First Drive: 2015 Jeep Renegade

Sometimes in life you cannot just play it safe, sometimes you have to take a little gamble and hope that it pays off.  For example, you could send the guy that really doesn't like Jeeps to a Jeep event and hope that he doesn't embarrass your company at the event and come home with an article that spouts nothing good about an important vehicle for the second largest volume seller of vehicles in Canada, Fiat Chrysler Automotive (FCA).

That bring us to the now, with the launch of the 2015 Jeep Renegade, a vehicle that fills an empty space in the Jeep lineup in an emerging market of subcompact crossover vehicles that will grow rapidly over the next year with new introductions from Honda and Mazda due imminently. And therein lies the gamble for FCA: With Compass, Patriot and Cherokee already successes competing in this price range, do they really need this smaller vehicle?  Can it live up to the Jeep brand name and reputation as a truly capable off-road machine, while still offering the comfort, practicality and style that is expected in this new category of vehicle?

With Compass, Patriot and Cherokee already successes competing in this price range, do they really need this smaller vehicle?

With those goals in mind Jeep engineers and designers took on the task to develop a vehicle that was true to the brand in all respects.  Fully designed and engineered in the United States but built in Italy as part of the new FCA production capacity, this new global platform has been designed to be adaptable and capable of accepting 16 different powertrain options.

The 2015 Jeep Renegade is small – think Kia Soul, Nissan Juke or Buick Encore; but unlike its competitors the Renegade boasts true off-road capability (4x4 with locking) and towing ability (up to 907 kg/2000 lb) while still delivering the style and comfort that most buyers in this segment are looking for.

According to Jeep the volume seller will be the North 4x4 edition expected to account for 50 percent of the sales while the North 4x2 will account for another 15 percent.  Jeep has made the transmission and engine choices simple for consumers.  The Renegade is available with either a 1.4L Multiair four-cylinder turbocharged engine that outputs 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, or a 2.4L Multiair2 four-cylinder engine that outputs 180 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque.

To make things even simpler, each engine is coupled to only one transmission.  If you would like a six-speed manual gearbox then you buy the 1.4L engine; if you would like the class exclusive nine-speed automatic transmission then you pony up the extra $1,495 and upgrade to the 2.4L engine.

Starting at $19,995 for the 4x2 Sport model, the Renegade is attractively priced as well.  All but the Trailhawk and Limited models come standard with the 1.4 coupled with the manual transmission and are upgradable to the 2.4 with the automatic.  The two aforementioned trims are available only with the 2.4L and automatic combination.

The lineup moves up to the North 4x2 at $25,995, which adds A/C, cruise control, fog lamps, 5.0-inch touchscreen, automatic headlamps, hands-free communication and aluminum wheels.  In Canada the 4x4 model will certainly be more popular with the Sport 4x4 model running $25,995, this package adding A/C and cruise control to the 4x2 model.  The North is priced at $27,495, while the Limited is offered at $31,995.  The Limited model retains the characteristics expected from a Limited trim in the Jeep brand, including leather seating, heated front seats and steering wheel, 18-inch aluminum wheels, remote start, dual-zone climate control and more.

Also available on the Limited trim is an Advanced Technology Group that packages forward collision warning with active braking, rear park assist, blind spot monitoring with rear-cross traffic alert and lane departure warning.

This leaves the ever-capable Trailhawk model. Sporting a Trail Rated badge, the most off-road capable Renegade in the lineup comes standard with Jeep Active Drive Low, Skid plates, a 7-inch customizable display and Jeep's Selec-Terrain system with Rock mode and hill descent control.  The Trailhawk also boasts extra ground clearance (221 mm) a  907 kg (2,000 lb) towing capacity, is capable of fording up to 48 cm (19 inches) of water and is equipped with a different lower fascia that earns it a 31-degree approach angle. The Trailhawk is listed with an MSRP of $30,995.

The Renegade is the smallest Jeep in the lineup but it is still larger than its current competitors. The Buick Encore claims 1,371 L of cargo capacity while the Renegade offers 1,438. When parked side by side the Jeep is visibly larger, not to mention proportionally and visually appealing, while most of its competitors look a little awkward due to their tall but short body styles.

Of course the Renegade sports Jeep’s iconic seven slotted grill, a bold upright front end design with exaggerated features like large round headlamps and trapezoidal wheel arches.  The Renegade actually looks great from all angles and the Limited trim with chrome accents looks surprisingly premium and sophisticated.  A lot of the design inspiration for the Renegade was taken from the Wrangler, as well as from historic Jeep features like the X's throughout the design reminiscent of the old army jerry cans.  The only design feature that threw me off was the rear taillights that look great from up close but from afar remind me of dead cartoon or video game characters.

The interior attention to detail is something that really needs to be witnessed in person.  Many easter eggs have been placed throughout the interior that harkens back to Jeeps of the past as well as to off-roading and adventure locations.  For example, the seats have a topographical map of Moab woven into them, the dash has hints of Rubicon trail and the speakers have the iconic Jeep logo molded into the grille.

Staying true to the Wrangler format and inspiration, the Renegade features two removable roof panels that are apparently easy to operate (unfortunately we did not get a chance to try them ourselves so we will have to take Jeep’s word for now).  Each panel weights in at just 10 pounds making them light and maneuverable and they can be stowed in the provided bag in the trunk area without compromising cargo space.

Not only does the Renegade offer 524 L of cargo space behind the rear seats, but those seats offer a 60/40 fold-flat design.  The front passenger seat also folds flat providing the capability to carry even longer items or large amount of cargo.  We didn't get a chance to sit in the back of the vehicle for much time, but legroom seemed ample for the class (892 mm or 35.1 inches).  We did spend a lot of time in the front seats, though, and found them to be adequate for the job

For shorter drives the seat bottoms could be uncomfortable as they are on the long side and could dig into the back of your legs and be bothersome over time, a feature taller drivers will undoubtedly appreciate.  The Limited model seats seemed to be more supportive and more comfortable, and they are also power adjustable offering slightly better control.  The manual seats do offer a reclining seat and height adjustability and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes, which did provide a comfortable driving position.

We had a chance to drive this new Jeep on a variety of roads (and off the road), including: twisty mountain roads, freeways and in the city – and we came away impressed.  From the driver's seat the Renegade is all Jeep, looking out over the square hood gives you a sense you are driving something larger and more prominent, yet its small size and large mirrors make it easy to navigate in tight spaces and congested traffic.  The ride is very much Jeep as well and you can immediately feel the chassis rigidity when you hit the road.  Although the Renegade does ride on the firm side it is not overly jarring, but the most impressive of on-road manners was the steering response and chassis control in high speed cornering – the Renegade felt stable and composed even when driving beyond what the tires were capable of and brought a smile to our collective faces. [We’re even grinning back here in the Etobicoke office… –Ed.]

Due to scheduling and time constraints we did not get a chance to test the 1.4L engine with the manual but, with that said, most buyers will be opting for the 2.4L engine coupled to the nine-speed transmission, and we spent quite a bit of time in this model.  The 2.4 proved sufficient even in the high mountains of the San Francisco, although that nine-speed transmission may never see ninth gear unless on a downhill grade.  We also noted an odd high-pitched whine that the transmission emitted at certain speeds in fourth and fifth gear, you may never notice this whine if you listen to music in the car.

Jeep promised that the Renegade was not like any of its competition and they were prepared to prove it at this event.  Led by a Wrangler, we headed into the mountains onto an off-road course that would be impossible for any other vehicle in this class and downright challenging even for the most capable off-roaders on the market.  Let's just say that smile remained for quite a while after that experience and proved to us that Jeep was serious in this endeavour.

We did the off-roading part of the program in the Trailhawk model and heavily utilized the rock-crawl and hill-descent modes, which were impressive.  The chassis stiffness and skid plates under the vehicle were put to the test as we crawled over and crashed down on many a hard rock, easily forded a deep stream and navigated an impossibly steep incline.

It seems as though all the gambles might have paid off this time.  The non-Jeep guy came home duly impressed with the capabilities, refinement and engineering that went into this new 2015 Jeep Renegade and he, for one, is willing to bet that Jeep's gamble will pay off, most likely making 2015 Jeep’s best year in its storied history.

Pricing: 2015 Jeep Renegade
Sport 4x2: $19,995
(1.4L MultiAir Turbo engine, 6-speed manual transmission, 3.5-inch instrument cluster display, 3-inch infotainment display (Uconnect 3.0), cloth seats, 16-inch wheels)
Sport 4x2 2.4: 21,490
(2.4L MultiAir engine, 9-speed automatic transmission)
Sport 4x4: $25,995
(A/C, cruise control)
North 4x2: $25,995
(fog lamps, 5.0-inch touchscreen, automatic headlamps, 5-inch infotainment display (Uconnect 5.0), hands-free communication, 16-inch aluminum wheels, satellite radio)
North 4x2 2.4: $27,490
(17-inch aluminum wheels)
North 4x4: $27,495
Limited: $31,995
(leather seating, heated front seats and steering wheel, 7-inch instrument cluster display, 18-inch aluminum wheels, remote start, dual-zone climate control, back-up camera)
Trailhawk: $30,995
(Jeep Active Drive Low, skid plates, 7-inch instrument cluster display, Selec-Terrain system with Rock mode and hill descent control)

Warranty:
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 3 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 5 years/100,000 km 24-hour roadside assistance

Competitors:
Honda HR-V
Jeep Cherokee
Jeep Wrangler
Mini Countryman
Nissan Juke

The 2015 Jeep Renegade fills an empty space in the Jeep lineup in an emerging market of subcompact crossover vehicles that will grow... 1/26/2015 11:32:36 AM