By Aaron Bragman on March 3, 2014
Competes with: Buick Encore, Fiat 500L, Mini Countryman
Looks like: A proper boxy Jeep
Powertrains: 160-hp, turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder with six-speed manual or 184-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder with nine-speed automatic transmission, front- or all-wheel drive
Hits dealerships: Early 2015
Do you miss the old, boxy Jeep Cherokee? Do you desire the rugged fun of the Jeep Wrangler, but want something a bit safer, more secure and fuel efficient? Think the new Cherokee is just too big? Well, Jeep has an answer: the all-new subcompact 2015 Jeep Renegade, which was just unveiled at the 2014 Geneva International Motor Show.
The Renegade is the latest product of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and while it looks for all the world like a pure American Jeep, underneath is a modified platform shared with the Fiat 500L that Jeep calls the new "small-wide 4x4 architecture." That means it's tiny by American standards — 1.8 inches shorter than a Buick Encore but 5 inches longer than a Honda Fit. It will be a global product sold all over the world with an eye-popping number of powertrain combinations tailored to various markets, and it will even come in a right-hand-drive version.
There is no mistaking the Renegade for anything other than a Jeep. Despite its diminutive footprint, the look harkens back to the original Cherokee (not the current swoopy version) crossed with the Wrangler and a bit of the last-generation Liberty thrown in. In other words, it looks like a proper Jeep, chunky and rugged. Features of note include two types of removable top, called My Sky. Two large openings in the roof are revealed with either a manually removable or power tilt-and-slide fiberglass panel system; both styles are embossed with an X-pattern that repeats elsewhere in the Renegade. When removed, the effect is of a nearly open-air experience like the Wrangler, but with the added safety of a solid structure and the security of rigid roof panels for urban dwelling.
For those wishing to have more off-road prowess, an optional Trailhawk model (pictured above) lifts the Renegade another 0.8 inch, modifies the bumpers for better obstacle approach and departure angles, and features greater wheel articulation. The Trailhawk gets Jeep's Trail Rated badge, meaning it has been fully vetted off-road by the company and deemed capable of tackling paths that the brand's other off-roaders can handle. It also gets a special paint treatment, blacking out the roof section.
Inside, Jeep mixed traditional rugged cues and the latest materials to create a worthy follow up to the new Cherokee's outstanding cabin. Jeep calls the look "Tek-Tonic," with the idea to combine structural elements of the passenger space with soft-touch materials, colors and storage solutions borrowed from "extreme" sporting goods equipment. It's not a big cabin, as this is an entry into the subcompact crossover category, but the interior should provide enough flexibility for weekends or hauling gear. Seating for five is standard, though that third person in the rear seat will not be happy. A removable cargo floor adds space in back, while both rear seats and the front passenger seat fold flat.
The company's latest electronics are also present, with a 5-inch or optional 6.5-inch Uconnect touch-screen in the center console, overshadowed only by the optional 7-inch LCD display panel in the gauge cluster. Full Bluetooth connectivity with 9-1-1 Assist is available as well.
Because the Renegade will be sold all over the world, a number of powertrains will be offered. Seven engine options are slated for the little truck-let with a range of turbo and non-turbo four-cylinder gasoline and diesel motors. For the U.S., just two powertrains, which also appear in the Dodge Dart, will be offered in the Renegade: a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder making 160 horsepower and a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine pumping out 184 hp. The turbo will be available with a six-speed manual transmission only, while the bigger four-cylinder will come only with a nine-speed automatic transmission. A turbo 2.0-liter diesel engine making 167 hp and a healthy 258 pounds-feet of torque won't be coming to the U.S. unfortunately. With the diesel, the little Renegade can tow 3,300 pounds.
Front-wheel drive is standard, and an all-wheel-drive system called Jeep Active Drive is optional. It normally operates in two-wheel-drive mode until slippage is detected and can then transfer as much as 100 percent of the engine's torque to any one wheel. On the Trailhawk off-road model, Jeep Active Drive includes a Low mode that acts as a creeper gear, enabling the Renegade to do some serious off-road duty. Both systems include a selectable mode dial that enables the driver to choose the setting that matches the terrain — Auto, Snow, Sand and Mud — with the Trailhawk adding Rock mode to the list. The Trailhawk model gets some other off-road bits as well, including 17-inch all-terrain tires, front and rear skid plates, bright red tow hooks and hill descent control.
The Renegade will feature a number of safety features, demonstrating the increasing commonality of such systems even in small vehicles. Forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot warning and a backup camera with rear cross-path detection are all offered along with seven standard airbags to make the Renegade one of the best-equipped small vehicles from a safety standpoint.
Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman grew up in the Detroit area, comes from an automotive family and is based in Ann Arbor, Mich. Email Aaron