by David Zatz in October 2015 (4)
The Jeep Renegade is one of the more fun crossovers, but it comes at the cost of a jittery feel, and a general feeling of not being quite ready yet. Perhaps, though, the 2016s will have put that all behind them — and buyers of manual transmission Renegades won’t have nearly so many flaws. It’s a fun and useful (and fun) vehicle, but ... some of its foibles can be annoying. Shall we start?
In the US and Canada, there are two Renegade powertrains — the Mopar 2.4 liter engine with a ZF nine-speed automatic transmission, and a Fiat 1.4 turbo engine with a stick-shift. The latter is only sold on Sport and Latitude models; so we had the 2.4 / nine-speed. It accelerated decently in 0-60 sprints, and the 21 city, 29 highway rating seemed reasonable with moderate care. The throttle control was far too touchy, making it hard to launch smoothly — a problem increased by the efficient automatic transmission. Less action in the first part of the throttle’s travel would do a great deal to make the car feel smoother.
The all wheel drive system uses Jeep’s Selec-Track system, which in this case has a four wheel drive lock button surrounded by a knob to choose from snow, sand, mud, or automatic. All modes but automatic lock four wheel drive in.
The transmission had a tendency to lurch into gear, feeling very different from the nine-speed V6 combination in the Jeep Cherokee and Chrysler 200 sedan (it seemed to get better as time went on, but it still was not as good as transmissions in other cars we’ve tested lately — and we put over 200 miles onto the Renegade). There was sometimes also a lurch as we went into Park, and the whole car sometimes shuddered when we shut it off. The parking brakes went on and off with a noise and shook the car slightly.
There was no indication of what gear the nine-speed was in unless we shifted into manual override mode (by moving stick to the left). While this engine particularly needs to rev high when moving, there was a long delay between flooring the gas and getting a good downshift, the opposite mentality of the throttle body. We’ve driven worse.
Near idle, the engine had a nice growly sound, but it tended to get somewhat raucous at full acceleration.
The Renegade is small, but there is plenty of room in front, in back, and in the hatch, with massive headroom. The short wheelbase and tight springs make the ride busy, though they also help the Renegade to be extremely agile. It can whip around corners on a dime, and launch around a corner without spinning a single tire (without 4WD Lock on, but with AWD).
The problem is the flip-side of this: between the anything-but-smooth automatic, the stiff springs, the short wheelbase, and the electric power steering, the feel is, as we said before, busy. Very busy. The steering is always tight, perhaps too tight, and there’s no way to change it though it’s handled by the computer. Then there’s the aformentioned jerky throttle. Overall, it can take its toll on the passengers, even the driver is having lots of fun.
Seating was more comfortable than we expected it to be, with soft seats done up in patterned leather with contrasting stitches. It had a mildly upscale look and feel, as did much of the car, despite the plebian gauge cluster (when the center console was off) and relatively small stereo screen. Lower-level Renegades may not look quite as good inside, especially from the passenger seat.
Rear seats were lower to the ground than the fronts, and while the rear was as well detailed as the front, the rear seats are for children or very short adults. The rear seats both fold forward for more cargo space, with a fold-down cupholder in the middle that doubles as a trunk pass-through. The trunk itself was moderately generous in size, with a subfloor under the main level, and an emergency-bits storage area under that — possibly to allow space for a real spare tire (optional).
Wind noise is fairly low, especially given the shape of the car. Sound insulation was generally quite good.
Little Jeep icons were everywhere, with a terrain map in the lower console bin, “since 1941” printed on the stereo trim, CJ grille outlines on the speaker bezels (front and rear) and in the headlights, and a splash of orange (representing mud) instead of a redline on the tachometer.
Our particular car had an upgraded stereo, using a 6.5” UConnect touch-screen rather than the 5” Blue & Me touch-screen, and they are radically different. The five-incher is based on a Microsoft system and can be frustrating to use; the 6.5” is sometimes odd but usually well sorted out.
The center stereo screen is attractive, but the type in the navigation system is too small, a problem made worse by dark type in lists. This is a car that demands bifocals unless you just use the voice controls and turn by turn directions in the gauge cluster.
The stereo sound is excellent — clear, with options to change bass, treble, and midrange, a loudness button for listening at low volumes, and just plain good sound with strong stereo separation. You can set the radio to turn on when the car is started, to stay off, or to remember its last setting; and have a different volume for the auxiliary input (on ours, either a USB drive or a headphone jack). The navigation system is fast; the USB card reader is moderately slow but it gets there in the end. Navigation is by folder, artist, album, or random, with voice control.
Oddly, you have to turn the stereo on to use the navigation system, and from there you can press a second button to mute the music, all this despite having a screen off button. There is no hard button to reach the oft-used audio controls, but there is one to reach the rarely used car settings. Go figure.
As a side note, we encountered the same bug in the Renegade as in our tested 2015 Chrysler 300C. After a few days of playing a large USB stick, the stereo started reacting very slowly, to the point where changing the volume or muting the system took around 20 seconds. This is fixed by removing and replacing the thumb drive, but we’re hoping a real firmware fix comes soon.
Fiat’s climate control has some serious oddities. The “max front defroster” button both turns the fans on full blast and turns the heat to maximum, not what you want on a foggy fall day. (The normal defrost button worked normally, but was only effective when other vents were off.) Turn the a/c too far down, and it goes to maximum and again the fan blasts to full speed.
Aside from those quirks, the system worked well, with a nice feel and a “button within the dial” setup that should feel familiar to Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge buyers. The LED fan indicator was a nice touch, more obvious than tiny marks are.
The tachometer and odometer both suffered from Spinal Tap Syndrome. The tachometer went to 8,000 though the engine redlines at under 7,000, and the speedometer went to 160 mph. In kp/h, that would be over 100 mph, which seems reasonable and may explain it. Still, 160 shoves the entire range of normal use into half the gauge and, while it’s meant to be sporty, means that the gauge moves up to operating speed half as slowly.
The headlight controls are Chrysler-standard except that the two rheostats (interior lights and guages) are reversed, and the windshield wipers, front and rear, are opn the right side stalks. The emergency and roadside assistance call buttons are subtle and on the roof console, along with pushbuttons for the lights (sorry, no press-to-active lights and no rear map lights).
Renegade has an electric parking brake, which you can set to lock, but not unlock, automatically. The nice thing about electric brakes is that you don’t need to pull up with high strength (or push down as hard as you can) to make sure it works, and they presumably don’t need adjustment. The disadvantage is, well, I haven’t gotten used to them yet.
On all but the base Sport, the gauges are now customizable, with a only physical tachometer and speedometer. This provides a lot of eye candy, superb turn by turn directions, and a wide variety of gauges that are made possible (albeit on separate screens) — oil temperature and pressure, tire pressure for each tire, coolant temperature, and voltage, detailed trip information, and instant/average mileage, among other things.
Forward visibility is excellent with a massive windshield set far away from the driver and providing an unusual feeling of spaciousness; incredible sun visors can cover a great deal of space.
The side windows are also oversized, except in the back, where — well, see the photo. Floor mats are appropriate for a Jeep — they’re rubber, patterned after the tire tread — and are curved on the sides to hold mud or slush (good luck getting them out without spilling it). Our car’s driver mat already had part of the tread design wiped flat, though the car only had 13,000 miles on it.
Exterior lighting combines cornering lamps, daytime running lights, powerful halogen headlights, and fog lamps. You can shut off the cornering lamps and daytime running lights, and choose between automatic and standard headlamps. With the automatic systems all on, forward lights go on and off seemingly at random.
The car alarm sounded now and then when raising the hatch with the doors unlocked. There’s no separate unlock button for the hatch, except on the key fob, and it turned out that the locks automatically engaged again rather quickly after the Renegade was unlocked. Why the hatch would open after that, we don’t know.
Also not quite right was the blind spot warning, which works perfectly on every other Jeep we’ve tested; on the Renegade, it warned us about cars two lanes over. The rear cross path worked as expected and is invaluable — sensors in the bumper can see what you can’t, when you’ve pulled into a space and then had two large SUVs or minivans pull in next to you.
The Jeep Renegade is truly international: it sits on a Fiat-GM platform modified by Chrysler, using a Fiat suspension heavily altered by Jeep, a choice of Fiat or Chrysler engines (and in some countries, a Chrysler engine modified by Fiat), and a Fiat manual or a German shifter built again by Chrysler. Did we mention the long hours put in by engineers in Chennai, India, the Korean origin of the engine block design, or the Italian valve control system?
The Renegade is an amusingly international car, but you’d never know it from the skin (though the under-hood decal recommending fluids that aren’t exactly household names in North America are a clue). The styling, while it has worldwide touches, is pretty grounded in Jeep. Our car had the customizable trip information center, and it looked almost the same as on the Dodge Durango we just tested, while the steering wheel was standard Jeep. The climate control is Fiat’s but looks similar to the standard Chrysler-Dodge design; the stereo, likewise, appears to be Fiat’s hardware setup using Chrysler’s user interface.
For what it’s worth, the Patriot and Compass had their roots in a modified Mitsubishi platform, with the same engine (assuming you don’t get the 1.4) and a Nissan/JATCO CVT until they finally got a six-speed automatic.
The base Jeep Renegade Sport costs just $17,995, with front wheel drive, the manual transmission, and 1.4 engine (24 mpg city, 31 highway). Air conditioning costs another $1,495, with a power heated mirror and cruise control; our Limited’s sound system costs $695 with the Sport. The sweet spot is probably the $21,295 Latitude, which includes air conditioning, the seven-inch trip computer/info center, and many other amenities. We suggest getting the 6.5 inch touch-screen stereo to save your sanity.
The Limited is the luxury Renegade, starting $27,790 with all wheel drive; the automatic is the only transmission. Standard safety features include the rear backup camera, side curtain front and rear airbags, side front airbags, stability control with roll prevention, traction control and Selec-Terrain, daytime running lights, individual tire pressure monitors, automatic headlamps, fog lamps that double as cornering lamps when the turn signals are on, windshield wiper de-icer, and heated mirrors.
Standard convenience items include the seven-inch trip computer, five-inch stereo, satellite radio, dual-zone climate control, heated steering wheel with audio controls, tilt/telescope steering column, USB and auxiliary inputs, leather, heated front seats, eight-way power driver’s seat (four-way manual passenger seat), LED ambient lighting, height-adjustable cargo floor, rubber floor mats, and a bright exhaust tip.
Our particular car cost $31,390, thanks to numerous options. The first is the $995 advanced tech group, with lane departure warning, forward collision warning with optional braking, and rear park assist. $1,245 added the 6.5 inch touch-screen, navigation, five years of satellite traffic, and UConnect Access. Another $595 added an alarm and blind spot and rear cross path protection.
The tonneau cover was $75. Passive entry/keyless ignition were $295. Special wheels and remote start added $395.
The whole package has the usual three year warranty, with five years on the powertrain (with roadside assistance). Only 22% of the car comes from the US and Canada — mostly the engine and transmission. 62% is sourced from Italy, where its made.
Is the Jeep Renegade right for you? It’s definitely a fun car, with some good creature comforts, but it demands a lot more attention than the Patriot. The body was fine; but the powertrain and steering seem to still be in the prototype stage. The electric steering felt a bit off at times, and not just because of the lane-wandering prevention system. Cornering was just excellent, surprising for such a tall car, and the far-off windshield made the interior seem very spacious indeed.
Even though the top Jeep Renegade Trailhawk cannot conquer the Rubicon Trail, they should all be fine in dealing with everyday mud, dirt roads, snow, and such, and presumably meet Jeep’s standards for resisting punishment.
The Renegade was comfortable, with a panoramic view of the front 270 degrees, numerous nice features, well designed seats (in front, at least), — in short, the body and interior seemed to be created around the needs of the occupants. The car is small but doesn’t feel small, and has both passenger and cargo space.
The Renegade is a ball of fun for the driver who likes hard turns but not as good an experience for the passenger, and the powertrain and UConnect still need a shakeout. Buyers may want to wait for the 2016s and see if the bugs have been shaken out of them, especially if they want the automatic.
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