What is it?
Jeep already has a couple of small SUVs in its portfolio, namely the Patriot and Compass (based on Chrysler’s MK platform), but this new car represents the company’s global ambitions. The Renegade is based on Fiat’s 500X platform and is available with a multitude of engine and driveline options. It’s properly compact in size as well, being actually more compact in length and width than even the Hyundai Creta. With Jeep making its way to India this year and from what we hear, setting up a production facility in the country as well, this is the sort of SUV that’ll make perfect sense for the market here.
Head-on, the Renegade is a modern interpretation of the Wrangler. The round headlights, the vertically stacked seven-slat grille and chunky proportions ensure that it establishes its own identity. The chunky theme flows to the rear as well, and its square tail-lights have a design that seems inspired by the side of a jerry can. While the front and rear look quite nice, its excessively boxy stance is something of an acquired taste. Overall though, it’s a pretty neat-looking car that combines a certain crazy-cool with a rugged, go-anywhere demeanour. Plus, one of the Renegades I drove came in a Jungle Green paint scheme, only available on the 75th anniversary models, which really reminded us a lot of this car’s military heritage of the 1940s.
What is it like in the inside?
Once you get inside the car, things aren’t as impressive as they are on the outside. The fitments are pretty much par for the course for this class of car, but there is a sense of everything being very well put together that you just can’t seem to ignore. The chunkiness seen on the outside seems to have crept in to the interiors as well – right from the steering wheel, to all the knobs, to even the plastic cladding around the centre multimedia screen (which says “since 1941”) and the blocky grab handle on the passenger side dashboard (attesting to the car’s off-road abilities). While the car we drove had the slightly drab all-black interior scheme, the people at Jeep assured us that a huge number of interior colour schemes will be offered to allow buyers to spice up their Renegades. There are, however, some very interesting design details you can spot if you pay close attention. To start with, you'll find a number of Jeep grille logos all over, including on the speaker grilles and the inside of the boot lid, a tiny image of Big Foot and a classic Jeep on the rear glass, while the ignition key/button is surrounded by the words “To New Adventures!” – just a few of the design Easter eggs scattered all around the car. My very favourite is the little spider behind the fuel-filler cap that says “Ciao, baby”. These secret design elements just make the Renegade all the more endearing.
What is it like to drive?
Jeep has worked its off-road magic into this small SUV as well and it really does have the chops to keep up with the best of the lot. The cars we drove on the trail featured the 2.4-litre Tigershark petrol motor which makes 180hp of power. Out on the trails, the 237Nm of torque, in conjunction with the highly capable four-wheel-drive system was enough to propel the Renegade over obstacles, provided one wasn’t being too ham-fisted. The Renegade’s permanent four-wheel-drive system does require a special mention as it proved to be more than up to the task of tackling trails which could leave other small SUVs stuck. Called ‘Jeep Active Drive’, it features a rear axle disconnect system that seamlessly switches between front-wheel drive during normal operation and all-wheel drive when traction needs change. It also features a ‘Selec-Terrain’ dial that allows you to select what sort of surface you’re driving on, resulting in the system automatically changing the way it behaves. And if you like, you can even lock the system into four-wheel drive. Now we didn’t get a chance to drive the Trailhawk model of the Renegade, which is "Trail Rated” with its higher ground clearance, increased approach, departure and breakover angles and low-range selector for the four-wheel drive system. But even without that, the way this car handles off-roads, as long as you show reasonable caution, is truly remarkable.
While the Renegade did prove to be surprisingly good off the road, its on-road manners were even better. We got to sample both the nine-speed automatic transmission as well as the six-speed manual, and both performed exemplarily on tarmac. The auto ‘box didn’t feel as quick to shift as the one on the Grand Cherokee (though both are similar nine-speed units), but it was quite seamless on both up and down shifts. The manual one, however, was a delight to drive. The car is set up quite well for use on the blacktop. Independent MacPherson struts all around and a stiff body structure make for great on-road manners, regardless of whether you’re tackling bad roads or smooth corners. While we didn’t get to do too much corner-carving mayhem on this drive, whatever the roads did throw at the Renegade, it took it in its stride. We also got to try out the 1.4-litre MultiAir II turbocharged petrol motor which is good for 160hp of power and at 250Nm, more torque than the larger capacity Tigershark unit. Performance isn’t what you might call blistering, even with the manual transmission. However, nowhere does it feel boring.
Is it India-bound?
In light of the small SUV craze that’s really taken India by storm, the Jeep Renegade's launch would make perfect sense here. It certainly has what it takes to give other small SUVs such as the Hyundai Creta, Ford EcoSport and Renault Duster a good run for their money, if priced competitively. However, according to Jeep’s plan for the country, the first few models to hit our market will be the iconic Wrangler and the larger Grand Cherokee, both in CBU form. As mentioned earlier, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is setting up a plant in the country to make India a production and export hub for select Jeep models, including the upcoming Compass replacement (C-SUV). In that regard, there’s a good chance that even the Renegade will make its way into this plan. In addition, the Renegade for Europe is offered with a host of diesel engines, like the 2.0 diesel that delivers 142hp. It’s a car that has a lot to offer both in terms of capability as well as charm, and should easily appeal to not just Jeep lovers, but to those who aspire to own SUVs as well. Prices for the Renegade are likely to start at around Rs 11 lakh.