Big Guy, Small Car Test Drive: 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk

I remember one of the earlier Renegades from which this latest Jeep product (it beat the new Cherokee to dealers by a year) gets its name; and it should be said that it’s nothing like this. I remember it as a wide-bodied, fat-tired version of the YJ Wrangler. There was a version before that, too, and it was also nothing like this.

I found myself marvelling more than once about how far away the headliner was when I looked up. Feels like I could wear a 10-gallon hat in here. Seriously, it does.

Or was it?

When you consider this particular example, some similarities begin to emerge between those globetrotting Jeeps of old and the Renegade Trailhawk version seen here, most notably in the off-road and styling departments. 

More on that in a minute, however; this is a Big Guy, Small Car review and so we’re going to have to first establish if this smallest of Jeeps works for the Big Guy in your life.

 

The Knee Test

Even with the Trailhawk’s slightly higher ride height (it gets an added 221 mm over other Renegades), getting in and out of the littlest Jeep shouldn’t be a problem for anyone, let along someone big and tall. Indeed, the bigger problem for 6’3” guys like me when it comes to smaller vehicles is making sure you don’t crack the doorframe with your skull, or should I say crack your skull with the doorframe? Yeah, that last one is far more likely. You want to make sure your knees don't strike the shift lever or centre stack or console either.

At any rate, the Renegade’s nice tall roof and sizeable door openings make it so this is never really a problem, as I never really found myself doing the customary act of checking – then double-checking – to make sure I was going to clear that plane. Then, once inside, I had no trouble believing that the Renegade is good for every one of the 1,045 mm of front headroom (1,029 mm in the back) that Jeep claims it has. Add a sunroof – on our tester, it’s more of a t-top kind of thing in that the panels of the My Sky sunroof can be removed with an included tool, though there is a pricier power option – and that total drops to 1,009 mm. That’s hardly anything to complain about, and I found myself marvelling more than once about how far away the headliner was when I looked up. Feels like I could wear a 10-gallon hat in here. Seriously, it does.

Down and Dirty: Tips for Successful Off-Roading

Problems start to arise, a little, when it comes time to consider the legroom. Jeep claims there’s 1,046 mm up front, and while that may be true, it’s the room around your knees that we alluded to earlier that concerned me. For starters, the shift lever is huge, and the bottom seat cushion, not so much. As a result, the lever sits a little close to your thigh as you stretch your legs for comfort. The real problem, however, is the centre stack, which just sits too close to your knees. Meanwhile, a plasticky outcrop is formed where the upper tier of the centre stack meets the lower storage area, and that corner tends to dig into your knee.

Of course, the rear passengers don’t have to deal with any of that, and as a result, while there’s less legroom (891 mm in total, to be precise), it’s easier to at least comfortably position your knees to get a better purchase on the seat.

  

The Hockey Bag Test

No problem here; keeping the rear seats deployed provides access to 524 L of cargo space, which in itself is enough for a Big Guy-sized hockey bag, and then some. Of course, if your “some” is bigger than average, the rear seats can be easily dropped to sit almost flat. Then, you’ve freed up an additional 914 L of space, for a grand total of 1,438 L. Forget getting to the hockey game; you and a buddy (or maybe two; the seats are a 40/60 split as standard, or a 40/20/40 split if you spec it as such) could probably go camping in this thing if you and the crew packed light. There’s plenty of backpacker-sized camping gear these days and the Renegade would have little trouble handling three adults so equipped. Smaller items such as tools, meanwhile, can be neatly stored in a compartmentalized tray below the cargo floor.

To at least try and test this theory, my wife and I took a three-day road trip from Vancouver to Seattle, and thought very little about packing light. Fitting two full-sized suitcases plus a number of odds and ends (and our outlet mall haul, of course) was not a problem.

 

The Rest

The Trailhawk trim adds all sorts of funky exterior and interior styling, helping this little bulldog of a Jeep do well to capture the essence of Renegades long ago. Once your retinas have recovered from their first encounter with our car’s Solar Yellow paint job (it’s not the only eye-catching colour you can get; Omaha Orange and Colorado Red also come to mind), the black grille and two-tone 17-inch wheels immediately draw your eye, with the red tow hooks, Trailhawk and Trail Rated badges serving as nice details once you look a little closer.

Inside, the Trailhawk trim comes standard with black cloth seating, your only colour choice. We had the optional leather seating, which adds red Trailhawk badges to the seatbacks, matching other details in the cabin, including the speaker surrounds, vents and gear lever. There’s also some pleasing red stitching on the wheel, which is pretty skookum stuff. It’s pretty unexpected, considering that the Renegade is pretty much your entry-level Jeep, this side of the Compass and aging Patriot. Even the bare-bones Wrangler Sport starts at a higher price point.

That’s the obvious stuff, but this is a Jeep, and Jeeps are the kings of subtle detailing to remind you, well, that you’re driving a Jeep. The silhouetted Wrangler at the base of the windscreen, for example. Or the carvings of the classic seven-slat grille on the speaker surrounds. Or the tach’s redline, which isn’t really a line at all, but more of a splatter of paint inspired by a direct paintball hit. All cool stuff that points to the younger buyers at which the Renegade is aimed. 

They will likely also appreciate the infotainment system, which is of Chrysler’s popular and well-engineered UConnect variety. Two displays are available: a 5” display and the optional 6.5” item you see here. It’s clear, responsive and modern-looking but it hasn’t quite changed with the times as there’s no support for Apple Carplay or Android Auto. Those are two services that have hit the automotive infotainment world like a whirlwind lately, and pretty soon most manufacturers are probably going to have to get on that train.

 

Let’s hit the road

Two four-cylinder engines are available for the Renegade; a 160 hp, 184 lb-ft 1.4L turbo unit, and a 180 hp, 175 lb-ft 2.4L Tigershark number. This being a Trailhawk, we had the latter as that’s your only choice at this trim level, which is good not only in its peppiness, but because it tends to be the better fit for the nine-speed automatic transmission. There’s a six-speed manual option at other trim levels, but not here. Which is a shame; you’d think an outdoorsy, somewhat sporty vehicle like this would do well to at least have the option. Plus, there are many off-road purists out there that are all “manual or bust”, and considering the Trailhawk’s off-road chops, it seems a good fit.

With the smaller engine, the nine-speed tends to spend a lot of time shuffling between gears as it tries to get the most out of the powerband. It didn’t have to work quite as hard in our car, although you can still catch it off-guard on steeper climbs or as speeds get higher.

Once it does get on board, however, I found the Renegade to be a properly peppy little number that can make highway passes when it needs to, but can cruise rather efficiently as well as long as you can deal with the somewhat droning engine note.

That’s not really where the Trailhawk shines, though; it works as advertised in that it can handle its business off-road, too, which is where we once again see a callback to Renegades of old. In addition to all the blingy decals and fancy rims, the Trailhawk transformation also adds Jeep Active Drive Low, providing more traction on loose surfaces and during climbs. It’s complimented by a Selec-Terrain drive system that provides four 4WD modes: Snow, Sand, Mud and Rock. A hill-descent control system completes a fantastic all-around package.

I’ve had the opportunity to test the Trailhawk off-road both for this test and previously, allowing for a nice cross-section of the surfaces that a Trailhawk owner may encounter. During a particularly muddy off-roading session, the Renegade managed a number of steep, slippery climbs with little more than a few wheelspin instances. Mud mode was at its best, here, using the transmission and differentials to mete out the power to the wheels that needed it. Rock mode, meanwhile, did a fine job of pulling me out of a few slippery situations. I would enter a rock pile thinking that surely I’d have to back out, but you can feel as the power quickly gets transferred, the mechanical grip hauling you out when you’re sure you’ve got it rooked. Standard skidplates and small departure and approach angles (34.3 and 30.5 degrees respectively) mean this is no shrinking violet in the off-roading sense, and it’s earned that Trail Rated badge.

That being said, at 1,621kg, the Trailhawk remains a bit of a lightweight, which does have it bouncing around some as your pace begins to quicken. The Trailhawk’s slightly aggressive damping leaves just a little to be desired, but it does make for some better handling on-road.

 

So if you’re of taller ilk…

Which, really, is still where the Renegade – for all its off-road acumen – is going to be spending most of its time. It’s a strong entry in the compact crossover segment, one that seems to be growing by about five new models every year, and popular cars have to work in the city and open road.

It also means it should work for all manner of body types, including, of course, Big Guys. If we’re talking headroom and cargo capacity, then the Renegade has it made in the shade. I do wish that pedal box was a little roomier, but as we experienced on that road trip, you can get it to work

Plus, you wouldn’t want to let a little thing like that get in the way of your chance at experiencing one of the cooler and more practical compact crossovers on the market today. Great off-road chops, funky looks and a well-appointed interior mean you’ll want to be sure not to miss this one.

Warranty:
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 3 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 5 years/100,000 km roadside assistance

Competitors:
Chevrolet Trax
Fiat 500X
Honda HR-V
Mazda CX-3
Nissan Juke

2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk
2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk
Base Price $35,185
Optional Equipment $6,285 -- Cold Weather Group ($795), Popular Equipment Group ($850), Premium Navigation Group ($1,100), Premium Leather Group ($1,895), My Sky removable roof panels ($1,195), back-up camera ($450)
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,795
Price as Tested $43,365
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.6
7 Comfort
8 Fuel Economy
8 Performance
8 Interior
7 Exterior Styling