WASHINGTON — The Jeep Renegade is the newest entry in the subcompact crossover market. But this Jeep is different, because it’s built in Italy and shares many components with Fiat. This will be the first of many collaborations between Jeep and Fiat, who share ownership.
The Renegade is an all-new model. And to start, it’s better inside and out than both the Patriot and Compass, and it may eventually replace one of those models. The Renegade is priced in between those two models, with a starting price around $18,000 for the front-wheel drive and around $20,000 with four-wheel drive.
The outside looks like a small Jeep should, with styling more like a Wrangler. The distinctive grille and headlights cap off the styling. The rest of the look is boxy and rugged. There’s nothing cute about this subcompact crossover — and rightly so. You’ll also notice it has a higher ground clearance than the competition, which adds to its off-road credentials. With its all-wheel drive, it can do some light off-roading. If you want a more off-road-capable Renegade, try the Trailhawk trim level, which offers another 4WD system with a low range and more ground clearance where you can tackle a few trails.
The commando-green paint of my tester made the Jeep stand out, though not everyone was a fan of the color. But the midlevel Latitude trim level, with 17-inch wheels and some more exterior trim pieces, helped the look of this Renegade.
The interior sees the biggest improvement compared with the other small Jeeps right now. The seats are comfortable and the materials are a huge step up, with the use of soft plastics and nicer materials throughout. There’s a good amount of space — even for rear-seat passengers — and a generous-sized cargo area for this small crossover.
There are many styling details you don’t usually see in this subcompact crossover market, such as a map of Moab in the front center console and mini Easter eggs (like the ones on the grille and headlights) throughout the interior. There is a more youthful, cool vibe inside this Jeep than any other small crossover on the market. The smaller screen on my tester was the only nitpick on the interior.
The Renegade is also apart from the other small crossovers by a My Sky dual removable sunroof system that allows open-air motoring. The panels can be a handful when putting them on and taking them off — they are light, but somewhat cumbersome. There is also an electric version that slides one front panel, which you can then remove if you want them off. This seems easier than dealing with zippers and Velcro and separate pieces in the pouring rain, which most Wrangler owners have dealt with before.
The new Jeep Renegade has two engine options: The base engine is a 1.4 L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with a manual transmission. You can also choose the optional 2.4 L 4-cylinder engine with a nine-speed automatic. I spent a week with the optional engine with 180 hp — the most in this class. It feels much peppier than the others I’ve driven, and can easily keep up with traffic on the highway. Its small size makes it easy to drive and park in the city, helped along by the rearview camera. The nine-speed automatic transmission aids in fuel economy, but it often seemed that it was in the wrong gear at the wrong time. You may be left waiting for it to get in the right gear to accelerate when trying to pass. Take a long test drive in different situations to try out the automatic. The smaller engine/manual transmission might be enough. I averaged 25 mpg for the week and 250 miles with a good amount of open-air driving.
The new Renegade is fun, with some of the capability that you expect with that iconic Jeep name. It might not be able to conquer the off-road courses its bigger Wrangler brother can, but it won’t disappoint on your commute. It’s a crossover with a nice interior that’s more fun to be in than most of the competition.
Mike Parris is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association. The vehicles are provided by STI, FMI or Event Solutions for the purpose of this review.