By: Denis Droppa
Johannesburg - The Two-wheel-drive versions of the Jeep Renegade could be compared to bearded hipsters, those so-called lumbersexuals who parade bushy facial foliage but are far more likely to clutch briefcases than axes.
The all-wheel-drive Renegade Trailhawk is a different story, however, and metaphorically knows which end of the hatchet to hold. It’s the most rugged and offroad-capable Renegade and much more in tune with the American brand’s all-terrain heritage. There’s a “Trail Rated” badge on the tailgate to prove it.
The Renegade is built on the same platform as the Fiat 500L, an offspring of the American-Italian merger of the two automotive companies. This range-topping Trailhawk 4x4 version retails for R486 900 (including a 6-year/100 000km Premium Maintenance Plan), making it the most affordable Jeep with genuine mud-mauling abilities. For comparison, the next most expensive Jeep, the Wrangler Sahara, costs100 grand more.
It’s a proper off-roader, but...
That makes this 4x4 Renegade seem like a good buy, although there are some lumps that spoil the porridge a bit. We’ll get to those in a moment, but as for that all-important offroad ability the Renegade Trailhawk takes to an offroad course with the enthusiasm of a Gupta to a government contract.
This is courtesy of a Selec-Terrain system that offers high- and low-range plus a selection of five modes: Auto, Snow, Sand, Mud and Rock that, at the flick of a switch, adapts the drivetrain to most surfaces you’re likely to encounter on trails. Suspension is independent at both ends with MacPherson struts front and rear, and this Jeep has all the generous clearances to scale rocks and hills, including a 210mm ride height, a 30-degree approach, 23.5-degree breakover and 34-degree departure angle. Good numbers in any offroad enthusiast’s book.
The Trailhawk also wears proper all-terrain boots; a set of 215/65R17 mud and snow tyres which, apart from being grippy, deliver a comfortable ride due to their high profile. For proper adventure driving, underbody protection is not skimped on either, with skid plates for the transfer-case and transmission.
Off the tar the Trailhawk’s generally quite idiot-proof. Switching between the different offroad modes is done by pressing buttons and there aren’t levers to manhandle. Via Hill Descent Control and Selec-Speed Control, the driver’s also able to hand over the throttle and brake functions to the vehicle, a convenience that lets this Jeep automatically guide itself at a safe snail’s pace through rough turf.
Rugged exterior, funky cabin
The Trailhawk has the requisite adventure look with its rugged design. Unlike the new Cherokee which seems to have some Kia Sportage in its parentage, the Renegade channels old-school Jeep tradition with its boxy shape, round headlights, and trapezoidal wheel arches - and of course that seven-slat grille.
Some of these design elements playfully decorate the Renegade’s interior, including the Jeep lights-and-grille motif on the speakers, but the Trailhawk cabin differentiates itself from lesser Renegade models with striking black and red accents. There’s also an illustration of the Moab Desert in Utah (scene of the annual Jeep 4x4 Safari) on the mat located in the middle storage slot.
We like the work Jeep’s done to the cabin. It has an upmarket feel with a stylish and rugged vibe, with a passenger grab handle in the dash.
For a compact SUV the interior space is just about acceptable, and adults can sit in the rear without their limbs going numb. The boot’s a decent-sized 351 litres, expanding to 1 297 litres with the seats folded, and there’s a full-size spare wheel.
The Trailhawk comes standard with a tow hook, and a removable/rechargeable torch in the boot.
The gadget list is fairly plentiful including a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth connectivity and voice control, dual-zone automatic aircon, a parking sensor, and cruise control.
Standard safety spec includes ABS brakes, six airbags, lane-departure warning, tyre-pressure monitors, and Forward Collision Mitigation plus.
A lane-keeping system provides a visual and audible warning when the vehicle starts drifting out of a lane, and assists the driver with corrective steering action if necessary.
A none-too-pleasant feature is the over-sensitive blind-spot warning system, which sounds shrill warning beeps when you indicate to change lanes and there’s another car even remotely in the vicinity.
Drivetrain is the weakest link
The weak part of the package is the drivetrain. The oomph from the 137kW/232Nm 2.4-litre normally-aspirated petrol engine is semi-respectable, but it doesn’t make a happy pairing with a hyperactive nine-speed auto transmission which is always shuffling gears.
Its worst habit is pausing for a lunch break when you put foot for a quick overtake. When it finally kicks down you’ve often long missed your gap in the traffic.
The engine’s noisy and not in a charismatic way, just a loud four-cylinder bellow. Also, it’s a thirsty bugger, with our test vehicle averaging 11.4 litres per 100km.
We far preferred the 1.4 turbopetrol manual version we tested several months ago in the two-wheel-drive Renegade, but this drivetrain’s not available in the Trailhawk.
The Trailhawk is the proper mud-plugging version of the Renegade, with all the offroad ability promised by the iconic Jeep badge. Combined with rugged looks and a decent pricetag and it has the makings of a great adventure vehicle.
Its unhappy engine/gearbox combo puts a dampener on the experience though, and a decent drivetrain could really bring it out of its shell.
Jeep Renegade 2.4L 4x4 Trailhawk
Engine: 2.4-litre, 4-cylinder petrol
Gearbox: 9-speed automatic
Power: 137kW @ 6250rpm
Torque: 232Nm @ 3900rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 9.8 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 180km/h
Price: R486 900
Warranty: 3-year / 100 000km
Maintenance plan: 6-year / 100 000km