or three inches less length can mean all the difference between squeezing past a couple of trees and not. And even though it hasn’t got a two-speed transfer case, the Trailhawk’s gear reduction feature provides the same – or close to the same – benefit. That plus another inch (almost) of additional ground clearance makes this little Fiat-in-drag a kind of low-bucks Land Rover. It’ll do things you might not believe it could until you see them done for yourself.

Go ahead – you probably won’t hurt anything.

The one thing that sucks – and it’s not Fiat’s (er, Jeep’s) fault is the fact that the diesel engines available in Euro-market versions are not and apparently will not be available here.2015 Jeep Renegade Latitude

The federal government – notwithstanding all the donkey braying about how important it is that new vehicles get better and better mileage – has made it damned hard to sell a diesel-powered vehicle in this country. So U.S. buyers get gas engines and maybe mid 20s, on average while Europeans get the same basic vehicles but they average mid-30s (or more).

Because you can buy them with a high-efficiency diesel engine.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Small package – big capability. At a pretty reasonable price, too.

Sounds like a winner to me.       

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14 COMMENTS

  1. I saw 9 of these puppies at once yesterday – all powered by 1 Peterbilt.
    BTW, when did auto transports cease to be standard 5th wheel trailers?

  2. If the 6 speed is like my 2008 Toyota Matrix with a 5 speed it would be easy to surpass the EPA rating by a good margin. The trick in my Matrix is when descending a hill in gear and foot off the throttle will cut fuel flow.
    My Matrix is like a Swiss Army Knife, and is treated as such. Filled to the top, trailering small boats, roof racks with kayaks etc. After 150k miles I have an overall average of 37mpg. 33 is the EPA highway average!
    This looks like a very possible replacement for my matrix since the 4wd and extra towing would really be a sweet spot for me and my small boats.
    Thanks for the review. I think I’m headed out this weekend to check it out!

  3. A 9 speed automatic makes sense mated to a diesel and even that is overkill for non-commercial applications. Seriously, are four overdrive gears necessary for creeping thru metropolitan gridlock and jaunting down dirt roads? I doubt the 8th and 9th ranges actually engage often or long enough to be of use except for beating corporate mpg fleet requirements.

    Ugh, CAFE is driving us into useless complexity and unnecessary expense.

  4. I went and checked one out at the dealership. Fit, finish and materials are not Jeep quality from what I saw. It is too small and Fiat is having problems with the 9 speed tranny in it. I don’t think it is going to hold up well to the “off-roading” that Fiat states it is capable of doing ; too many cheap looking parts. I really wanted to like it it I don’t want to Beta test it for Fiat.
    I’m going to get a 4Runner instead.

    • Hi Sooper,

      The paint quality and panel fitment on my test Renegade seemed up to par, but I absolutely agree with you about the nine-speed transmission. As I wrote in the review, I’ve driven several FC vehicles equipped with this box – and they all do the same thing. Whether it’s merely annoying – or an early warning of expensive problems to come – I can’t say.

      But it’s definitely a concern.

  5. This Renegade is cuter than hell.

    I like the size, the off road capacity…..and I definitely would rather take my chances with a nine speed automatic than suffer with a CVT.

    In fact, there’s only one thing you said that would prevent me from considering this as a tow vehicle for our RV. See below.

    “shares mechanical DNA with the 2016 Fiat 500X,” 😉

  6. Thanks for this review…I was almost ready to pull the trigger on one of the Trailhawk models…but, for 2015, even though it’s advertised everywhere, the MySky roof is not an option, and even half the options listed on Jeep’s web site aren’t available in actual cars coming from Italy.

    After talking to a few dealers about custom ordering one, they all turned me down saying that, because the vehicle is coming from Italy, they are trying to stay away from custom orders. They claim, they don’t want a customer to wait 4 to 6 months for a build and delivery, only to have it done wrong in Italy and have the customer upset. In fact…the dealer that occasionally services my Liberty even told me that Fiat tends to be more concerned with “moving metal” than getting orders right…

    Seemed like a nice car, too bad they basically refused to get me the one I wanted. 😛

    • Hi mpilar,

      That is truly unfortunate – for you and Jeep (Fiat).

      It’s exactly the sort of thing that forced Fiat to flee the U.S. market 30 years ago, too…

      • Yeah, I have a certain fondness for Fiat…my first car, ever, was a 1974 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe…loved that thing until the transmission died…I’ve also owned Jeeps for a very long time. Oh well…it is, what it is…maybe I’ll wait to see what the 2016 model brings in on the boat, or find something else. For a few grand more, a certified BMW X5 35D is still tempting and somebody has taken the “new car depreciation” for me. 🙂

        • Heck,

          I owned a Fiat 124 Spider 1978 version…it was the most fun car to drive that I can remember owning but the downside was that it was weirdly engineered. The thermostat was a separate unit that hung off the side of the engine attached to three hoses. If you got an air bubble in the thermostat, the engine burned up. Adjusting the valves was done by replacing solid metal disks of different thicknesses until you got the right adjustment…I loved that car but like a relationship with many women, the experience was bittersweet. Nice memories though. IMO, the Fiat Spider of that era looked better than almost any small two seater convertible made since then. (perhaps that era of Alfa Romeo was as nice). As always, YMMV and OALA, EHOATAS.

  7. Nice review. Too bad this jeep doesn’t come with a diesel option.
    IIRC, the Scion xB was the vehicle that ignited the “box car” craze, and Kia played catch-up. Of course Scion lost their way from the 2nd gen xB, bulking it up and replacing the 1.6l engine with the Camry powerplant.

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