AUTO REVIEW: Little Jeep Renegade Trailhawk Makes a Big Impression

(Detroit Free Press/TNS) -
The Renegade's off-road capability is a major selling point. (A.J. Mueller)
The Renegade’s off-road capability is a major selling point. (A.J. Mueller)
2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk (A.J. Mueller)
2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk (A.J. Mueller)
The Renegade has a roomy interior and simple controls. (A.J. Mueller)
The Renegade has a roomy interior and simple controls. (A.J. Mueller)

Jeep appears to have nailed the formula for a small, capable and affordable SUV with the 2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk (I give it four out of four stars).

The subcompact SUV delivers value, room, comfort and off-road ability in an appealing and affordable package. Jeep developed the Renegade primarily to win new customers in Europe, Asia and South America, but it’s likely to find plenty of fans in the U.S., too.

Renegade prices start at $17,995 for a front-wheel-drive model with a 160-horsepower 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission. Adding four-wheel drive raises the base price to $19,995. A step up is the 180-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with a nine-speed transmission. It starts at $21,295 for front-wheel drive and $23,295 for 4WD.

The Renegade offers two different 4WD systems. The more capable features a 20:1 crawl ratio for rough terrain and hill descent control. It comes on the Renegade Trailhawk, starting at $25,595.

I tested a well-equipped Renegade Trailhawk with voice recognition, navigation, backup camera, power driver seat, heated front seats and steering wheel, iPod and Bluetooth compatibility, 6.5-inch touchscreen and more. It stickered at $30,195. All prices exclude destination charges.

The Renegade will compete mainly with subcompact SUVs like the Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Mazda CX-3, Mini Countryman, Mitsubishi Outlander sport and Nissan Juke. None is likely to match the Renegade off-road.

The Renegade shares its platform and some parts with the upcoming Fiat 500X. The two look nothing alike and the 500X lacks the Jeep’s off-road gear.

The field of subcompact SUVs is still taking shape, but the Renegade’s price looks very competitive.

Jeep doesn’t offer memory for the driver’s settings, a feature I’d appreciate. About the only available features my car didn’t have were leather seats, blind spot/cross traffic monitor and removable roof panels.

Just 166.6 inches long, the Renegade is 8.5 inches shorter than a Jeep Compass.

The Renegade is small even compared to other subcompact SUVs. It’s 2.5 inches shorter than the Honda HR-V and nearly two inches shorter than the Buick Encore and Chevrolet Trax.

Despite that, the Renegade is very roomy, with tons of headroom and good leg and shoulder room in the front and rear seats. Cargo capacity is useful, though at the small end of its class.

The styling, round headlights and seven-slot grille make the Renegade immediately recognizable as a Jeep. The high roof and upright sides lend themselves to big windows and good sight lines. Combined with the Renegade’s large side mirrors, I barely missed blind-spot alert, one of my favorite features.

The interior materials are pretty good. My car had cloth upholstery. The dash and armrests were covered in attractive, padded vinyl.

Fiat Chrysler’s controls are among the auto industry’s best. My vehicle combined excellent voice recognition with touchscreen, buttons, dials and switches.

On a reasonably challenging off-road course north of Montreal, the little Jeep overcame snow and ice that would almost certainly stymie its competitors.

The Renegade performed equally well on-road. The 2.4-liter engine provided plenty of oomph for zipping through Montreal traffic. The Renegade was a comfortable highway cruiser on the nine-hour drive. The Renegade was quiet at highway speeds, despite its boxy shape and the snow tires required by Quebec law.

The automatic transmission hesitated a bit before downshifting to pass at highway speeds, probably to maximize fuel economy.

The Renegade’s small size and quick steering makes it a breeze to park, even in the narrow streets of Old Montreal.

The Renegade Trailhawk’s fuel economy is at the low end of its segment, as you’d expect from a vehicle that has more power and off-road ability than its competitors. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the 4WD 2.4-liter at 21 mpg in the city, 29 on the highway and 24 combined. That’s lower than the other subcompact SUVs, but unlikely to be an issue for buyers who want the Trailhawk’s capability. The base 1.4-liter Renegade should get better fuel economy, but the EPA hasn’t released test results yet.

This little Jeep seems destined to be a big success.

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2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk

All-wheel drive, five-passenger subcompact SUV

Price as tested: $30,195 (excluding destination charge)

Rating: Four out of four stars

Reasons to buy: Four-wheel drive; off-road ability; interior room; controls and voice recognition

Shortcomings: No memory for driver’s settings; fuel economy; mild shift lag on highway

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Competitive EPA fuel-economy ratings

(Automatic transmission, four-wheel-drive models)

Jeep Renegade Trailhawk 4WD: 21 mpg city/29 highway/24 combined. Regular gasoline.

Buick Encore Premium AWD: 24/30/26. Regular gasoline.

Chevrolet Trax LTZ AWD: 24/31/27. Regular gasoline.

Fiat 500X AWD: TBD.

Honda HR-V AWD: 27/32/29. Regular gasoline.

Mazda CX-3 AWD: TBD

Mitsubishi Outlander Sport AWD CVT 2.4-liter GT: 23/26/24. Regular gasoline.

Nissan Juke SL AWD: 26/31/28. Premium gasoline.

—Source: www.fueleconomy.gov

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Comparative base prices (excluding destination charges)

(Automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive models)

Jeep Renegade Trailhawk 4WD: $25,995

Buick Encore Premium AWD: $30,935

Chevrolet Trax LTZ AWD: $26,530

Fiat 500X AWD: TBD

Honda HR-V AWD: TBD

Mazda CX-3 AWD: TBD

Mitsubishi Outlander Sport AWD CVT 2.4-liter GT: $24,995

Nissan Juke SL AWD: $26,940

—Source: Autotrader.com

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Specifications as tested

Engine: 2.4-liter 16-valve four-cylinder

Power: 180 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm; 179 pound-feet of torque @ 3,900 rpm

Transmission: Nine-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 101.2 inches

Length: 166.6 inches

Width: 74.2 inches

Height: 66.5 inches

Curb Weight: 3,573 lbs.

Where assembled: Melfi, Italy

 

Key features on vehicle tested

Standard equipment: Antilock brakes; stability control; driver’s knee air bag; front-seat side air bags; curtain air bags; backup cameras; halogen fog lights; tinted glass; automatic halogen headlights; daytime running lights; power seats, windows and mirrors; all-weather floor mats; 115V power outlet; leather wrapped shift knob; cruise control; Bluetooth phone and audio compatibility; auxiliary input; USB port; full size spare; tow hooks; 17-in. aluminum wheels.

Options: Heated front seats; heated steering wheel and windshield wiper de-icer; 115V power outlet; 40/20/40 folding rear seat with pass through; nine-speaker audio system with subwoofer; dual-zone automatic climate control; power adjustable driver seat; one-year SiriusXM satellite-radio subscription; five-year subscription to SiriusXM traffic and travel information; 6.5-inch touchscreen; navigation system; HD radio; USB port; tonneau cover; remote start; keyless entry; hood decal