When you think of Jeep, you think of the iconic Jeep Wrangler. Drawing its heritage all the way back to the army jeeps of World War II, the Wrangler has become the staple off-road vehicle of choice for many.
Many people just love the Wrangler’s unique style, though, without much interest in actually using its vast off-road capabilities. These buyers spell big opportunity for Jeep.
You see, while the Wrangler is quite “cool”, it’s strict off-road focus gives it some pretty serious drawbacks when it comes to everyday on-road driving. Anyone wanting to drive a Wrangler for its style points will have to be willing to sacrifice on fuel economy, practicality, handling, comfort, and security (with open models). Kind of a tough sell.
The big solution for Jeep was to create an all-new model that would take the Wrangler’s DNA and distill it into a more useable package for normal on-road use.
The new Jeep Renegade is that solution. Where the Wrangler is an off-roader first and daily car second, the Renegade is daily car first and an off-roader second.
Renegades are selling well, and I do think Jeep may have a home run on their hands here. Honestly, there are more buyers out there who just want a Jeep for the unique style of the brand, rather than to actually go rock crawling in the desert.
My girlfriend, Gab, is a perfect example. She’s all about the Jeep image, and she loves the car’s features, but she’s not all about getting it muddy or traversing the Mojave desert in her spare time.
Gab got this black 2015 Jeep Renegade Limited a little over a month ago, and she’s been letting me drive her around in it. I feel I’ve gotten to know the car pretty well at this point, and now it’s time to share my take on it with you, my dear readers.
So put your boots on and lets get to it!
It Does Everything You’d Expect With Some Pleasant Surpises
Practicality and Ergonomics
The Renegade’s boxy shape gives it a lot of practical space, with seating for 5 and a nicely thought out two level trunk. Unlike many of the Renegade’s CUV competitors, it’s trunk is actually a usable size with the rear seats upright.
The Renegade also has some fabulous ergonomic features. It’s about the perfect height for just stepping in and out easily, without having to climb up or drop down. The ceiling is also quite high, allowing taller folks to be comfortable in both the front or back seat. We’ve had Gab’s dad and my buddy Max ride along in the car, both of whom are well over 6 foot, and both said it was quite enjoyable, even for a longer trip.
The seats in the Renegade also have a nice upright posture that I must admit is refreshing — even though I’m one who loves driving those low sports cars. The Renegade is very comfortable for longer journeys.
Gab’s Renegade Limited also came with the optional heated leather seats and heated steering wheel. She gets cold easily, so the heated steering wheel may well be her favorite feature on the car. If you haven’t tried a heated steering wheel before, it’ll change your life because it’s just so fantastic!
Distilled From The Wrangler
Despite making the Renegade an everyday driver first, Jeep made it a point to keep everything people love about the Wrangler alive.
From the outside, the Renegade still wears that classic Willy’s Jeep face, with its round headlights and verticals slotted grill.
When it comes to cruising the beach, the doors and roof don’t come completely off on the Renegade. There is, however, a double MySky sunroof available with removable panels that fit right in the trunk. That means you can still cruise around with the full wind in your hair, but then you can put the roofs back on to keep your valuables safe in the car. The Renegade remains a very pleasant open cruiser.
Lastly there is the off-road ability. Obviously the Renegade wasn’t meant to match the rock crawling prowess of the Wrangler. That said, the Renegade is still a fairly capable off-roader and a genuine small Sport Utility Vehicle (unlike most cars it competes with). This is especially so if you go for the Renegade TrailHawk, which has actually proven to hold its own with the Wrangler out on the trails.
As for needing a Jeep in on-road situations like snow, I’m sure that any Renegade with 4WD will get you where you want to go with ease. I’ve tested the stability control on grass, and it won’t let you spin out.
For me, the biggest surprise during our initial test drive was how well the Renegade handles corners. It doesn’t look like it would be, but it is actually a lot of fun to drive from an enthusiast’s standpoint.
The Renegade has a high ride height, so it looks like it would just roll a lot like most Jeeps, but don’t judge this book by its cover. The Renegade has a nice stiff suspension that keeps body roll to a surprising minimum, and it really takes well to being thrown through turns with vigor.
The Renegade also has some lovely steering, especially for an SUV. It drives very tight and responsive, and you get decent road feel through the wheel and a lot more from the chassis.
Our first test drive was on an autocross-like track, so I really was able to push the Renegade, tires screeching and all. It took it well, so well that I still can’t believe it when I look at the car. I’ve since driven it on some epic mountain roads, and it was an absolute blast. The Renegade is a nice driver-oriented car, and that’s definitely thanks to its Italian-sourced chassis. Well done!
The 9 speed automatic transmission is also quite nice. I find it downshifts right when I want it to as I push more on the gas pedal in traffic. On those mountain roads, I also found the manual shifting mode to be more than decent enough for some fun in a car like this.
Another thing the 9 speed gearbox helps with is fuel economy, where the Renegade manages very well. 30 MPG is absolutely a realistic possibility, even with the larger Tigershark engine and the 4×4 option. Gab’s car is still being broken in, but she has seen averages on longer trips as high as 30.3 MPG.
So in two areas where the Jeep Wrangler lacks terribly, the Jeep Renegade excells. It’s fun handling makes it feel somewhat like a Jeep hot-hatch, and it’s fuel efficiency makes it a very reasonable everyday commuter.
It Has Some Real Style and Flavor, Thank The Italians
The Italians have always known how to make a car that is able to pull at your heart strings. With the Renegade, it’s clear that the Italians have gone and made a Jeep their way. The thing is oozing with flavor in a way that makes similar Jeeps, like the Compass or the Patriot, seem extremely dull and uninspired.
The Renegade has some real character to it, both in its visual design and in its fun extra details.
As a conneseur (or nerd) of over a century of automotive design, I can tell you that the Renegade is rife with a signiture Italian design element known as “subtle curves.” Sure, its total appearance seems boxy, but look at each of the lines that defines the car’s shape, none of them are actually straight.
What subtle curves do is give a car a very bold appearance that has a sort of sharp edge to it. For me, this is most clear when looking at the car from the side. From that angle the Renegade’s design really reminds me of the mighty Lamborghini LM002 SUV from the 1980s-90s — yes, Lamborghini made a Rambo truck back then! (see below)
Whether you agree with me or not on the car nerd stuff, there’s no denying that the Renegade has a real presence to its appearance. It’s very distinctive on the road, and we catch a lot of people checking it out.
Adding to the Renegade’s sense of style are its fun details, called “easter eggs.” They mostly consist of little Willy’s Jeep faces, tucked into the headlights, or hidden around the cabin. There is also a map of the Moab desert in some of the center compartments. These details are just for fun, but they definitely add to the Renegade’s sense of character. A bland transportation appliance it is not.
With so much to love, it’s no wonder the Renegade managed to steal Gab’s heart early on in our car shopping adventure. After every other car we drove, she’d turn to me and tell me how much she still loved the Jeep.
The Renegade has a high “want” factor, and that means you’ll feel good about buying it.
Well yes, actually. Anyone who knows about Italians making desireable cars, also knows that those cars are usually far from perfect. That said, this is hopefully where the Americans from Chrysler will come in and mitigate most of the expected Italian drawbacks. Only time will tell how the Renegade holds up to wear and tear, but here are some issues I’ve found in my time with Gab’s car thus far.
Small Fuel Tank Limits Range
The Renegade can see some good MPG, but you’ll still have to fill up a lot because its tank only holds a measly 12.7 gallons. Even if you drive well, and can actually average 30 MPG, you still won’t see 400 miles between fill ups.
No Memory Seat
This one comes from Gab, and it’s just a convenience issue. The Renegade is a really nicely fitted car when you get up to the Limited trim, but it would be nice to have memory seats, being such a common feature nowadays.
Uncertain Long Term Reliability
Fiat and Chrysler each aren’t exactly known for making the most reliable cars, but their post-merger products do seem a big step up for both of them. I made sure Gab knew the Renegade may be a little bit of a long term gamble, but it’s appealing aspects made it worth the risk. Overall with reliability, you can do better, but better often comes at the price of being boring.
It Doesn’t Like A Heavy Foot
The Renegade isn’t the most aerodynamic vehicle, and that means fuel economy falls off pretty sharply when you try to drive it fast. On the highway it’s happiest at 65-75mph. Try to cruise above 80mph, and your fuel economy will be crap.
This isn’t an issue for most law-abiding folks out there, but for speed demons like me, it’s a bit of an issue.
It Could Use More Engine
Don’t get me wrong here, the 2.4L Tigershark engine will work fine for most Jeep buyers. But there’s no denying that it starts running out of steam around 70mph, and that can make maneuvering on the highway a bit tricky. Below highway speeds the motor has plenty of nice punch, though.
That said, with such great handling ability, I do think the Renegade could benefit from an engine with a bit more power.
They’ve Done The 1.6L Turbo Engine Option Wrong
Carried over directly from the fire-breathing Fiat 500 Abarth, the 1.6L Turbo is surely the enthusiast’s engine choice for the Jeep Renegade. While it actually has less power than the Tigershark, the turbo will certainly make it punchier in acceleration. The 1.6L also comes with the option of a good old manual transmission. Mix the turbo, the stick-shift, and the 4×4, and that’d be the Renegade I’d want for myself.
There’s a big problem, though. The 1.6L turbo, with or without the manual, is only available on the lower trim Renegade models. So I can’t have nice things like leather seats and navigation if I wan’t the punchier engine and the fun of shifting my own gears. Whoever made that decision at Jeep needs to be fired, especially considering the 1.6L engine gets better MPG than the 2.4L Tigershark does.
Dollars and Sense
The Renegade Limited as you see it here stickers right around the $30,000 mark, and its nice array of options and features make it feel like a good amount of car for the money.
You don’t need to spend that kind of money on a Renegade, though. They start at just $17,995 — although that’s for the front-wheel-drive one with zero off-road ability and less amenities than solitary confinement. So you’ll want to spend at least a little more than that.
I could never buy a 2WD SUV of any type, even though they do get better MPG. It just defeats the purpose for me, and I’d rather just have a car at that point. So the 4×4 is a must, and that brings the minimum price right to about $20 grand. If it were me buying a Jeep Renegade, I’d spend around $25,000 on one with the 1.6L turbo engine, a manual gearbox, and 4×4 with the useful options they’d allow me to stack on. That would be my “sporty Renegade.”
Gab obviously has very different priorities than I do, and she went for all the luxury bells and whistles. Her car adds up to a really nice package, one well worth the asking price.
I think this showcases a great aspect of the entire Renegade lineup. The Renegade can be many different cars to many people. It can be a bare-bones sub $20k economy car. It can be a lively turbocharged sports-hatch-SUV thing for enthusiasts like myself. It can be a utilitarian small SUV with moderate features at a moderate price. It can be a luxurious small crossover with lots of style and amenities, like Gab’s car. Or, finally, the Renegade can be a Jeep in the most proper off-road sense if you spring for the TrailHawk.
The Renegade lineup offers buyers at least those 5 different cars, all at a solid value for what they are. And I think Jeep can do even more with it in the future.
What about the competition?
Gab cross-shopped her Jeep Renegade with a bunch of other CUVs/Crossovers, namely the Honda HR-V, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-3, Mazda CX-5, Fiat 500X, GMC Terrain, and even a used Mercedes GLK.
Some of those options got a little better MPG than the Renegade, or were a little cheaper — Or in the case of the Mercedes were a little more “posh.” My runner-up favorite was surely the Mazda CX-3. But there’s nothing on the market right now that really takes on the Jeep Renegade apples-to-apples.
First off, among the small SUV/CUV/Crossover crowd, the Renegade is the only one that is a genuine small sport utility vehicle in the proper sense. The CX3 and HR-V are literally just cars with an inch or two more ride height. Similarly the crossovers are basically just modern station wagons that sit higher up. Put simply, the Renegade is more “legit.”
Secondly, and probably most importantly in Gab’s decision, is the unique flavor of the Jeep brand. Gab is a huge country music enthusiast, at least as much as I’m a car enthusiast, so what she drives matters for her own personal brand. She talked about wanting a pickup truck at the NY Auto Show, but they were all too big for her. We found the Jeep Renegade at the Jeep exhibit that same day, and it just seemed to fit what Gab envisioned for herself.
Jeep is a very “country” brand, about as “country” as it gets, actually. Style wise, the Renegade was perfect for her. The fact that it had so many other great qualities just made her that much more certain in her decision.
The Jeep Renegade shows that Fiat-Chrysler is capable of getting a lot right, all while on a tight budget using the ingredients they have. I love it because it’s proof positive that automakers don’t have to make boring interchangible cars.
The Renegade has so much going for it, definitely way more positives than negatives. It would be a mistake to call it perfect, but just remember that all of the best things in life aren’t perfect either. Perfect is no fun.
So the Italians have put their own methods into a Jeep, and they’ve made it quite desireable for many different types of buyers. I think that’s genius!
All I can really say about it is this: Gab is totally in love with her Jeep Renegade. It’s much more than just a cold transportation appliance to her. It’s got that extra something.
As for me, I’ve been blown away by it since our first test drive. The Renegade is genuinely fun to drive, and its a nice place to spend a lot of time.
I can’t help but adore it.
-Article by Nick Walker
MoM Score: 2015 Jeep Renegade Limited
Primary Function: Practicality: 2
Secondary Functions: Performance(2) Luxury(2) MPG(1) 4×4(2): 2
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 1.5
Value for Money: 2
Final Score: 9.5 /10