Base price: $20,495 + taxes
As tested: $32,290 + taxes
Fuel economy: 10.1 L/100 kms over 400 kms of mixed highway/city driving
Competition: Buick Encore, Fiat 500X, Kia Soul, Nissan Juke, Subaru XV
Smashing the old adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks… enter the new Jeep Renegade. First impressions will tell you this isn’t your grandpa’s Jeep. And it’s an important moment for the company because the Renegade is the first vehicle released under the new Fiat Chrysler banner. It’s that conglomeration that makes this car so interesting. The Renegade shares the same engines, transmissions and chassis as the equally new Fiat 500X (click here to see my recent review of the 500X). And get this, it’s made in Italy! Jeep purists have had a hard time wrapping their heads around this departure for such an iconic American brand. “Surely a glorified Fiat won’t be able to live up to the off-road pedigree of the Jeep name”, they say. Well, I loaded up the family for a trip out to my friend Brian’s family land (full of off-roading opportunities) to see how it would do on-road, off-road and for family life. Read on…
First up, the look – while there are certainly cues from Jeeps gone by, this is a pretty funky vehicle and I can easily say it has turned the most heads of all the tests I’ve done this year. It kind of looks like a caricature artist was asked to draw their cartoonish vision of a Jeep. But this emerging sub-compact crossover segment is generally a bit more playful and targeted toward younger buyers who are willing to make a bit of a statement with their car. And, being squarely in that target, I quite like it. It looks like what a Storm Trooper would use to commute to and from work. But whether we like the look of something is about as subjective as it gets. I’ll leave that to you.
One thing I should mention is that our tester was actually a 2015 Renegade but the folks at Fiat Chrysler tell me there will be very few changes for the 2016 model year: you’ll be able to upgrade to a more premium sound system, rain sensing wipers are an option and a couple of extra couples are being added to the mix.
Once you step inside the Renegade, Jeep has left very few surfaces without its logo emblazoned upon it. The speakers, the side mirrors, the infotainment system, the seats. It’s a bit much. But look beyond that and the front seats are quite comfortable, the interior is simple, utilitarian and intuitive. The infotainment system’s screen is a little too small, the climate controls are too low down on the dash, but otherwise, I quite like it. It has best in class headroom for tall guys like myself too. One seriously kitschy bit of optional kit is the My Sky system that lets you remove two roof panels for an open air, true Jeep feel. It seems gimmicky and storage of the panels would be a pain when a simple moonroof would’ve done the job more elegantly. Speaking of silly extras, here’s one: you have to pay an additional $6000 on top of the Renegade’s base price to get four wheel drive! That’s a big premium for a company that is synonymous with 4×4. I don’t understand why it’s even an option.
In the back seat, it’s tight… a little too tight. It makes fitting a rear facing child seat a real challenge and even our little guy, who’s now in a front facing seat, maxed out the rear seat space. For what looks like a pretty large vehicle from the outside, it’s remarkable how little room there actually is in the back seat and trunk area. Our standard amount of gear for our trunk test could fit but it was a really tight squeeze. As a family, we got the sense that this Renegade was not designed with us in mind.
As for driving experience, the Renegade comes with the same engine options as the Fiat 500X – a 1.4-litre turbo or a 2.4-litre non-turbo coupled with a 9 speed automatic transmission. The Trail Hawk edition of the Renegade that I was driving has the larger engine choice and much like the Fiat, I found the power more than adequate but the 9 speed gearbox kept the RPM just a little too low so the car felt like it was shuddering its way along much of the time. Jeep has been updating the software for this transmission in an effort to make it smoother but it still needs tweaking. There’s also quite a bit of wind noise at highway speed because of its boxier design. Fuel economy was a decent but not amazing 10 litres per 100 kilometres on a mix of city and highway driving. But it was off-road that the Jeep impressed me most. It has best in class ground clearance, an optional Jeep active 4×4 system which includes a low range setting for crawling your way through the really tough conditions. This little Jeep took whatever I threw at it on a snowy, slippery fall day in the woods.
And while all this off-roading made for a fun afternoon and makes the Renegade stand out from what’s becoming a crowded segment, here’s the thing: not many of us are ever actually going to use those hardcore off-roading functions. And for the true off-road crowd, they’re likely to look at a bigger, more powerful Jeep anyway. What you’re left with is a cool looking vehicle, with decent but not amazing on-road performance and some pretty limited capacity. But if you want to turn heads like only an Italian-made car can (never thought I’d say that about a Jeep), the Renegade may be for you.
Family Wheels pros:
Family Wheels cons:
Family Wheels target: second car for one (maybe two) child families with kids already out of rear facing child seats
Family Wheels driver comfort score: 3.5/5
Family Wheels rear passenger score: 2.5/5
Family Wheels trunk test score: 3/5
Family Wheels driveability score: 3.5/5
Family Wheels fuel economy score: 3.5/5
Family Wheels value score: 3.5/5
Family wheels final score: 19.5/30~ Paul Karchut is the award-winning journalist behind FamilyWheels.ca. Check-out his site for more reviews and find him on Twitter @FamilyWheels.