Road Test: Jeep Renegade Trailhawk
Don’t be fooled its cute styling; the Renegade is every bit a Jeep, says Alex Grant.
Simple, durable and famous the world over, helped by localised production, the Willys Jeep and its hard-wearing descendants are an automotive icon. An icon that Jeep has had mixed success recapturing elsewhere in the range, but the Renegade finally bucks that trend.
The meshing of Fiat and Chrysler perhaps sounded an unlikely fit, but cars like this show the potential when the right parts of FCA align. The Renegade feels like a caricature of the Willys Jeep, a cuter and more rounded version with a little Italian design flair. And it looks brilliant.
It’s enough to – almost – forgive the sins of the DaimlerChrysler days. The orange paintball splats, embossed maps and Jeep grille graphics dotted around the cabin give a sense that someone has had fun designing it. A factor which often gets left out as the purse strings tighten between concept and production car.
Broadly speaking, what’s underneath is a Fiat 500X, though the Renegade shares no body panels or interior parts other than the clunky FCA navigation and a smattering of switchgear, and thus gives away little of its shared architecture. Fiat kept the best plastics to itself, and there’s a frustrating lack of storage around the cabin, but the accents of colour stop it feeling cheap or drab.
And deceptive, too. From the front seat, peering down its flat bonnet through its upright screen, it feels like a much bigger car. It’s only when you notice the tall and narrow rear doors that you get a feel for how small it really is. The boot holds a competitive 350 litres, and the square roofline means it’s better equipped for occasional box carrying than its Italian cousin.
That’s only half its talent. Company car drivers are probably likely to opt for a two-wheel drive version, but Jeep has focused on giving its smallest offering genuine off-road ability. There are four driving modes, low ratio gearing and a diff lock to suit all sorts of terrains, and it’ll go far further off the beaten track than just about any of its competitors. It’s really impressive; and the kit fitted to the Trailhawk version with its ramp angle-improving slanted nose and off-road tyres all add to that sense that most of the worst the UK can muster won’t stop it.
On the negative side, it’s noticeably more agricultural than the Fiat. The 170bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine is particularly gruff and vibrations are less well insulated than in the 500X; it sort of fits the character, though. Economy isn’t great either, considering it has nine gears to pick from and a tendency to hunt through them when the topography changes.
Ironically, it might be the Fiat’s biggest threat; it’s more practical, more capable off road, cheaper and more masculine than its stablemate, with which it shares forecourts. It’s a fun car with plenty of character, a perfect combination of Italian style and rugged American off-road ability. Imagine the queues if Land Rover offered something similar…
American off-road toughness with an Italian twist, the Renegade makes an attractive user-chooser option, particularly if you need a city-friendly SUV which won’t struggle taken beyond a wet field.