The Jeep Wrangler has been popular “Since 1941”. That script is emblazoned on the dash of all 2017 Jeep models, even the Renegade. The new Altitude package takes the renegade to new heights, and it also helps clearly define the model. A Renegade is someone who breaks from tradition. Someone who deserts and betrays their allegiances and organizations. We didn’t know how this would apply to a small SUV, so Jeep sent us a new example for a week of review.
Anyone can tell the Renegade is a Jeep from miles away. The familiar grille & headlights are an unmistakable trademark. The overall shape is eerily familiar, but we’ll get to that in a moment. It is a rectangle with fender flares. Sharp angles on the top transfer into curves around the wheel openings. Your eyes are enjoying everything until they fall upon the lower body cladding. The famous Rubbermaid plastic found across the industry a decade ago, we assumed it had gone extinct. As the owner of a first-gen Avalanche, I still wonder what made us accept such a cheap alternative to painted panels.
In all seriousness, the small amount of cladding will help with lower body protection until it greys away in a few years. Another retro-inspired design is the roof. Two removable panels are easily stowed in the back if you want to be open to the sky. If you don’t want to go completely topless, the front panel is also powered and it opens as a moonroof. It is a very neat feature, and both panels are well insulated. It made us wonder about another unique convertible: the Fiat 500. That’s because the Jeep Renegade is essentially an American version of the Fiat 500x. The engine and transmission are built in Ohio, then shipped to Melfi, Italy to meet their Jeep.
The Jeep brand has had many owners over the years. Fiat is the latest dance partner, they have been a subsidiary of Daimler-Chrysler, Cerebus Capital, American Motors, and Willys-Overland. Each era has its own highlights and errors, but we feel that the current lineup is the best they’ve ever offered. Is the Renegade for everyone? No, because it has a cloth interior and durable plastics that aren’t top-notch, but they will last for a long time. The interior is user-friendly, with controls in a logical layout. The infotainment screen is only 6.5″, which might seem smallish. But thanks to Jeep’s steering wheel controls you won’t have to take your hands off the wheel. They are the same buttons found on almost every Jeep and Chrysler since the mid 90’s. If only the other automakers would learn to leave good features alone.
Driving the Renegade is unremarkable for an AWD SUV. Yes, Jeep sells it as 4 Wheel Drive, but technically its not. The transfer case is full-time, without a 2WD mode. Since its a Fiat underneath, the chassis is set up primarily for FWD. It has heavy steering with a strong return pulling your hands back to 12 o’clock. Italians know you want to feel proper feedback from the road. Our car had the larger of the two engine choices. The 2.4-liter MultiAir is smooth, but it needs each of the transmission’s 9 speeds to provide any motion. That’s because all you have to play with is 180 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque.
The Renegade corners well and rides smooth, with room for 4 adults and moderate cargo space. It is not powerful enough to get into trouble, and the SelecTerrain system is smart enough to keep you safe. Rear seat and rollover ratings are only 3 stars for a grand price of $32,195. Highway mileage is rated at 29 mpg and 21 in the city. The novel design and features are worth it, so check your local dealer for more details.