One for the fans.
THE GOOD
  • Spritely engine
  • Good interior space
  • Nimble handling
THE BAD
  • Expensive options
  • Fuel efficiency
  • Caricature styling
Test Drive: 2019 Jeep Renegade

We’re in tumultuous automotive times and carmakers whose lineups aren’t chock-full o’ SUVs are scrambling to stay afloat. Heck, even some brands with plenty of ’utes in their lineups are struggling right now (hang in there, Nissan). So, when your entire portfolio consists of small, mid-size, and large SUVs, plus the legendary Wrangler – and a new pickup truck to boot – you’re well-poised to weather the storm.

The Jeep name is one of the most powerful – and valuable – brands in the auto industry and it, along with the lucrative Ram Trucks, are helping bolster parent company Fiat Chrysler’s efforts globally. It’s no surprise then that management sought to leverage the first of those cash cows by slapping Jeep badges on as many rigs as they can make. In the case of the Renegade, that means hammering out some different sheet metal and sticking the badges on a Fiat 500X.

Perhaps it’s the quirky styling, or maybe people want their Jeep to be an actual Jeep, but the Renegade is the one model in the lineup that’s not selling like hotcakes. And while my sentiments toward the Renegade haven’t always been kind in the past, recent improvements have made the little ’ute more likeable.

Power: 7/10

Like its Fiat cousin, the Renegade gets a new 1.3L turbocharged four-cylinder as an option over the base 2.4L naturally aspirated four-cylinder. With 177 hp on tap, the upgraded engine is competitive in the field, but it’s the 200 lb-ft of torque that help make it spritely around town.

Those figures almost mirror the segment-leading Hyundai Kona with its 1.6L turbo engine, a vehicle that we’ve found to be properly peppy and fun to drive, so the little Jeep, despite weighing in a bit heavier, is in good company.

Driving Feel: 7/10

Of course, that Kona sends its power through a slick-shifting dual-clutch automatic transmission, unlike the Jeep’s nine-speed automatic that occasionally has brain farts and can’t decide which gear to be in. That said, the Renegade has been tuned for efficiency and, as such, climbs to the tallest gear as quickly as it can. Downshifts are reasonably quick, it’s just that there are so many cogs that sometimes it has to get through a few of them before any appreciable forward momentum is felt, a sore spot only exacerbated by a degree of turbo lag.

Handling of this littlest Jeep is fun. My Limited trim tester wore sporty 19-inch wheels and tires that provided decent cornering grip, and, with such a short wheelbase, the Renegade changes directions nimbly. Braking feel is decent, and strong for the class.

Comfort: 7/10

The ride isn’t half-bad either. Sure, being a little sport-ute, it’s not what one would call supple, but the suspension tuning takes the edge off all but the nastiest potholes we experienced. The firmness in the ride is reasonable given the size of the wheels and the decent handling capabilities.

Being a Limited trim, the seats were covered in black leather, and although they had some nice white accent stitching, the hides themselves were hard, shiny, and not perforated. The power driver’s seat proved reasonably comfortable, even after a 700-km drive day, which can’t be said for the seats in many costlier vehicles.

Rear-seat legroom is decent for a subcompact, and the tall roof makes for impressive rear-seat headroom, too.

Features: 6/10

As the luxury-level trim, the Renegade Limited should be loaded with amenities, but it’s not. The Limited comes with the aforementioned leather seats and a remote start function, plus Jeep’s Selec-Terrain traction management system, enabling the driver to choose between Snow, Sand, Mud, or Auto modes. There’s also a heated steering wheel, but that’s about all that stands out for features.

As add-on options, LED lighting and a larger touchscreen with navigation were added to our tester, but the automated driver aids and sunroof found on most competitors were conspicuously absent here.

User Friendliness: 7.5/10

Jeep’s Uconnect infotainment system remains a highlight with its simple, straightforward operation and large touchscreen format. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included here and integrate really well, and the optional Beats Audio system produced decent sound. Best of all, it’s got large knobs for volume and tuning.

The rest of the Renegade’s switchgear is laid out sensibly with a sizeable secondary info screen nestled between the speedometer and tachometer in the instrument pod. Climate controls are low on the dash, but feature large buttons and a knob, making for easy use even at a quick glance.

Practicality: 7/10

People-moving practicality is acceptable for four people, but a fifth will be squashed in between the two outboard passengers in the rear seat.

The cargo area is on the small side, but the square shape of both the cargo hold and the rear opening makes the most of the limited volume. That said, overall space is comparable or better than most of the competitors.

Jeep prides itself in the Renegade being the most capable 4x4 in the segment (at least in Trailhawk trim). The all-wheel drive system ensures the little Jeep should manage all Canadian weather conditions, though replacing the summer-focussed tires with some proper winter rubber is crucial.

Fuel Economy: 7/10

The move to the smaller 1.3L engine not only produces better driveability, but it also improves the Renegade’s fuel efficiency. Unfortunately, the little Jeep falls behind the competitors in this department. Still, with a combined average of 9.2 L/100 km on regular fuel, the Renegade is decently thrifty, though its small 48 L fuel tank mean fill-ups happen fairly frequently.

Styling: 6.5/10

Aside from the new and improved drivetrain, the styling has also undergone a slight update too. With lights and grille now more reminiscent of the iconic Wrangler, there’s no question the Renegade looks like a Jeep – it’s just that its comically short and boxy dimensions resemble a cartoon version of a Jeep that makes it tough to take it seriously as anything other than something affluent parents might buy as a Sweet Sixteen birthday gift.

Still, the 19-inch wheels and the deep Jet Set Blue paint look really sharp and this particular Renegade looks about as good as one can expect from a vehicle shaped this way.

Safety: 5/10

The Renegade Limited comes standard with seven airbags, all-wheel drive, traction control, and anti-lock brakes. While companies like Toyota and Honda have committed to offering active safety features as standard equipment on virtually every model, Jeep charges extra for them: The $890 Safety and Security Group option fitted to our tester came with a cargo cover, security alarm, and blind spot monitoring. Adding LED lights tacked on another $900.

Our tester didn’t have the Advanced Technology Group that costs nearly $1,800 and adds adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beam control, forward collision warning and mitigation, and lane-keeping assist – all features expected at this Renegade’s price point.

Value: 4/10

At more than $40,000 after the destination charge is added in, this Italian-built Jeep is tough to call a good value. Competitive subcompact SUVs offer a lot more in terms of both luxury and safety features, often for thousands of dollars less.

Shoppers insisting on a Jeep-branded SUV would do better to look at the larger Cherokee that offers nearly $7,000 in discounts at the time of writing, equating to much more vehicle for virtually the same cost.

The Verdict

The new, smaller turbo engine and subtly updated looks do a lot to improve Jeep’s smallest offering. But poor value (perhaps brought on by its Italian production costs and shipping) and low content for the dollar make other subcompact offerings far more attractive.

One for the fans. 12/3/2019 6:30:00 AM

Specifications

Engine Displacement 1.3L
Engine Cylinders I4
Peak Horsepower 177 hp @ 5,750 rpm
Peak Torque 200 lb-ft @ 1,750 rpm
Fuel Economy 10.1/8.1/9.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 534/1,438 L seats down