The Fiat that thinks it's a Jeep
Johannesburg - Unlike the new-generation Cherokee which looks like a Kia, the design of Jeep’s newest and smallest family member, the Renegade, doesn’t stray far from Jeep tradition.
If you removed the badge you’d still instantly recognise those round headlights, seven-slat grille and chunky body shape from old-school Jeep tradition. The funky-looking x-shaped reverse lights are also a nod to Jeep heritage, in that they’re inspired by the military fuel cans used on the original Willys Jeep which served duty in the Second World War.
The brand’s first entry in the small SUV category, the Renegade is the first Fiat Chrysler Automobiles vehicle to be jointly developed by Italian and American designers and engineers, and the first model in Jeep’s history to be built in Italy. It comes in two- and four-wheel drive versions, with a choice of four different engines.
The cynical could argue that the front-wheel-drive versions of the Renegade – which have no dirt-taming aspirations – falsely capitalise on a long-running brand tradition built on offroad prowess, and that they’re merely urban vehicles with ‘designer adventurer’ clothes.
True that, but in reality many SUV owners seldom take their vehicles offroad and the main appeal of such a vehicle is its higher ground clearance and rugged appearance. This is where the two-wheel-drive Renegade comes in, and judging by the proliferation of other 4x2 crossovers like the Nissan Juke, Opel Mokka and Ford Kuga (to mention just a few), buyers are digging the concept.
Tested here is the Jeep Renegade 1.4L T Limited two-wheel drive selling for R375 900 (including a six-year/100 000km maintenance plan), which is one model up from the entry-level Renegade 1.6L Longitude priced at R340 990.
The 1.4L T Limited is powered by cousin Fiat’s multiair turbocharged petrol engine which is also used in the Fiat 500X. The 4x4 version of the Renegade 1.4T produces outputs of 125kW and 250Nm, but in this two-wheel-drive derivative it’s detuned to 103kW/230Nm.
It’s hardly timid though, and has a decent amount of gusto that leaves no unsatisfied power cravings. It’s a smooth and linear power delivery with no bottom-end lag, giving it creditable sea-level claimed performance of a 194km/h top speed and 0-100km/h in 9.3 secs.
The four-cylinder engine’s notably smooth and quiet, with no gruffness. The slickness of the six-speed manual gearshift also makes this an easy car to hustle through busy traffic.
Our test car’s fuel consumption averaged 8.5 litres per 100km over the course of our test, which is decent for the performance on offer but noticeably higher than Jeep’s claim of 6 litres.
An elevated 175mm ground clearance gives this Jeep the ability to tackle rough gravel, without making it handle like a pudding in the corners. The nearly car-like handling is matched to a good ride quality and it all feels nice and solid, without any judders or rattles on rough surfaces.
However, I wasn’t wild about the feel of the steering, and the power assistance felt somewhat rubbery and unnatural.
FUNKY, ROOMY CABIN
The Renegade’s funky-rugged exterior design extends into the cabin, which mixes good-quality materials with some ‘adventure’ detailing such as a grab handle on the passenger-side dashboard. There are some cool styling quirks, such as door speakers imprinted with the Jeep lights-and-grille motif, and the x-style tail lamp motif at the base of the cupholders.
The Italian-American company, which uses a German cabin designer, is making some appealing interiors these days.
This is Jeep’s most compact vehicle but the cabin is just about family-sized. The rear seats are ideal for children, and adequate for adults if the front passengers are charitable about moving their own seats forward. The boot’s a decent-sized 351 litres, expanding to 1 297 litres with the seats folded, and (hooray) there’s a proper full-size spare wheel.
The gadget list is fairly plentiful including a 7” 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. The car also sounds a scolding “beep” every time you exceed 120km/h.
Our test vehicle was fitted with an optional panoramic sunroof, but I didn’t like the the flimsy screen that let in too much light and heat when it was closed.
Jeep’s youngest and smallest family member retains the brand’s adventurous appeal in a more compact and funky-looking package. Along with the street-cred it’s an appealing vehicle with an easy-to-drive nature, but it is rather pricey and there’s no shortage of competitors who do a similar job in a more affordable way.
JEEP VS ITS RIVALS
Jeep Renegade 1.4L T Limited
103kW/230Nm - length 4236mm - ground clearance 175mm - R375 990
Fiat 500X Cross Plus 1.4T
103kW/230Nm - length 4273mm - ground clearance 162mm - R379 900
Ford Kuga 1.5T Trend
110kW/240Nm - length 4524mm - ground clearance 197mm - R365 900
Honda HRV 1.8 Elegance
105kW/172Nm - length 4306mm - ground clearance 170mm - R354 900
Nissan Juke 1.6T Tekna
140kW/240Nm - length 4135mm - ground clearance 180mm - R330 800
Mini Cooper Countryman 1.6
90kW/160Nm - length 4097mm- ground clearance 145mm - R343 283
Opel Mokka 1.4 turbo Cosmo
103kW/200Nm - length 4278mm - ground clearance 131mm - R325 500
Suzuki SX4 1.6 GLX
86kW/156Nm - length 4300mm - ground clearance 175mm - R298 900
VW Tiguan Trend&Fun
118kW/240Nm - length 4426mm - ground clearance 200mm - R371 200
Story: Star Motoring