Gavin Braithwaite-Smith | March 2015
You could understand Jeep for not wanting anything to do with the compact crossover sector. Jeep is an authentic, all-American brand with proper off-road heritage. Why would it want to mix it with soft-roaders and cars driven only through the front wheels?
The answer is, of course, the fact that the compact crossover segment is growing at an alarming rate. Jeep simply can’t afford to claim the moral high ground and watch on as the likes of Nissan, Skoda, Peugeot and Renault mop up the sales. And besides, with the new Fiat 500X, it at least has a platform upon which to build a new car.
Step forward the new Jeep Renegade – a car that Jeep proudly proclaims to be the “only genuine SUV in the sector”. That’ll be fighting talk then, Jeep. The question is, how many compact crossover buyers actually want full fat off-road capabilities?
Not all of them, which is why Jeep is – shock horror – making the Renegade available in both front and four-wheel drive guise. What’s it like? We took to the beaches and forests of Scotland to find out.
What’s the Jeep Renegade like to drive?
This all depends on where you’re driving it. On road, the Jeep Renegade behaves almost entirely as you’d expect. Be it in front or four-wheel drive guise, there’s a fair amount of road and wind noise, not helped by the huge door mirrors and to-hell-with-aerodynamics styling. The steering is vague and over-assisted, which isn’t great when travelling at high speeds, but does come in handy during low-speed manoeuvres.
On the plus side, the steering wheel is reassuringly chunky and matched perfectly with the massive round silver gearknob. Such things help to make the Renegade feel like a Jeep, which could become a deciding factor when a customer is choosing between this and one of the sector’s more established rivals.
You’d suspect the majority of buyers in this sector would favour ride quality over sharp handling, but the Renegade does things differently. Whilst the ride quality is too bumpy and easily unsettled over harsh surfaces, the handling is rather good. Turn in is direct and it’ll press on through corners in a surprisingly composed manner.
It isn’t the slightest bit sporty and it’s actually a tad lifeless to drive, but it feels predictable and inspires confidence. Which is just about all you can ask for from a compact crossover. The commanding view over the flat bonnet is also a joy, although rearward visibility is very poor.
As for the engines, following extended drives in the 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesels, along with a brief stint in the 1.4-litre petrol, we’d have to recommend the smaller diesel. The 258lb ft of torque available in the 2.0-litre diesel is only fractionally more than the 236lb ft offered by the 1.6-litre and it’s barely noticeable on the open road. But at a claimed 61.4mpg, the smaller diesel offers 6.0mpg more than the 2.0-litre.
Take note however, the 1.6-litre diesel isn’t available with four-wheel drive or Jeep’s new nine-speed automatic transmission. But if you prefer your crossovers without a dash of SUV, this won’t matter one jot.
So is the Jeep Renegade any good off-road?
But here’s the thing. The new Jeep Renegade feels much, much better in full fat off-road specification. Maybe it’s the Jeep badge or perhaps it’s the overpowering sense of heritage you get when you glance down at the SINCE 1941 inscription on the dashboard, but the Renegade feels like it was born to be an off-roader.
It’s its USP, for heaven’s sake. Sure, many of its rivals can be ordered in 4×4 guise, but none feel as authentic as this when the going gets tough.
To ram this message home, Jeep laid on not one, but two off-road courses. Firstly, a private beach on the Scottish coast and secondly a series of obstacles within a Scottish sawmill, reminiscent of something you’d find in Junior Kick Start.
In both cases, the Jeep Renegade performed brilliantly, sprinting across the squishy sand and rocks on the beach and devouring the log piles and camber changes in the forest. It didn’t break sweat and there wasn’t even a hint of it bottoming out. Make no mistake, this is a proper off-roader that would show the majority of its rivals a clean pair of heels should things get property tough.
But this off-road capability doesn’t come cheap. The 110hp 1.6-litre Renegade in entry-level Sport trim might cost a mere £16,795, but the cheapest 4WD model is the 2.0-litre diesel in Longitude trim and that costs £22,610.
The prices of our three test cars ranged from £24,415 to an eye-watering £27,935 and when you take a long hard look at the Renegade, it doesn’t quite feel worthy of such price tags. Let’s remember, you can order a Skoda Yeti 4×4 for less than £20,000.
Verdict: 2015 Jeep Renegade
The Jeep Renegade is a car you desperately want to love. It looks good, in a Tonka Toy meets Wrangler kind of way and is genuinely capable off road. It’s also bigger than the average compact crossover, something that becomes immediately obvious when you’re sat inside the Renegade. It feels big in the front, but even larger in the rear, with plenty of leg and headroom.
Boot space of 351 litres is plenty and this can be extended to 1,297 litres with the rear seats folded down. Jeep says the Renegade will appeal to outdoor types and the young at heart, pinpointing skiers, snowboarders and mountain bikers as key customers. If the cap or helmet fits, this Jeep could be for you.
But we can’t help but feel the Renegade is trying just a little too hard. Loading the car with ‘Easter Eggs’, each one giving a nod to the brand’s heritage, comes across as Jeep trying desperately hard to inject some Americana in this European-built crossover.
And despite its European roots, there remains some question marks over the quality of the interior, whilst the sat nav system did its best to get us lost on numerous occasions. Not great for a car that prides itself on a go-anywhere spirit.
If you need a compact 4×4 and are prepared to pay the premium price for it, the Jeep Renegade is worth a look. But if you’re looking to save some cash and will be spending more time on-road rather than off it, we suggest looking elsewhere.
Rivals: 2015 Jeep Renegade
- Skoda Yeti
- Renault Captur
- Suzuki Vitara
- Nissan Juke
- Citroen C4 Cactus
For us, the Skoda Yeti is still the kind of the quirky compact crossovers. Six years on, it still offers the most convincing package as the most competitive prices. The all-new Suzuki Vitara is similarly good and – like the Renegade – is able to put its 4×4 heritage to good use to deliver a compelling offer. The Nissan Juke is perhaps beginning to show its age, but the French upstarts in the shape of the Cactus and Captur offer the best options for those favouring front-wheel drive.
Specification: 2015 Jeep Renegade
Engine 1.4 or 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol, 1.6 or 2.0-litre turbodiesel four-cylinder
Gearbox Five or six-speed manual, DDCT or nine-speed automatic; front or four-wheel drive
Price from £16,795
Torque 112-258lb ft
0-62mph 8.8-11.8 seconds
Top speed 111-122mph