I'm not the kind of guy to ever turn down a serious bit of off roading – even when I might not be sure that the vehicle in question is really an off-roader. That was the situation when Jeep gave me the nod for a dash to the California coast in late January for some wheel time in its all-new compact-SUV Renegade.
You see, carmakers are always tinkering with their brand in the hope of expanding the customer base. Mainstream brands move upmarket trying to hang on to their customers as long as they can as they grow more affluent. The Kia K900 leaps to mind. Luxury marques keep creating smaller, less pricey vehicles trying to lure younger, less affluent buyers. The strategy is to hook'em early and then hang on to them as they buy ever-more expensive cars. Think: Mercedes CLA and BMW 2 Series.
Creating an all-new entry-level SUV provided Jeep with the opportunity to launch some watered-down pretender to the brand, slapping a bargain-basement price tag on it and luring buyers, who always wanted a Jeep, but couldn't afford it, into buying one.
But, Jeep didn't do that. Nope; the Renegade is a remarkably capable compact SUV with all the Jeep off-road engineering and technology that could be crammed into it. I know this because Jeep didn't pull any punches with its off-roading venue: Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area that's about 50 miles southeast of San Jose.
Jeep provided two courses for testing the Renegade's mettle. One a steep up-hill-down-hill course that not only showcased Renegade's ability to claw its way up a steep grade, but also presented an opportunity to really test its Hill Descent mode. The other course had a wide variety of off-road hazards. Renegade performed brilliantly on both.
Not only did this compact Jeep shine when off the pavement, it was pretty impressive grabbing the asphalt on road, too. Composed and pretty damn nimble for an off-road slugger, Renegade proved to be surprisingly agile in the twisties.
Shoppers have two engine choices: a 160-horsepower 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder in the Sport and Latitude trims, and a 180-horsepower 2.4-liter Tigershark four-cylinder standard in the Limited and Trailhawk trims. A six-speed manual is standard in 2WD and 4x4 Renegades with the 1.4L engine; while a nine-speed automatic comes standard with the 2WD and 4x4 2.4L. Jeep has yet to disclose fuel-economy numbers, but promises highway fuel economy of at least 30 mpg for the 2.4L.
The Trailhawk gets Jeep's Active Drive Low 4WD system with a crawl mode. Other trim levels use the Jeep Active Drive ($2,000 option). Both include Jeep Selec-Terrain with the choice of modes, such as Snow and Mud.
There is nothing cheesy about the interior. It's well assembled and comfortable. Everything is logically located. The A-pillar is thicker than most and does somewhat hamper outward vision, but it's an understandable compromise helping Renegade achieve its structural rigidity. A two-piece “My Sky” sunroof can be removed, opening much of the roof to the open air.
There's lots of standard and available technology. Chrysler's Uconnect with a five-inch touchscreen is standard on all but the base Sport model, as is a rearview camera.
Base pricing begins at $17,995 for the 2WD Sport and works its way up to $25,995 for the 4x4 Trailhawk. Renegades will begin trickling into showrooms in late February.
Jeep hosted this little Renegade hoedown at the Hotel Valencia Santana Row in San Jose. I flew in and out of San Francisco's airport, roughly 45 minutes away. Characterized by large guest rooms and friendly service, Hotel Valencia is in the trendy Santana Row district. The area is composed of restaurants, upscale shopping and pricey residences.
On night one, Jeep staged dinner at the SP2 Restaurant. The food was good and the bar sported a couple of decent ryes, which the bartenders encouraged us to sample. The second night was right up my alley: LB Steakhouse. I do like red meat and the steak was grilled to perfection.
|The bar at SP2.|
I guess if I were to sum up Renegade I'd say, it may be small in size, but it's huge in heart and capability.