The Jeep Renegade is compact in size but big on personality. Doesn’t seem to matter as no one’s interested
I’ve been wrong on countless occasions in my life. In personal matters, I’ve done much better in the last five years, which is how I’ve felt about my understanding and vision of the automotive industry in my 20+ year long career. I’ve not always been right but I was terribly wrong at least once: I thought the Jeep Renegade was going to be a smash hit. That, it is not.
As I think back now, it is clear to me that I bet everything on the Jeep name. In the small SUV, only one or two members of the segment have recently performed worse. One of the is the Fiat 500X. This failure, I had predicted. What I’d failed to do is link the fact that these are identical vehicles with different names and bodies.
It is, after all, a Jeep
I can be forgiven for thinking that the Jeep Renegade was going to be a star in its category. Historically, almost any “truck” Jeep has decided to adorn with its logo and seven-slat grille has done well to extremely for the company. Jeep is in fact one of the most identifiable automotive brands in the world and the Renegade was immediately recognizable as a member of the company that’s brought us the Grand Cherokee and Wrangler.
And yet, and yet Canadian sales are abysmal. Up until August of 2019, in Canada, only 451 have been sold. The Chevy Trax, by comparison, found 2,815 homes up to the same date. Thing is I find the Jeep a superior product. Am I completely blinded by the brand name? And then I realize that it might because it’s the wee-Jeep that consumers are not biting.
Is it the cute-ish looks?
The Jeep Renegade’s outward appearance is that of a cute, over-sized Tonka toy. Its dimensions and uber-upright shell are a caricature of Jeeps of yore and while I think it’s attractive, it might be too boyish for buyers who prefer a sleek unassuming Mazda CX-3 or an oddly-shaped yet highly versatile Honda CR-V.
I’m now thinking that the same goes for the Renegade’s cabin. Contrasting interior accents and chunky inserts work in the larger Jeeps but are they too playful in the Renegade? I think I’m beginning to see the big picture. Although the layout and ergonomics are good, the level of technology and features are at least on par with the competition, the “I’m a Jeep too!” decision made by interior designers were misguided but done with the right intentions.
And then, there’s pricing. The base Sport trim retails for $28,500, which is between $1,000 and $4,250 more than its close AWD competitors. Same goes for mid-level trims where the Jeep is pricier for similar levels of kit. At the very top of the echelon, the pricing gap levels off which may help to explain why the $33,945 Trailhawk seems like such a popular option. The Trailhawk also includes nicer wheels, the red tow hooks, and a few other features. Final tally for my tester, with optional navigation, Beats Audio system and LED lighting was of $39,500. A hefty sum, this is.
Of these features, the 2019 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk contains Selec-Terrain traction management system with a Rock mode and Jeep Active Drive “Low” with a 21:1 crawl ratio. Jeep says the Trailhawk is the best-in-class 4X4. No one will dispute this. With skid plates, 8.7 inches of ground clearance and up to 19 inches of water-fording capabilities, only a larger Jeep vehicle is a better off-road tool.
Can’t be the turbo 1.3-litre engine
Powering the Jeep Renegade, as standard for the first few trims, is the 2.4-litre 4-cylinder engine. New and optional (standard for the Trailhawk and Limited) is the turbocharged 1.3-litre 4-cylinder engine which develops 177-horsepower and 200 lb.-ft. of torque as of 1,750 rpm.
These numbers make the Renegade one of the most powerful vehicles in its segment and I can attest to the fact that all that torque manifests itself with loads of vim. The associated 9-speed automatic transmission expertly deals with the torque and never missed a beat – this has been one of the most positive experiences I’ve had with a 9-speeder since they went mainstream a few years ago.
It’s not the drive either
One of the Renegade’s best features is its drive. Even if it is built upon an aging platform shared with many Fiat, Opel and Alfa Romeo vehicles, the ride quality remains very contemporary. The chassis is tuned to handle well enough, be it nasty poorly paved Montreal roads or for some off-roading. Likewise, steering and brakes are very car-like, something that is easy to explain.
In conclusion, the 2019 Jeep Renegade is an interesting offering in the segment. But, along with a few above-motioned observations, a large portion of small CUV/SUV buyers are moving into the segment from compact cars and are not interested in capabilities like a 2,000 lb tow rating or five drive modes including a “rock” setting.
Given the Renegade’s terrible sales volume in Canada, one could imagine that its days are numbered. The reality is that it’s a big hit by comparison in the US. As we know, the Fiat 500 will go away whereas the 500X and 500L will stay. To me, this means the Renegade will soldier on for a while. Hopefully, more Canadians will fall under its charm as I have.