Chrysler has been on a steady upswing since the dark days of bankruptcy. Throughout its merger with Fiat, each model has been updated or completely replaced. Jeep has been the shining star of the core brands, selling every Grand Cherokee and Wrangler they can make. Even the controversially styled Cherokee has been fairly well receieved. The next vehicle in the Jeep lineup will be the small Renegade, designed to attract “a new wave of youthful and adventurous customers around the world to the brand.” We concur.
I recently attended a local media event where Jeep brought two Renegade pre-production vehicles, which were previously seen on the auto show circuit; red Latitude and a gray Trailhawk. Because they’re such early builds, there was no driving allowed. What we did get was a close look at these early examples, and lots of face time with the people responsible for the Renegade.
When it goes on sale in the first quarter of 2015, the Renegade will be available in four flavors: Sport, Latitude, Limited, and Trailhawk. All models will be available in either front or all wheel drive, with the exception of the Trailhawk which will be exclusively 4×4. Jeep is mum on two key factors: gas mileage and price, but expect over 30mpg on the highway.
Under the hood will be one of two familiar engines: the Sport and Latitude will come with a 1.4 liter turbo which produces 160hp and 184lb-ft of torque, and the Tigershark 2.4 liter, which makes 184hp and 177 lb-ft. The Tigershark engine will be standard on Limited and Trailhawk, but optional on other trim levels. The turbo engine will be available with a six-speed manual transmission in both 4×2 and 4×4 versions. The 2.4-liter engine will be available only with a 9-speed automatic. When properly equipped, this Italian-made Renegade will be able to tow 2000lbs.
Despite the front-drive bias, the full-time 4×4 mode can be manually engaged, and each Renegade has a Land Rover-like terrain response system, dubbed Selec-Terrain, with an available rock crawling mode. The Trailhawk adds increased ride height, skid plates, tow hooks, a full-size spare, hill-descent control, and unique fascias that sacrifice aerodynamics in favor of better approach and departure angles. There will also be a low-range mode with a 20:1 crawl ratio.
Where every vehicle in this category looks like a different flavor of the same blob, the Renegade is very square, and its Fiat roots are covered up by a shrunken down Wrangler mold. Jeep says it “combines the Jeep brand’s heritage with fresh new styling” but everyone will say that looks cute. Despite the somewhat cartoony looks, I like it just because it is so square and so different looking.
Renegade’s most interesting exterior design is a roof which consists of two manually removable roof panels. Inspired by Wrangler’s hardtop, the My Sky roof will be available on all models. On all but the Sport model, the My Sky can be ordered with power retraceable glass sunroofs, a la BMW wagons, which are also manually removable.
The interior is very similar to other new Chrysler vehicles. Front and center is the newest version of the familiar Uconnect system which has developed a reputation for being quick and easy to use. Keeping it simple are three dials for climate control, with the minimum amount of buttons. Below that are aux and USB inputs, 12v receptacle, and the Selec-Terrain system knob. Interior materials on these pre-production vehicles were not the final molds, but expect something similar to what is on the Chrysler 200. Subtle Jeep design cues are also present throughout the interior.
The Renegade is a very interesting vehicle and a huge step up from the Patriot and the Compass. Like those two vehicles, it will be frowned upon by hardcore Jeep enthusiasts, but if the final product is a good mix of the two Cherokees and the Wrangler, there is no way it cannot succeed.