Motoring review: Honey, I shrunk the Jeep

The compact Jeep Renegade SUV has the same safety features as those found in its bigger stablemates.
The compact Jeep Renegade SUV has the same safety features as those found in its bigger stablemates.PHOTO: LIONEL SEAH
The compact Jeep Renegade SUV has the same safety features as those found in its bigger stablemates.
The compact Jeep Renegade SUV has the same safety features as those found in its bigger stablemates.PHOTO: LIONEL SEAH

The Italian-made Renegade is Jeep's first compact SUV

  • Specs

  • JEEP RENEGADE TRAILHAWK 2.4L

    Price: $175,000 with COE (estimated)

    Engine: 2,360cc 16-valve inline-4

    Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual override

    Power: 180bhp at 6,400rpm

    Torque: 237Nm at 3,900rpm

    0-100kmh: 8.4 seconds (estimated)

    Top speed: 201kmh (estimated)

    Fuel consumption: 9.8 litres/100km

    Agent: Chrysler Jeep Automotive

With fuel prices down and drivetrains more efficient, sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) are fashionable once again.

And with record sales last year of more than a million vehicles, niche American brand Jeep is enjoying this resurgence.

Now owned by a subsidiary of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the former makers of World War II four-wheel-drive vehicles is gunning for more.

Its first compact SUV - the Fiatinfused Renegade - is timed perfectly to catch the crossover wave sweeping the world.

Conceived in the United States and built in Melfi, Italy, the Renegade is based on the Fiat 500X.

But is it still a Jeep, you ask? Well, read on.

We managed to wrangle a Renegade Trailhawk (top-of-the-line trail-rated version) recently for a few hours of trail- blazing in the canyon countryside of Moab, Utah.

The Renegade's tall and boxy shape exudes a rugged charm. Face on, there is no mistaking it for anything but a Jeep, with its upright seven-slot signature grille flanked by circular headlamps. Matching square tail lamps feature an "X" pattern, mimicking the Jerry cans on World War II Willys Jeep.

The pattern is repeated on removable panels of the car's panoramic roof. For open-top motoring, the panels can be fully removed and tucked beneath the boot, much like in an old Porsche 911 Targa.

The Trailhawk version gets raised bumpers and skid plates for better approach and departure angles, and higher ground clearance. As for its oversized wheel housings, which make even 17-inch wheels appear small, they are for better articulation when rock climbing.

The hardware upgrade incorporates a low-speed locking rear axle for serious mountain climbing.

That said, all Renegade variants are true 4x4's. But in undemanding situations, Jeep's Active Drive disconnects the rear axle to save fuel.

It does so seamlessly, so you will not notice the switch, unless you glance at the car's 7-inch colour information display.

A Selec-Terrain control allows you to dial in the optimum driving mode for snow, sand, mud or rock. But leaving it in Auto for the intelligent system to figure out the best traction mode will suffice most of the time.

The Renegade has a ZF nine-speed autobox, like in the Range Rover Evoque - only smoother. It ensures efficiency and puts the engine in a sweet spot all the time.

The test-car is powered by a normally aspirated 2.4-litre Tigershark engine found in the Cherokee. It is an inoffensive power plant that copes well, even with the additional weight of the Trailhawk's low-ratio rear axle hardware.

What surprises is the compact SUV's on-road driveability. Unlike softly sprung off-roaders, the SUV's Koni dampers give it a firm but well-damped ride.

Faced with a series of winding canyon roads, the car is literally at home on the range. Roll is minimal, with electronic nannies checking over-exuberance and all-wheel-drive maintaining traction around twisty stretches.

A quick and accurate steering makes it all the more enjoyable, allowing you to point and squirt around bends.

Noise, vibration and harshness levels are class-leading. There is hardly any wind noise, despite its upright, boxy shape. And road noise is a muted rumble, even on all-terrain tyres. At higher revs, its engine is audible, but the note is not unpleasant.

Jeep's smallest SUV is loaded with the same safety features found in its bigger stablemates. Seven airbags, Hill Start Assist and an electronic parking brake are all standard issue.

Forward Collision and Lane Departure Warning are a first in the class. Options include Blind-spot Monitoring, Rear Cross-path Detection, reverse camera, Hill Descent Control and adaptive cruise control.

What is more, those on board can stay plugged in with the car's Bluetoothenabled Uconnect system. Those who enjoy their music loud will have the option of a 400-watt nine-speaker BeatsAudio system. Otherwise, a six-speaker system will be enough to get your feet tapping.

The car's cabin is pleasant, with a blend of rugged, trendy and high-tech elements. The dash layout is hatchback- like, with durable plastics and soft-touch surfaces. Anodised trim around the front speakers, vents and centre console give a touch of class.

There is even a prominent passenger side dash grab handle and an embossed "Since 1941" sign - like in the Wrangler.

Front occupants enjoy sporty and supportive buckets, but the second row is a snug fit even for two.

Boot space is a half-decent 351 litres, but can be expanded to an Ikea-friendly 1,297 litres with the rear seats folded. Oddment boxes and door pockets are small, although a front passenger under- seat storage is sizeable.

Deep down, the Renegade is still a true-blue 4x4 that can jungle bash along with its bigger siblings.

I reckon it will outclass and outpace the updated Suzuki Jimny (not available in Singapore). Moreover, it doubles as a fun urban commuter, with its near hot- hatch prowess. It might even give premium soft-roaders such as the Audi Q3 and Mini Countryman a run for their money.

Perhaps more relevant for Singapore's displacement-sensitive market will be the version fitted with a Fiat-sourced 1.4-

litre MultiAir2 turbocharged engine. This diminutive unit churns out 170bhp and 250Nm.

Sold on it? There is just a slight catch: The Renegade will arrive only next year.

stlife@sph.com.sg

The writer is an occasional contributor to Life! Motoring.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2015, with the headline 'Honey, I shrunk the Jeep'. Print Edition | Subscribe