2019 Jeep Renegade: The Jeep with the flavor of Italy.
Price: $33,670 as tested ($27,445 for the Limited trim). Options include Advanced Technology Group ($995) and Safety and Security Group ($895) for all sorts of safety features; $1,595 for panoramic sunroof; more noted below.
Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver liked the “solid off-road capability, toy-truck style and brand recognition, relaxing ride quality” but not that it was “slower than a three-legged turtle, poor fuel efficiency, lacks storage.”
Marketer’s pitch: “Legends aren’t born, they’re made.”
Reality: The flavor may be Olive Garden; the Renegade is perfect for the suburbs.
Jeepish: The Renegade should actually satisfy most ordinary buyers’ secret cravings for a Jeep Wrangler. The vast majority of Jeep enthusiasts hardly need the off-road capability of the Wrangler, which until recently also meant forgoing a whole bunch of creature comforts.
In fact, the Renegade gives buyers a lot more for a lot less.
On the road: More than most crossovers its size, the Renegade really feels like a truck. With its wide, upright windshield and tall stance, buyers can feel like king of the road for a pretty low entry fee. (Well, maybe prince of the road. Or princess.)
Handling is far better than a Wrangler, of course — which actually falls below certain pieces of heavy equipment for steering feel. Furthermore, Renegade’s steering feels more accurate than many other crossovers out there, and the ride is less bumpy than the other boxy wannabe crossover, the Kia Soul.
Friends and stuff: More people fit more easily into the Renegade than the two-door Wrangler, and Renegade rear-seat comfort pleased lanky son. Legroom and foot room are good, while headroom is incredible.
Up front, the passenger side boasts a large grab bar, which certainly looks the Jeep part, if kind of cheap and plasticky.
Cargo space also beats the Wrangler by far — 50.8 cubic feet with the seats folded.
Driver’s Seat: The seat in the Renegade tester provided plenty of comfort as well. The headrest runs up quite high, and comfort and support are balanced nicely. Controls and gauges are standard FiatChrysler fare and are easy to read and operate.
And, yet, some drawbacks must be noted.
Up to speed: The Renegade is not going to win any races. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine creates a respectable 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque, but there’s still not a lot of oomph. It takes a painfully long 10.3 seconds to get to 60 mph, according to Car and Driver.
I tested a 2018 (in November; not sure why that was still in fleet). The 2019s get a 1.3-liter turbo four in Limited trim; it makes just 177 horsepower, but torque boosts to 200 pound-feet.
Shifty: The 9-speed automatic always seemed like an ambitious move, and its functioning can be less than stellar. During my Renegade week, I found the first day’s drive got off to a slow start, and engaging Drive took a second or so, and then cold shifts could be fairly abrupt.
The transmission also made passing and other on-the-fly acceleration disappointing, as the gearbox evaluated its choices more thoroughly. Manual shifting helps, but nine choices is a lot.
Fuel economy: All the accelerational and shifterational shortcomings might be forgiven if the Renegade had hit one out of the park saving fuel, but nope. I averaged about 23 mpg in my usual test course. Maybe the new engine corrects that.
In addition, one couldn’t depend on the “miles remaining” portion of our dashboard in the test vehicle, though: It was all over the place, adding 50 miles here and subtracting them there so frequently that it was useless.
Play some tunes: Stereo interface and operation are also standard Fiat Chrysler, except residing fairly low and out of the driver’s line of vision. The sound quality from the 8.4-inch UConnect system ($1,245) is an A-minus or so — too much tinniness and treble, but guitar seemed to get a new emphasis in some familiar songs.
Keeping warm and cool: The HVAC controls sit under the stereo and so even lower to the ground. The dial for fan and toggle for fan source are fine, but a pair of buttons for temperature control are difficult to find on the fly.
Where it’s built: Melfi, Italy.
How it’s built: Consumer Reports gives the Renegade a predicted reliability rating of 3 out of 5 — it’s been as high as 4 and started as a 1 in 2015.
In the end: My wife covets a Renegade, but she’ll have to sell her Soul for it — her Kia Soul, that is. But I have a soft spot for the boxy off-roader wannabe, much like Europeans, who seemed to be driving this model in large quantities when I last traveled there.
It’s definitely a sportier experience than most small crossovers, and it gets my vote, but, ack, that transmission!