“The Jeep Renegade follows on the heels of some other stylish compact crossover vehicles like the Kia Soul and Nissan Juke that provide a bit more flair, rather than just practicality.”
Not that long ago, if an all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicle was on a buyer’s shopping list, the options were largely limited to SUVs and trucks.
Today the automotive landscape has exploded with manufacturers offering many more AWD vehicles. In fact, 48 percent of all vehicles purchased in Canada come with AWD or four-wheel drive (4X4).
For Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Canada (Formerly Chrysler Canada) the percentage is even higher, at roughly 58 percent. Thanks, in part, to the success of the Jeep brand and the many vehicles sold under that off-road-ready marque. The latest entry, the Jeep Renegade, will be arriving at dealerships around April but just last week I had a chance to drive this small Jeep in classic Canadian winter conditions just outside of Montreal.
The setting for the winter driving program was at ICAR, an enthusiast’s racing facility built on the abandoned aprons and taxiways of the old Mirabel airport, including a slalom course, road coarse and off-road adventure. The bold orange Renegade instantly jumped out against the howling wind and at-times, whiteout conditions. The Renegade is built in Europe on the same platform that Fiat uses to make the all-new Fiat 500X. This cost sharing, multi-vehicle offensive is what has helped Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to be so successful over the past few years. The engineering and design was done in Michigan to insure the Renegade has all the classic Jeep characteristics, from the round headlamps and classic Jeep grille, to the trapezoidal wheel arches, appropriate ground clearance and overall bold styling. The Renegade is smaller than the Compass and Patriot models in the lineup, helping to promote the red-hot, small crossover segment even further.
With a high seating position and boxy roofline, the Renegade has a lot of headroom and large windows, making this compact crossover feel open and airy. The dash and surrounding trim is filled with eye-catching touches, like the speaker grilles and air vents that come painted for more panache. The front seats are supportive and provide a nice look down the long hood, making this feel more “trucky” The back seats offer plenty of room in this class and the cargo area is what Jeep calls class leading. Prices start at $19,995 for base Sport model with front wheel drive (FWD) and the first AWD model starts at $25,995. The volume leader will be the North trim with alloy wheels, starting at $27,494 for an AWD version. The problem will be the higher end trims, like the $31,995 Limited, that look pricy compared to a bigger to a compact SUV, like a Honda CR-V, with a much more powerful engine, vastly bigger interior and a $30,000 AWD starting price.
FCA didn’t just have the Renegade to drive in frozen weather, rather a selection of the seventeen vehicles they offer with AWD or 4X4 capability. They were clear to point out that nine of the twenty-six models have AWD available even on the base trim. The Renegade’s base AWD system is a lighter weight active powertrain that can disconnect the rear wheels to save fuel but reconnect them in a fraction of a second if the temperature drops of the windshield wipers are turned on. On dry pavement, the system only needs to detect the slightest wheel slippage to engage the AWD capability. In addition there is a terrain select knob in each model that lets the driver choose between auto, snow, sand, mud and rocks to alert the Renegades’ traction control, stability control and engine/transmission electronics to keep the Jeep moving in different situations. The ultimate is the AWD system with a low setting for crawling over rocks, something Jeep purists appreciate.
The Jeep Renegade follows on the heels of some other stylish compact crossover vehicles like the Kia Soul and Nissan Juke that provide a bit more flair, rather than just practicality. This new Renegade also has the advantage of being equipped with two sophisticated AWD systems to keep it ahead of the pack. The base engine is a 1.4L turbo 4-cylinder with 160hp but this model is only available with a 6-speed manual transmission; if the buyer wants and automatic, the larger 180hp 2.4L 4-cylinder is fitted with a class leading 9-speed automatic. There is a whopping $2,990 premium to get the larger engine and automatic on the Sport trim and just $1,495 on the North, excluding the price premium to get AWD. At the end of the day this Jeep has a very attractive exterior and interior and is something fresh in one of the hottest segments in the market. The price can jump very, very quickly if the buyer wants AWD and automatic. Time will tell if buyers will spend the extra to buy the higher end models.
Power: 1.4L turbo with 160hp or 2.4L with 180hp
Sticker price: $19,995-$31,995