2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk 4×4 Review - A Gimmick Wrapped in Nostalgia

Mark Stevenson
by Mark Stevenson

2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk 4×4

2.4-liter Tigershark SOHC I-4, MultiAir 2 variable valve and lift timing (180 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm; 175 lbs-ft of torque @ 3,900 rpm)

Nine-speed ZF 948TE automatic transmission w/ Jeep Active Drive Low 4×4

21 city/29 highway/24 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

20.5 mpg on the 50/50 city/hwy, 100-percent frustrated driver cycle (Observed, MPG)

Tested Options: Trailer Tow Group, Premium Leather Group, Premium Navigation Group, Safety and Security Group, My Sky Open Air Roof System – Power/Removable Panels, Keyless Enter ‘n Go w/ Push Button Start, Black Hood Decal, 9 Amplified Speakers w/ Subwoofer, ParkView Rear Back-up Camera, Remote Start System.

Base Price (Trailhawk):


$26,990* (U.S.)/$32,795* (Canada)


As Tested Price:


$33,255* (U.S.)/$39,525* (Canada)

* All prices include $995 destination fee (U.S.) or $1,795 destination fee and A/C tax (Canada).

There’s a reason why legions of buyers deplete their expendable income to welcome thousands upon thousands of Wranglers to their paved driveways in planned subdivisions every single year. Even if you never use all the capability offered by Jeep’s mainstay, you have the appearance of being able to tackle anything that comes your way, whether it be a blizzard in Southern Texas or spontaneous volcanic eruption in Manhattan. It also helps that you can take the top off, adopt the persona of one of those lightly bearded, unachievably cool college dropouts in the Jeep commercials, and see yourself living the perfect life that’s somewhere between Bear Grylls and Socality Barbie. (Though, pee-drinking endorser Grylls also endorses Land Rover over the much-romanticized Wrangler.)

So, what if you could have all that freedom in a more economical, slightly less brutish, equally colourful package? And what if it was “crafted” in Italy just like that Dolce and Gabbana bag that totally isn’t a Chinese knockoff?

Enter the Renegade. What used to be a special edition version of CJs and Wranglers is now a redressed Italian with more lifestyle gimmicks and kitch than one can fit in an artisanal Instagram feed.

Exterior


Easter eggs are fun. I like fun. You like fun. We all like fun.

What I don’t like are easter eggs that show how much more fun I could be having in a real Jeep.

For starters, there are about eighty zillion seven-slot Jeep grilles on the Renegade. They’re in the headlamps, taillamps, rearview mirror, speaker grille frames (grilles on grilles!), center console and the interior plastic panel of the rear hatch. There’s also a virtual army of Willys MAs standing sentry on the rooflatches, floormats and windshield. There’s the map of Moab — where less than one percent of Renegade owners will actually go, so why do we need a permanent map of the place? — and World War II gas can X stamp upon World War II gas can X stamp.

But, the thing that bugs me the most about the Renegade is the color. Not this particular shade of Sierra Blue, but its pairing with the burn-your-retinas red that adorns the inside trim pieces, exterior badges and front tow hooks.

Jeep: just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Our tester was fitted with the powered version of the Renegade’s “My Sky” open-air roof system, giving you the option of opening the front panel like a sunroof that you can’t see through when closed, or removing both front and rear panels and storing them in the trunk. Those panels require a special tool to remove them that’s so small that you’ll likely lose it. Also, the ease of removal isn’t a walk in the park. I’ve seen a 5-foot-nothing, 22-year-old female exert less effort taking the roof off a Del Sol than it took me to remove the roof panels from the Renegade. It’s not that the panels are heavy; they’re just awkward. Thankfully, the panels aren’t so clunky that they take up a huge amount of cargo space.

As for the Renegade being a “small SUV,” well, see for yourself. The stretched version of the iconic Jeep Wrangler is nearly 15-feet-4-inches long. The Renegade? Nearly 13-feet-11-inches long.

The Renegade is longer than a Wrangler, but just a little over a foot shorter than the Unlimited. The Wrangler, regardless of length, is only 2 inches wider.

As for offroading, the Renegade’s short overhangs and ground clearance (6.7 to 8.7 inches depending on drivetrain and trim) will likely handle anything a future Renegade owner will throw at it. For those opting for the Trailhawk, you can even attack 19 inches of water for those flash floods in Houston when you’re really jonesing for some Marlboros and have to go to the store.

Regardless of its offroad capability, it looks cute. And I don’t think a Jeep should ever look cute.

Interior


Whoever has been cracking out the handsomely penned interior designs at Chrysler lately obviously went on a long sabbatical when the Renegade project came around.

The steering wheel is standard Chrysler fare, so I will give that a pass. Same with UConnect, which works flawlessly except when it doesn’t.

Meanwhile, everything else looks and feels decidedly cheap. The seats aren’t much to look at, even though our tester was trimmed with the upgraded option. The red surrounds with their slight metallic shimmer are about one step away from being 99 cent clip-on earrings for your nearly-tween daughter. Also, the gimmicks continue in the instrument panel with a paintball splatter to totally denote the redline, bro.

The return of button blanks continues the cheapness. Even on this top trim Trailhawk, loaded up with extras, the center stack featured five button blanks in a row of eight possible placements. I thought we were done with this. Same goes for the awkwardly placed 4×4 selector and USB port that are way out of reach of the driver which causes he/she/xe to take their eyes off the road.

There was also never a time when I felt comfortable in the Renegade. The driving position was a bit off no matter how much I adjusted.

Without the roof panels stowed, and assuming you left the panel bag at home, the cargo area will take on 18.5 cubes with seats up and 50.8 cubes with seats folded. The Patriot, which costs less, will swallow more. The Wrangler can’t take as much stuff as the Renegade when seats are up (12.8 cubic feet) but maximum cargo yields an extra 4.2 cubic feet of volume.

Infotainment


I really like Uconnect when it isn’t trying to kill us. I liked it in the Charger and I’ll continue liking it even if security is engineered by the Jin Xu Hi Sieve Manufacturing Co. It might not be as nice to look at as some of the next-generation systems coming online over the next year or two, but it sure does everything I want.

That said, with the 9-speaker audio upgrade, the Renegade only sounds OK. The car feels a bit tinny, and the audio makes that more apparent. It’s as if the sound waves have an endless number of empty spaces behind the door panels in which to reverberate. Also, this UConnect system sports the 6.5-inch touchscreen, but looking at the molding around the screen tells me the Renegade could have been easily fitted with the 8.4-inch screen and Jeep simply decided not to offer it.

Powertrain


In the engine and transmission department, the Renegade offers two choices. Unfortunately, neither of those choices are, well, good.

For starters, a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is offered as standard. It makes do with 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. Our Trailhawk tester comes standard with the 2.4-liter “World Engine” four cylinder with 180 horsepower and 175 lbs-ft of torque. The turbo can only be had with a six-speed manual. The larger, naturally aspirated 2.4 gets the nine-speed ZF automatic as the sole transmission.

Before I even looked at the spec sheet, I took the Renegade for a drive. The 2.4-liter Tigershark isn’t what you would call smooth or refined, and neither is the nine-speed autobox. It felt like I was driving a small turbo mill with a bad DCT. It’s a dreadful pairing, like inviting Kanye West to any awards show. Whatever you are trying to accomplish will be interrupted at least once, maybe multiple times.

There was one moment during my drive that helped me decide the 2.4-liter and automatic should die a painful, horrific death. As I was merging onto the highway, I saw a vehicle approaching from behind that had been hidden at first glance behind a barricade. To try to get out of the way, I floored it.

One second. The revs are rising but I am not going any faster.

Two seconds. Revs are basically at redline but still no change in the rate of acceleration.

Three seconds. The transmission finally decides what gear it wants to select, grabs it and my rate of acceleration is only marginally better.

Around town or just cruising is a friendlier story, but that moment on the highway as much faster traffic was barrelling down on me was not just concerning, but also sincerely scary.

The cherry on top: Fuel economy clocked in at 3.5 mpg lower than the combined rating — and the rating of 24 mpg isn’t all that brilliant to begin with. If you are looking for a usable powertrain with decent fuel economy, you are better off with a Patriot with the six-speed automatic.

Drive


Despite what I said about the Wrangler, I like it a lot. I like it so much, in fact, that if the Charger thing doesn’t work out and Ford doesn’t build a Bronco, a Wrangler might be the next vehicle to grace my paved driveway in our hastily planned 1980s subdivision.

The Renegade, on the other hand, tries to leverage all the cool of the Wrangler, but is nothing more than a gimmick wrapped in nostalgia. Even worse, the gimmicks try to hide a bad powertrain and numerous other flaws. While the MultiAir 2 valve system and ZF nine speed might be engineering marvels, they don’t make for an enjoyable drive.

And it doesn’t stop there. The Trailhawk offers up ride quality that would make the Lada Niva blush. For a faux-roader with no destination other than a local, artisanal butcher only selling chickens that have been stroked in a motherly fashion at least 10 times every week, the Renegade Trailhawk isn’t going to be taking on the Rubicon Trail anytime soon.

For all this, our tester rang in at $33,255. In Canada, it costs an even more dear $39,525. Before taxes.

*jaw drop*

For that money, you can get the Wrangler and enjoy a real drop top. You can even spend a little more and get into a Land Rover LR2 if you fancy yourself a urine-drinking adventurist. Hell, if you don’t need the off road capability, the choices are as vast as the open prairie.

I really wanted to like the Renegade because I hate the idea of it. I really wanted it to prove me wrong and show me Jeep can build an SUV with this level of off road capability without losing all the pleasantries that makes the competition so damn good. I like being surprised, even if it means being proved wrong. Yet, I think this is an answer to a question that was asked but shouldn’t have been. Or maybe simply a wrong answer. We all do that now and then, so I’ll forgive you, Jeep.








Mark Stevenson
Mark Stevenson

More by Mark Stevenson

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6 of 129 comments
  • Carve Carve on Sep 11, 2015

    Kind of disappointing. Jeep needs more serious off-roaders. I was hoping to a modern version of a Willy's Jeep or Suzuki sidekick, or even XJ Cherokee. Something simple, modifiable, and in base form, with minimum options and interior and preferably 3000 pounds. The Wrangler is just getting too big and expensive. Instead we get a jacked up Fiat.

    • See 2 previous
    • Gtem Gtem on Sep 11, 2015

      @SCE to AUX See my posts above. It comes down to the fwd-car based platform being doomed to about 8-9 inches of ground clearance everywhere, not just under the rear differential like on a "serious" 4wd vehicle, and the inherent unsuitability of poorly articulating, short-arm independent suspension inherited from the road car platform it is based on. Note: I'm not damning all independent suspensions to unsuitability off road, you want to see IFS/IRS with good travel take a look at a third generation Mitsubishi Montero, or Toyota's 4Runner or Tacoma double wishbone front ends. I was at my friend's cabin, he has an old Suzuki Samurai there that he runs around the woods with. Totally stock, but with some narrow tractor tires put on it. THAT is a serious offroader. I may be proved wrong, but I don't think we'll see beater Renegade Trailhawks roaming the woods 20 years from now. It's just an unsuitable platform, not to mention I seriously doubt the 9 speed transmission will live that long.

  • Legacygt Legacygt on Sep 17, 2015

    Did somebody say "Patriot?" I don't care how bad the Renegade is. The Patriot could be the worst vehicle sold in the US right now. It's a very old vehicle that wasn't good when it was new. I think the Renegade is fine for what it is. I wouldn't drive one. I'm also not seeing many on the road. AFter just a couple months on the market, the Cherokee was all over the place. This car doesn't seem to resonate the same way.

    • Vulpine Vulpine on Sep 17, 2015

      I don't know where you live, LGT, but the Renegade is making itself quite visible where I live as supply improves. There's also a good possibility people have been waiting for the 'pop top' versions which were delayed until supposedly Sept./Oct. timeframe. That said, there are clearly some on the roads now and I expect to see quite a few more as winter approaches.

  • Mike Audi has been using a3 a4 a5 a6 a7 a8 for a long time and i think it makes sense. But, they are rumored to be changing it all again within a year ir two.
  • Golden2husky Match the tool to the job. This would be ideal for those who have dreadful, traffic filled commutes. I'd certainly go the SE route - wheel sizes are beyond bordering on dumb today and 17s are plenty. Plus the added mileage is a real advantage. I would have been able to commute to work with very little gas usage. The prior Prius' were dreadful to drive - I gave mine back to the fleet guy at work for something else - but this seems like they hit their mark. Now, about that steering wheel and dash design...No mention of the driving aids for improving mileage but I'll assume they are very much like they were in earlier models - which is to say superb. A bit of constructive criticism - on a vehicle like this the reviewer should really get into such systems as mileage is the reason for this car. Just like I would expect to see performance systems such as launch control, etc to be commented on for performance models.
  • Arthur Dailey Rootes Motors actually had a car assembly facility in Scarborough ( a suburb in the east end of Toronto), during the 1950's and early 1960s. It was on the south-west corner of Warden and Eglinton located at 1921 Eglinton Avenue East. The building still exists and you can still see it on Google maps. That part of Scarboro was known as the Golden Mile and also had the Headquarters for VW Canada, and the GM van plant.Also at 2689 Steeles Avenue West in Toronto (the south east corner of Steeles and Petrolia) is what is still shown on Google Maps as 'The Lada Building'. It still has large Lada signs and the Lada logo on the east and west facades of the building. You can see these if you go to the street view. Not sure how much longer they will be there as the building just went up for sale this month. In Canada as well as Ladas and Skodas we also got Dacias. But not Yugos. Canada also got a great many British vehicles until the US-Canada trade pact due to Commonwealth connections. Due to different market demands, Canadians purchased per capita more standards and smaller cars including hatches. Stripped versions, generally small hatchbacks, with manual transmission, windows, door locks and no A/C were known as 'Quebec specials' as our Francophone population had almost European preferences in vehicles. As noted in previous posts, for decades Canadian Pontiacs were actually Chevs with Pontiac bodies and brightwork. This made them comparatively less expensive and therefore Pontiac sold better per capita in Canada than in the USA.
  • Ajla As a single vehicle household with access to an available 120v plug a PHEV works about perfectly. My driving is either under 40 miles or over 275 miles. The annual insurance difference between two car (a $20K ev and $20K ICE) and single car ($40K PHEV) would equal about 8 years of Prius Prime oil changes.
  • Ronin Let's see the actuals first, then we can decide using science.What has been the effect of auto pollution levels since the 70s when pollution control devices were first introduced? Since the 80s when they were increased?How much has auto pollution specifically been reduced since the introduction of hybrid vehicles? Of e-vehicles?We should well be able to measure the benefits by now, by category of engine. We shouldn't have to continue to just guess the benefits. And if we can't specifically and in detail measure the benefits by now, it should make a rational person wonder if there really are any real world benefits.
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