Jeep started it all with the Willys Jeep. We all know how successful that car was in the fields of battle, and it went on to inspire an entire category of vehicle, the SUV. After creating the first mass-produced SUV in 1946, the Willys Jeep Station Wagon, they created a new segment, the CUV or crossover utility vehicle. Jeep wanted to fill in the gap between full-blown “utilitarian” SUVs and normal passenger vehicles and in 1948 they gave us the Willys-Overland Jeepster, a tricked-out drop-top featuring Jeep’s signature looks, but with all the comforts of a normal car. The segment didn’t quite catch on in the 1940’s, but fast forward almost 70 years and things look a little different. CUV’s are everywhere and you’re pretty spoilt for choice, and in order to survive a car needs to be well-rounded and stand out from the crowd. Enter the Jeep Renegade.
The Renegade is the first Jeep to be produced outside of the U.S, and as part of Fiat’s acquisition of Jeep, the new Renegade is being built at their factory in Melfi, Italy, and shares a platform with the Fiat 500X.
The Renegade on test came with Fiat’s 1.4 MultiAir2 Turbo powerplant. The engine produces 125kw and 250nm, with powering peaking at 5500 r/min and torque at 2500 r/min. Accelerating through the rev range is a rollercoaster kind of experience, with almost nothing below 2000 r/min, mountains of boost from there ‘til 5500 r/min where it runs out of puff till the red line at 6500r/min. It’s not a car you’ll be launching too often, but if the need arises then the Renegade will get you from 0-100km/h in around 8.8 seconds and will run on to a V-max of 196km/h.
Power gets to all four wheels via a ZF-sourced 9-speed auto ‘box. I’m not so sure the gearbox knows what its job is though as it’s slow to respond when prompted and when it does, I like to imagine it’s thinking to itself, “Right, I know I’m supposed to do something now but I can’t quite put my finger on what that might be…. mmmm OH WAIT, CHANGE GEAR, THAT’S IT!!!” Changing to manual mode puts you in control of when it changes, but this isn’t exactly a speedy process either, and accessing the 9th gear is near impossible, even via manual inputs. What’s the point of a 9th gear ratio if it can’t be used? That said, fuel consumption is decent for a box-shaped car driving all four wheels. We managed an average consumption of 8.2L/100km when driving like a sensible person, but with help from my right foot, I quite easily made that number climb into the 10s.
The Jeep Renegade is a busy little car on the road. The stiff dampers mean you feel every little bump and abnormality of the road’s surface. Combine that with soft springs and you have a recipe for a bumpy yet wallowing ride. Through the twisty stuff, the Renegade handles well at around 7/10th’s but push any further and you’ll run into understeer. Off the beaten track is where it shines brightest – the Renegade is Trail Rated, and it shows when you take the little Jeep off-road. It comes standard with skid plates, but you may never notice as it also comes with an increased ride height, so scrapes on the bottom almost never happen. Our test car had Jeep’s Selec-Terrain, allowing you to change the set-up of the car depending on your environment. Steep ascents, rock crawling, mud – the little Jeep seemed to take it all in its stride with little to no complaint – no loss of traction or worrying sounds from the underbelly.
From the outside, there’s little to hint that the Renegade shares any parts with its Fiat sibling. The Renegade has donned the usual rugged Jeep exterior styling, from the signature Jeep grille, the rough and tough looking bumpers and even jerry can X shaped tail lights. If that’s not Jeep enough for you already, the designers added their fair share of Easter eggs to the exterior styling as well. Look closely and you’ll see a little Willys Jeep climbing the windshield and tiny Jeep grilles hidden in every head- and taillight on the car.
The surprises don’t stop there though and climbing into the car you’ll find a map of the trails in Moab, Utah in the change cubbyhole, jerry can shaped cup-holders, and Jeep grilles on the speakers, rearview mirror, boot lid, seats and pretty much every other surface of the car.
Easter eggs aside, the interior of Renegade is a pleasant place to be. You get rugged Jeep styling cues like the handle for your passenger to hold onto while you hoon around off-road, the splotch of orange ‘mud’ on the rev counter and the “Since 1941” engraved across the infotainment system. Added to that, you get comfy leather seats, a leather covered steering wheel, and most of the hard plastics are given a soft-to-the-touch coating; although occasionally you’ll find a razor-sharp plastic edge that has the ability to slice a finger off. Ok, it’s not that bad really, but you get the point.
The Renegade comes with some decent features too; like cruise control, multiple USB ports, and Jeep’s LaneSense Lane Departure Warning system, which unfortunately won’t completely steer for you but will assist you when you’re not concentrating and slowly start to drift over those lane markings. Our test model also had the UConnect™ 5.0 with 5.0″ touchscreen, which despite being easy to use offered little in the way of apps or tools.
So, how much will all of this set you back? The model on test is currently listed at R501 900. Costing between R60 000 and R100 000 more than some of its rivals, it makes you wonder whether or not all that extra dress up is worth it, especially when you have cars like the Subaru XV in your segment.
Underneath the Renegade may just be a Fiat 500X, but it sets itself apart from its relative by adding that Jeep ruggedness, even if it’s only skin deep. It’s flawed in many ways, but it makes for a slightly manlier alternative to your middle of the road Korean/Japanese crossover.
Words by Roarke Bouffe
Photos by Roarke Bouffe and Vaughn Humphrey