Driven: 2017 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk

Written by Lee Bailie on .

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If there is a vehicle that symbolizes the union between Fiat and Chrysler in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), it is the Jeep Renegade.

Designed and engineered at Jeep HQ in Detroit and built in Fiat’s sprawling Melfi plant in southern Italy, the Renegade gives new meaning to the notion of 'world vehicle', a reality that’s underlined by the fact that it is the first Jeep built outside North America.

Now in its third model year, the Renegade has become a solid performer in FCA’s Jeep portfolio, with just under 4,000 units sold in Canada in 2016, which marked a 75 percent increase over 2015. Sales have dipped a bit so far in 2017 (- 14 percent through the end of April), but the Renegade has posted an increase in the U.S. (7.5 percent) during the same period.

While this wasn’t my first experience driving the Renegade – I drove it and its mechanical twin, the Fiat 500X, during the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada's Car of the Year testing in 2015 – this occasion marks my first extended time with it.

For the record, I wasn’t wowed by either vehicle when I drove them back-to-back in ’15, particularly the 500X, but my impressions were different this time around as far as the Renegade is concerned- more on that shortly.

For the Canadian market, the Renegade is available with two engines, a 1.4-litre MultiAir turbocharged 4-cylinder (160 hp / 184 lb-ft.), also found in the Fiat 500, and a 2.4-litre Tigershark MultiAir 4-cylinder (180 hp / 175 lb-ft.), which is also featured in the Jeep Cherokee. Two transmissions are available, a six-speed manual and a nine-speed automatic.

These engine and transmission combinations are spread across five trims in either front-wheel drive or 4x4, and range in price from just under $20K for the base Sport to just over $33K for the range-topping Limited. Of note, the top two trims (Trailhawk and Limited) are available in 4x4 only with the 2.4L and nine-speed automatic.

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My tester, a loaded-out alpine white Trailhawk (full option list below), came with a price tag just over $40K, but with some judicious optioning, one could get a reasonably well-equipped Renegade for much less. That said, I appreciate FCA Canada’s decision to load this press vehicle with so much stuff.

From a design perspective, the Renegade is a box on wheels, but it’s a styling choice that feels much more Jeep-like than the slipperier profiles of its Compass, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee siblings.

As nice as those others are to drive and to look at, save for the familial seven-bar front grille, they bear little resemblance the iconic Wrangler, the Jeepest of Jeeps. Kudos to the Renegade design team for making the Renegade look like a Jeep, from its round headlights, to its stubby profile and square tail lights.

The Renegade’s square proportions also pay huge dividends on the inside, where the amount of head and should room can only be described as cavernous.

Speaking of the cabin, my tester is awash in hard plastics that certainly aren’t the most expensive, but they have a nice textured feel. The leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob are tastefully executed, and I think the orange trim bits (vent, console, speaker surrounds, etc.) are a pleasing contrast to the vast expanses of black fabrics and plastics.

Speaking of trim details, if you’re the sort that appreciates automotive Easter eggs, you’ll love the Renegade, as the Jeep logo (front grille and headlights) and map illustrations are scattered throughout the car’s interior.

Like many SUVs, the Renegade has a rather high seating position for improved driver visibility, and while the front seats were a bit too flat and unsupportive for my taste, they are comfortable and afford a good steering wheel / pedal relationship.

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On the road, the Renegade offers adequate acceleration and performance and cabin noise is tolerable – it is Jeep, after all, not an S-Class Mercedes. Mashing the throttle, as I did, will stir the 2.4L Tigershark up, but at constant (highway) speeds, it goes about its business relatively quietly.

With just 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft. of torque on tap, the Renegade isn’t the vehicle to dust a slammed import at a stop light, but it’s perfectly fine for day-to-day driving situations. Most of the torque is in the heart of the 2.4’s powerband (3,900 rpm peak), so getting the most out of what’s there isn’t difficult.

Off-road, the Renegade is very much a Jeep. Thanks to Jeep’s slick Selec-Terrain system, which features two dedicated 4x4 settings (lock and low), along with five driving modes (auto, snow, sand, mud and rock – the last being exclusive to the Trailhawk), plus 22 cm (8.7 inches) of ground clearance and a 48 cm (19-inch) wading depth, the Renegade delivers a high degree of off-road capability.

During the week I drove it, the Greater Toronto Area was deluged in rain (about a month’s worth fell in just a few days), which made me wonder whether or not I should take the Renegade on my off-road test trail north of Bowmanville.

I elected to go ahead and the Renegade handled the dirt, mud, ruts and mini-ponds of standing water with aplomb. I felt some trepidation as I approached the first water crossing (about 20 feet long, 12 feet wide and 18 inches deep), but after switching the Renegade into mud mode, I plowed through the crossing with ease.

It was a similar experience with the others that followed, and it made for a fun afternoon. The Renegade didn’t come out as dirty as I was hoping, but I’d say it was a fine 'Trail Rated' experience nevertheless.

Overall, the Renegade is an impressive entry in the Jeep family. While it won’t sell on nostalgia like its siblings, it holds its own on the affordability, versatility and value scales.

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SPECIFICATIONS2017 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk

BASE PRICE / AS TESTED: $33,045 / $40,370 (incl. $1,795 destination)
FINAL ASSEMBLY: Melfi, Italy
ENGINE:
2.4L Tigershark MultiAir 4-cylinder
HORSEPOWER:
180 hp @ 6,400 rpm
TORQUE: 
175 lb-ft. @ 3,900 rpm
CURB WEIGHT:
1,509 kg
CONFIGURATION:
front engine, four-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION: 9-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (L/100 KM - CITY / HWY. / COMB.):
11.2 / 8.2 / 9.8
WARRANTY (MOS. / KM):
60 / 100,000
ALTERNATIVES:
Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Nissan Qashqai, Subaru Crosstrek

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Options

Cold Weather Group ($895)
- front heated seats
- windshield wiper de-icer
- heated steering wheel

Trailer Tow Group ($350)
- class III hitch receiver
- four-pin wiring harness

Passive Entry Remote Start Package (N/C)
- keyless Enter n’ Go w/ push button start
- remote start system

Safety & Security Group ($890)
- tonneau cover
- security alarm
- blind spot / cross path detection

Premium Navigation Group ($1,100)
- GPS navigation
- Uconnect 6.5-inch w/ SiriusXM, hands-free navigation
- 6.5-inch touchscreen
- remote USB port

Popular Equipment Group ($850)
- rear 40/20/40 fold & trunk pass-thru
- auto-dimming rearview mirror
- A/C w/ dual-zone auto. temp control
- power four-way driver lumbar adjust
- Power eight-way driver & manual four-way passenger seats

Accessories and / or Stand Alone Options

Beats Audio premium sound system ($995)
ParkView rear back-up camera ($450)

Total – $5,530

Photography by Lee Bailie

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