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2015 Jeep Renegade Preview: off-road and on-road, with competitive comparisons

by Patrick Rall in
January 2015

Whether you call them small crossovers, compact SUVs, or anything else, "B segment" vehicles like the 2015 Jeep Renegade are quickly becoming key models in the US market and around the world.

The problem they have to tackle is expectations: people want them to be friendly daily drivers with all of the modern amenities, lots of interior space, and a smooth, comfortable ride, without losing the ability to still do "SUV things" like tackling rough terrain.

A great many of the vehicles in this segment put so much emphasis into being ideal for road use that they are fairly incompetent in any situation outside of a paved road on a warm day. In fact, a great many of the small crossovers/compact SUVs in the B segment don't even have all wheel drive, which secures those vehicles as nothing more than hatchback cars that are loosely shaped like a small SUV.

The 2015 Jeep Renegade is different.

As the newest Jeep, the 2015 Renegade enters at a time when many old school Jeep fans question the capabilities in any setting other than on-road daily driving. The folks driving old Wranglers and Cherokees insist that today's Jeeps have gotten soft, with far too much emphasis on comfort and not enough emphasis on off-road capabilities.

To show us just how well the 2015 Jeep Renegade handles in all driving situations, Jeep invited select media to travel to Southern California, to drive a massive collection of Renegades around town and on the steep, slippery slopes of the Hollister Hills off-road recreation park. This is the same place where Jeep has tested and debuted other models, including the newest Grand Cherokee, and this venue would allow the folks from Jeep to prove that not only is the new Renegade a great little crossover for every day driving - but it is also capable to going into rough terrain.

My drive began in scenic San Jose, California, where I found myself behind the wheel of a 2015 Jeep Renegade Latitude packing the 2.4L 4-cylinder engine and the 9-speed automatic transmission. I spent an hour cruising around SoCal on the various highways and smaller local roads, which allowed me to get a feel for how well the Renegade handled daily driving. Unlike many small CUVs that try hard to feel like an SUV, the Renegade had a remarkably smooth ride both around town at lower speeds and at higher speeds out on the open road. The ride wasn't squishy and numb, but the ride quality was impressive in every normal driving situation.

Our route took us through some twisty stretches of road that would seem like a more fitting testing grounds for the likes of the Dodge Viper or the Alfa Romeo 4C, yet the Renegade slipped through even the tightest turns with a great deal of confidence. Even when pushed hard through the turns, there was little body roll, which is surprising for a vehicle that is designed to handle rough terrain with the best of the competition (in fairness, only the Trailhawk is really designed for off-road terrain; but you can get AWD in lower models).

The 2.4L engine mated to the 9-speed automatic transmission had a surprising amount of oomph whether I was driving away from a stop sign or speeding up to pass slow moving traffic on the highway. I would go so far as to call the Renegade peppy, and as this segment goes, this little Jeep really packs a ton of fun to drive factor in normal daily driving situations.

Some of you out there are no doubt saying "of course it road well and handled well on-road - that is what it was designed to do"...and you are right. The vast majority of the Renegades sold in the US will never traverse trails anywhere near as rugged as what we experienced at the Hollister Hills ORV park, but the time spent in the dirt of the SoCal off-road romping grounds showed that this new little Jeep is deserving of the badge.

As we entered the ORV [off-road vehicle] park, we worked our way up the steep dirt roads that led to the two obstacle courses that had been picked for some hardcore testing of the 2015 Jeep Renegade. My Limited model with the 2.4L engine and the 9-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive had no issues ripping through the loose, rocky footing and when we got to toe summit, there was a collection of Renegade Trailhawk models waiting patiently to be put through the wringers.

One of the courses was short and technical, with one obstacle stacked on top of the next one so as soon as you finished the first section of large ruts with the new Renegade, you were right into a rocky decline that was serious enough to pull tires off of the ground as you headed over the mini boulders. Right at the end of that rocky hill was a water pool deep enough to bury the front fascia of the new small Jeep - but the Renegade barely batted an eye at the little pond. The rest of that short course include more alternating mounds of dirt, another water hazard, several more paths of large, uneven rocks and a final climb up a steep hill that started with dirt-covered logs and ended up with rocks big enough to hang the Renegade up if you didn't approach the hill correctly.

Thanks to the adjustable 4x4 drive modes of the Jeep Renegade that were set to "Rock" and a suspension setup that gives the Renegade the most ground clearance in the segment, this small Jeep had no problems getting through the tight course - even when a less than ideal line was chosen.

The second course was much longer and much dryer, with more rutted roads, logs and large rocks found on the path that lead us to the high point of the park - at which point we found ourselves staring down a massively steep grade that was comprised of loose sand and dirt. After making very short work of the rock and rut obstacles, we hit the daunting monster of a downhill slope, at which point we got to experience the function of the downhill descent system.

Once activated, this system allowed the Renegade to safely creep down the huge, loosely footed hill with ease. In fact, my test vehicle was getting down the hill so smoothly that at one point, I tapped the gas, which allows the descent system to allow the vehicle to move slightly quicker, but in a way that prevents it from sliding out of control.

In every case, the 2015 Renegade Trailhawk performed beautifully and again, while I understand that most Renegade owners will never go anywhere near off-road courses like this, the option is there for those who do want to tackle some serious trails. More importantly, this ability to cross deep water and attack poor footing off-road will translate to good on-road capabilities in the worst conditions.

In addition to riding well on-road and handling treacherous off-road conditions in stride, the 2015 Jeep Renegade has a big, roomy interior that looks good and is comfortable.

We had a chance to compare the Renegade to the Buick Encore and the Nissan Juke, both of which had far less space in the back seat; the new Jeep has enough space to comfortably seat a pair of adults while the other two little SUVs were much tighter. The front seats of the Renegade are plush, comfortable, and plenty of space in every direction while the rear cargo area is big enough to hold the removable roof panels and still hold some larger cargo.

Speaking of the removable roof panels, the 2015 Jeep Renegade has an innovative roof system that is so perfectly Jeep that I'm surprised that we haven't seen it on past vehicles. Both the sunroof-sized front panel and the larger rear panel pop out with a special key, then lift off and stow away in the rear cargo area in an underfloor area that allows you to still use your whole cargo area. This provides an open air feeling that you cannot get from even the best sunroof design, and I absolutely love it.

I finished my day with a long highway drive in the Renegade Trailhawk that confirmed that not only will this new Jeep conquer the rough paths of an ORV park, but it will also serve as a comfortable daily driver. The Trailhawk ride is slightly stiffer than that of the Latitude package, but the difference is negligible when you consider the off-road readiness of the premium package.

Other than being comfortable and roomy, the cabin of the 2015 Renegade is sporty, with the Trailhawk package coming with an adjustable driver information center between the large analog gauges and a small standard touch screen that controls the sound system and hands free phone system while the HVAC system is controlled by an old school, easy to use layout of knobs and buttons. The interior looks sporty and high tech, even with the smaller standard touch screen radio and the cloth seats.

The 2015 Jeep Renegade in both Latitude and Trailhawk forms are strong options for someone who plans to spend most of their time on-road; both of these new, small Jeeps are good on loose unpaved roads. Those who really plan to tackle the trails will most certainly want to opt for the Trailhawk package, the only one to have skid plates (along with Jeep-like ground clearance and approach, departure, and breakover angles), but the AWD Latitude models will more than satisfy the needs of the average driver.

Having driven the Buick Encore and the Nissan Juke, I can definitively say that the new Jeep Renegade rides better on-road, handles off-road conditions far better, and has more interior space from front to back. This new Jeep should go a long way in helping the sales of the Trail Rated brand continue to grow thanks to a beautiful mix of comfort and capabilities - all with a price that is thousands less than the competition.

In short, the 2015 Jeep Renegade is a perfect representation of what Jeep can do to make a small SUV that can serve as a great daily driver and a near-unstoppable weekend warrior. It is a home run, plain and simple.

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