What the new Jeep Renegade lacks in size it more than makes up for in attitude.
Launched in South Africa this week, Jeep's new baby brings some muscular vibes to the compact 'softroader' segment. Its squared off external lines simply ooze American machismo, as if it wants to be a Hummer when it grows up.
Yet step inside and the badge on the steering wheel is really the only evidence that you're in a Jeep. It's a really delectable blend of style and chic with its soft-touch surfaces and funky design elements said to be inspired by extreme sports equipment. Jeep even offers three distinct interior colour combos, including one with Anodized Orange accents and stitching.
Of course, we have to credit the Italians for this snazzy cabin and even for the way it drives. You see this Jeep is built in Italy by Fiat and is based around the FCA group's small-wide 4x4 architecture. No need to dig up that trail atlas though as initially this Jeep is only available in front-wheel drive form, although Jeep promises to have a pair of four-wheel drive models, including the more off-road focused Trailhawk, in showrooms later this year.
The Gauteng launch route literally took us on an urban pavement hopping expedition in the 2WD model, but then we did at least get to test it out on a relatively mild off-road trail with some dongas that would likely have sunk an ordinary passenger car. With its 175mm of ground clearance and abundant low-down torque this Jeep gobbled up the dilapidated dirt path with ease. I got to stretch its legs outside the city too, where its quiet, well-insulated cabin stood out. The suspension is a touch firm, albeit still comfortable enough, and this car has a taut, almost European feel to it, right down to the solid action of the six-speed gearbox that's fitted to the initial launch model.
Which brings us to the fact that the Renegade also has an Italian heart. This comes in the form of Fiat's 1.4-litre Multiair turbopetrol that's good for 103kW and 230Nm. According to Fiat, it'll run to 100km/h in 9.3 seconds and sip 6.0 litres per 100km on the combined cycle. The performance it dishes up is adequate as long as you're willing to stir the six-speed manual gearbox but I do suspect that the forthcoming 81kW/152Nm 1.6-litre normally aspirated model might struggle a bit at altitude.
This addition, along with an 88kW/320Nm 1.6-litre turbodiesel, an all-wheel drive 1.4T with 125kW/250Nm and 137kW/236Nm 2.4-litre normally aspirated Trailhawk off-road version, is expected to become available by September this year. The latter two will come with nine-speed automatic gearboxes.
The 1.4T that you can buy now comes in 'Limited' specification, packing dual zone climate control, cruise control, lane departure warning and a touch-screen infotainment system. Hurry to your nearest dealer and you might bag one of the limited-edition launch models, which give you leather seats and satnav on the house, along with an upgrade from 17- to 18-inch alloys.
Not that such deal-sweetening really makes up for the exorbitant price tag of R375 990. Though it's sized closer to the B-segment crossovers, albeit still reasonably practical, the Renegade is priced against upper-end C-segment pavement hoppers.
Sure, it's a great little ride, but be prepared to pay a hefty premium for that trendy Jeep badge and funky interior.
1.6 Longitude - R340 990*
1.4T Limited - R375 990
1.6 TD Limited - R389 990*
1.4T Limited AWD - R435 990*
2.4 Trail Hawk 4x4 - R450 990*
* Available later in 2015
Prices include a six-year/100 000km maintenance plan.