Go on, admit it: you’ve always liked the idea of owning a proper Jeep. But, for all their off-road awesomeness, they’ve not been especially good road cars. The new Renegade is a bit of a landmark: it’s Jeep’s first model to be built in Europe, for Europe.
That means – brace yourself – that it’s actually what you’d call efficient. Low-CO2 engine options start from 115g/km, so this is a Jeep that won’t put you into a running-costs coma. Sister company Fiat builds the Renegade alongside its own 500X, and, surprisingly enough, the little Jeep feels a lot like a Fiat.
If it looks chunky, that’s because it is, but it achieves the look without taking up much road space at all. It measures less than 4.24 metres long and about 1.8 metres wide, but from both outside and from the driver’s seat the Renegade looks like a proper SUV. The oh-so-American bonnet bulge brilliantly increases the impression of size and road presence.
Plus it’s a proper Jeep, built not to Fiat’s tarmac-only spec, but to master the rough stuff too. It has more ground clearance and more off-road technology than the 500X. Adds a tang of authenticity to the car, don’t you think?
Let’s start with the useful double-layer boot floor, which can give you the full 351 litres or mount on a higher shelf to effectively give a flat load lip. You’ll find plenty of legroom for four sub-6ft adults. Interestingly, Jeep has foregone any really large storage bins in favour of loads of small ones, which for most people will be more practical.
Four-wheel drive models are obviously more capable on mud, sand, snow and greasy British streets. Our experiences over Scottish beaches and through woodland off-road courses tells us that for sure.
All versions are immediately sweet to drive, with a proper American SUV driving position mated to a proper European drivetrain. It combines great qualities from both ‘worlds’, and works. Really well. The 1.6-litre diesel is arguably the pick of the range, and for an extra £500 versus the 1.4 MultiAir petrol it’s worth it.
The engine itself isn’t the quietest, especially when revved like you mean it, and there’s a steady pocket of wind noise around the door seals – more soundproofing needed. But there’s no escaping how instantly likeable the Renegade is. It’s easy to drive and quick to win you over.
The suspension lacks a bit of subtlety over sharper potholes, where juddering impacts can shake their way through the cabin, but for a relatively heavy small car the Renegade is plenty quick enough. The 1.6 diesel’s steering calibration seems the most responsive if you’re seeking a bit of on-road driving fun.
Fair enough, the new Jeep looks expensive. It’s tagged as a Skoda Yeti rival and for mid-range models you’re already straying over £20,000. You get a staggering amount of kit for that, though, as well as easily the most distinctive compact SUV anywhere on the continent. That will count for something with the kind of buyers whose wallets Jeep is eyeing.
Active types are the target. Mountain bikers, surfers and snowboarders, Jeep is looking at you; people who want a car that enhances their love of their hobbies and actually looks the part. But it works for people not fuelled mostly by adrenaline, too: if you’re driving a Renegade, you’re probably not a dull person.
Engine: 1.6-litre turbodiesel producing 118bhp and 236lb/ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual driving the front wheels
Performance: Top speed 111mph, 0-62mph in 10.2 seconds
Economy: 47.9mpg combined
Emissions: 120g/km of CO2