First Drive: 2015 Jeep Renegade +Video

Jan. 23, 2015 By Josh Burns, Video Edit by Jay McNally
Jeep had a fleet of its all-new 2015 Renegades available for us to drive at its press introduction in San Jose, California.

The original Willys MB Jeep laid the foundation for the modern SUV, and it ultimately served as the original seedling that sprouted the Jeep brand. It’s clear the tree has considerably branched out since the Jeep’s first introduction in the early 1940s, and nothing exemplifies this more than the company’s all-new 2015 Renegade.

As the company that helped usher in the modern SUV, Jeep looks to expand its footprint to offer a vehicle for just about everyone. That’s where the Renegade enters, as it marks Jeep’s move into the small sport-utility vehicle segment, an area the company feels is poised for growth in the coming years. The Renegade will compete in 2015 against vehicles like the Nissan Juke, Kia Soul and Buick Encore, but staying true to its roots this new Jeep will not only look to provide best-in-class fuel economy, it will also aim to provide best-in-class off-road capability – something the other vehicles haven’t even addressed in the slightest. 

The Renegade features the trademarked seven-slot grille design but it certainly has its own unique sense of style.

To launch the formal introduction of the new Renegade, Jeep invited us out to San Jose, California, to get behind the wheel of its newest vehicle. We jumped at the chance to check out the new Renegade first-hand, as we looked to answer the question of whether this small SUV is truly worthy of wearing the Jeep badge. 

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Ready to Rock?
First and foremost, when Jeep enters a market segment it wants to own the “most capable” title. For the Renegade, a vehicle engineered in Michigan but built overseas in Italy, this begins with a solid chassis that Jeep says is constructed of 70 percent high-strength steel to increase structural rigidity. Based in part on the Fiat 500X unibody architecture, Jeeps says the Renegade adds toughness via its use of high-strength and hot-stamped steel in the upper- and under-body, A pillars and B pillars, front header, sils and rails.

We spent time both on road and off at the Renegade introduction. Here, we took the Renegade through an off-road course at the Hollister Hills SVRA. In spite of the fact that it is a small SUV platform, we were surprised how much clearance the Trailhawk version had on the trails.

Unlike the other vehicles in the segment, Jeep expects Renegade owners to venture off the pavement, and so it built this new vehicle to tackle the bumpy trails while making sure to deliver great on-road comfort. Independent suspension is used on all four corners of the Renegade, with a MacPherson front-suspension design utilized to provide up to 6.7 inches of articulation. Jeep says the front features a new “split” type shock absorber mounting to help transmit road vibration to the Renegade’s structure for improved acoustics and efficiency to soak up bumps. In the rear, Jeep utilizes an isolated rear cradle design that offers attachment points for the Chapman rear suspension, which ultimately provides up to 8.1 inches of rear-wheel articulation.

Those looking for the most trail-capable version will need to look no further than the Trailhawk version, as this Trail Rated Renegade features an additional inch of ground clearance (8.7 inches) compared to the standard 4x4 version, as well as improved approach, breakover and departure angles, Jeep’s Active Drive Low for slow-speed crawling and the Selec-Terrain system for ideal traction regardless of the conditions.

A Plethora of Choices
Options are not limited on the new Renegade, as the mini-SUV will be offered in trim levels that include Sport, Latitude, Limited and Trailhawk, all which will be offered in a 4x2 or 4x4 option, sans the Trailhawk that is only available in 4x4. Although there are more motor options worldwide (including a diesel), in the U.S. there will be two engine choices for the Renegade. Headlining the powertrains is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder Tigershark engine, which features Jeep’s MultiAir2 electro-hydraulic fully variable valve-lift system. The 2.4-liter motor is rated to produce 180 horsepower and 175 lb.-ft. of torque, and it can tow up to 2,000 pounds when properly equipped. This Tigershark motor will be mated to the segment’s first nine-speed automatic transmission, with the pair combining to offer more than 30 miles per gallon on the highway.

The interior ofthe Renegade is snug but Jeep seemed to make good use of the space. With two full-sized males we were still pretty comfortable during our full day of driving in the Renegade.

Jeep will also offer a 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo four-cylinder motor, which comes standard on the Sport and Latitude models. The catch with the 1.4-liter motor is it will only be paired with a six-speed manual transmission. The small turbocharged, intercooled engine is rated to produce 160 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. Jeep says this motor will also achieve 30 mpg on the highway or better. The 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine is not available on the Limited and is currently not available on the Trailhawk.

The Renegade will also offers the segment’s first disconnecting rear axle and Power Take-off Unit (PTU) to improve the fuel efficiency on each 4x4 unit as part of the Jeep Active Drive system standard on all 4x4 models. This setup essentially reverts the full-time 4x4 vehicle to 4x2 until its senses traction is needed. The Trailhawk version is equipped with the more off-road-capable Active Drive Low system, which provides a 20:1 crawl ratio and reduces the axle ratio to 4.33 for improved performance on the trail. 

Although there are 4x4 options in every trim level, only the Trailhawk version is stamped with Jeep's Trail Rated badge.

The Renegade earns the title of Jeep’s smallest SUV, resting at the bottom of the totem pole under Jeep’s compact SUV offerings in the Liberty and Compass, its mid-size SUV in the Cherokee, and its full-size Grand Cherokee. Sure, the Renegade may be the most diminutive Jeep, weighing in roughly 600 pounds less than the Cherokee, but it is still packed full of safety features that include lane departure warning, forward collision warning and blind-spot detection (up to 70 safety features are available).

The Renegade may be small, but the team design and engineering team really looked to maximize the available space on this new vehicle. Instead of a sleek, sporty appearance, the Renegade is accented with sharp edges and vertical styling that bears a closer resemblance to the iconic Wrangler. We spoke to Head of Jeep Design Mark Allen to get a little more background on the overall esthetic he and his team wanted the Renegade to encompass. 

Jeep Head Designer Mark Allen was tasked with designing an exterior on the all-new Renegade that is unique while still retaining that Jeep esthetic.

“The Jeep brand heritage weighs heavily on me personally; I’ve kind of been charged with being the caretaker of that,” Allen said while discussing the role Jeep’s history plays in every new vehicle his team works on. “I don’t know that it’s a real burden, because I like that we leverage things that come from 1941 in a 2015 vehicle. I also enjoy that we don’t make one vehicle and then make every other vehicle look like that. Taking the elements like the seven-slot grille, trapezoidal wheel arches, but re-crafting them on every vehicle so that they’re still true to what we talk about from a brand perspective, but re-crafted in different ways – that’s what I enjoy.”

To a certain extent, Allen started with a blank slate for the Renegade, and he and his team looked to make something bold while still retaining those Jeep cues.

Mark Allen explained that the proportions of the Renegade made it clear to him that more vertical styling reminiscent of the Wrangler would work best on the Renegade.

“This vehicle is going into a new segment, a white space of us; it’s a fast-growing, booming segment,” he said. “The decision to go with something that’s more flat, square, boxy, that fits neatly with the packaging challenges of this car where I’ve got to seat the passengers upright and next to each other tightly, it just made sense to have a vertical windshield, vertical sides, and a flat roof, and that’s all descriptive of our icon vehicle [the Wrangler].  That side of the family has more character, fun, and charisma to it for the off-road side; I mean, I look at this car and it just says, ‘Come on, let’s go.’ It’s calling to you a little bit. If you go a little more toward the elegant side with the faster windshield, and some of the competitors do that, they just aren’t as playful as I expect or want in a Jeep that says, ‘We’re going camping this weekend.’”

The full-color 7-inch instrumentation cluster on this Trailhawk version displays the terrain selected for off-road driving. The paint-splatter on the tachometer is just one example of the young-at-heart vibe that designers wanted to impart with this new Jeep. 

Inside the vehicle, the space feels big for being the smallest Jeep. The brand’s past immediately greet you with “Since 1941” embedded on the center console, while other design elements are more subdued – the seven-slot grille incorporated into the anodized metal speaker casing on the door, or the small Jeep in the black surround of the front windshield (believe me, there are plenty more). Even with this homage to the past, the Renegade looks to the future with its Uconnect system and hands-free communication system, the full-color 7-inch instrumentation cluster, and optional on-demand Wi-Fi hotspot capability. The interior also has a youthful exuberance, with design cues and colorways inspired by base-jumping suits and other extreme sports.

From the Pavement to the Dirt
We started out our recent adventure with Jeep in San Jose, California, where we spent a full day behind the wheel of the 2015 Renegade. We spilt our time between on-road cruising and off-road driving at the Hollister Hills SVRA to get a well-rounded impression of the new SUV.

Jeep says the Trailhawk version can ford water up to 19 inches deep at 5 mph. Our little mud hole certainly seemed close to that deep, if not more.

After a brief rundown, we hit the road in a fully equipped 4x4 Limited Renegade powered by the 2.4-liter Tigershark motor. Although we weren’t blown away by the 180 hp motor, there was little to gripe about, as it offered plenty of zip for windy uphill climbs. It wasn’t lacking when we merged onto highways, and accelerating from stoplights it felt just dine. The tight, predictable steering made the get-to-know-you-phase brief, as driver confidence was immediately there. Over weathered, bumpy streetss, there was a little bit of road noise noticed but nothing to drown out casual conversations.

Inside the cabin, the Renegade feels cozy but not overly cramped – and that’s coming from two males, one 6’0” tall and the other 6’4”. The fit and finish on the Limited model is a step above the other trims, but overall the center console height in relation to the mid-door armrests is the same on every model and is quite comfortable for a full-sized male (not true of the cramped feel of some of the Renegade’s competitors), and the electronic seat adjustment paired with the adjustable steering wheel made finding the sweet spot a cinch.

This steep downhill section provided the perfect platform to test the Downhill Assist system, which controls the vehicle's speed so the driver can focus on steering the vehicle. The system works as intended, though we'd prefer to control the throttle and braking ourselves.

Once we hit our off-road destination at the Hollister Hills SVRA, we quickly swapped out our Limited for a Trailhawk version. With its improved angles, heightened stance and more aggressive tires, we navigated our Trailhawk around the different off-road courses Jeep laid out with some careful guidance from Jeep Jamboree workers. We forded a small mud pit (Jeep claims water fording at 19 inches deep at 5 mph), climbed over a few different rock mounds, managed some three-wheel action in a couple sections, and even climbed and descended some steep uphill and downhill sections.

The Select Terrain system, just to the left of the shifter, on the Renegade Trailhawk version allows for fine-tuning to meet the demands of the terrain.

We were a little surprised at just how well the Renegade performed. Sure, it did fine on the hand-picked off-road sections Jeep laid out for us, but what impressed us most as just how well the Renegade took the steep angles. We anticipated scrubbing the front end on a few of the rocks and hill basins, but the Renegade never touched – we only rubbed the skid plate once over a rock mound. We were surprised at just how stable this little SUV felt. On the trails, the wide, squatted stance gives the Renegade a bull dog quality that makes it feel stable and secure. Between the slightly more aggressive Goodyear Wrangler SR-A tires and the Selec-Terrain and Active Drive Low found on the Trailhawk, we were pleasantly surprised with its capability.

Overall, the Trailhawk offers respectable off-road capability for the Renegade, which of course doesn’t put it anywhere near the level of a Rubicon Wrangler, but it’s far more than can be said for the other vehicles in the small SUV class. We were pleased with the peppy performance of the 1.4-liter four-cylinder turbocharged motor with the six-speed manual tranmission on the highway, but we were dissapointed to learn this motor-transmission package isn't available on the Trailhawk so we unfortuantely didn't get a feel for it in the dirt.

The My Sky open-air sunroof is a unique feature that provides that traditional Jeep vibe with a modern twist.

One of the unique features on the Renegade is the My Sky open air system, which is a new take on providing that same open-air feel for which Wranglers are known but packaging it for this small SUV application. This optional upgrade starts at $1195 for the non-powered option, which features two light composite pieces that are removable and can be stored fairly easily in the rear cargo area. The electric version of My Sky ($1395) features a power slide option for the first section closest to the front seat, while the rear portion still needs to be removed manually. We appreciate this option and feel it offers added value for the vehicle, even if it’s not something we’d use all the time.

Parting Shot
The all-new Renegade is a vehicle that Jeep believes will grow with the expanding small SUV segment, which currently accounts for about 200,000 sales annually in the U.S. but that Jeeps believes will expand to about 300,000 in another year. The Renegade certainly won’t be for everyone. It’s not for the Wrangler purists, and it’s not going to give the Grand Cherokee a run for its money in the bells and whistles department. But for an affordable, small SUV geared toward the young-at-heart buyer, the Renegade offers a nice blend of features and capability in a vehicle that doesn’t feel cheap.

Within the proper context, the Trailhawk version of the all-new Renegade is a decent little off-roader that can get you where you need to be if you don't push the limits.

The Trailhawk package is the clear star in the dirt. Even though there are the 4x4 options for the other trim levels, the ground clearance and improved approach (30.5 degrees), breakover (25.7 degrees) and departure angle (34.3 degrees) really separates the Trailhawk from the other 4x4 offerings. We’d like to see the 1.4-liter four-cylinder and six-speed manual available on the Trailhawk, but that’s not an option unfortunately. For our money, we’re avoiding the other 4x4s and buying the Trailhawk for weekend camping, hiking, mountain biking and general off-highway exploring. Taken within the proper context, the Renegade is a nice addition to the small SUV segment, offering Jeep capability in a segment where no other vehicle comes close.

The Renegade pricing begins at $17,995 for the 4x2 Sport model and is priced just under $20,000 at $19,9995 for the 4x4 Sport. The Limited 4x4 starts at $26,795, and we managed to find ourselves in a fully loaded version priced all the way up to $33,205 – unlikely territory for the vast majority of buyers. The Trailhawk version starts at $25,995, and even after a few upgrades, such as the MySky sunroof, it still will sit under the $30,000 mark after the $995 destination charge. The Renegade will start shipping in late February, and Jeep expects the vehicles to be in dealerships at the start of March. Newsletter
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