The smallest and cheapest Jeep has off-road credibility and an available manual.
There was expected and justified skepticism when the Jeep Renegade made its world premiere at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show. The subcompact crossover was tasked with a difficult job: off-road capabilities and Jeep exterior styling to match. It couldn't look too cute because that's not what Jeep is about, but it also had to make up for lost credibility thanks to the Patriot and first generation Compass. Fortunately, Jeep was now part of Fiat Chrysler and the party responsible for those two "SUVs" was now out of the picture.
FCA had to prove its worth as Jeep's owner, and the Renegade was its first test. After nearly four years on the market, the Jeep Renegade has proven itself time and again. It is the real deal, as far as a subcompact, front-wheel drive-based platform allows. The Renegade turned out to be exactly the right vehicle at the ideal time for Jeep and FCA, and its impressive sales figures prove that. The tiniest Jeep on the road has something most other subcompact crossovers don't: true off-road capability. We really can't emphasize that point enough.
Remember, crossovers are little more than jacked-up sedan-based hatchbacks, typically with extra body cladding and other SUV-like design modifications to give the impression they're tried and true SUVs. A real SUV is essentially a pickup truck with its bed replaced by rear seats and a full roof, and built on a body-on-frame chassis with a solid rear axle and, of course, offers 4WD. The Renegade has nearly none of those essentials, and yet Jeep's talented engineers still managed to turn FCA's FWD "small-wide" platform into something off-road bona fide. Considering the Fiat 500L also shares this platform, engineers performed a small miracle here.
However, if you're really serious about having an off-road capable Renegade, you'll need to option up to the Trailhawk model, which comes standard with a four-wheel-drive system, underbody skid plates, low range/crawl ratio and even red tow hooks. Jeep offers the Renegade with two 4x4 systems, both offering a rear axle disconnect: Jeep Active Drive and Jeep Active Drive Low. The former is fully automatic and delivers yaw correction when required, thus improving understeer and oversteer conditions. Jeep also claims the system can offer "up to 2,000 Nm of the engine's available torque to the rear wheels, enabling optimal grip in low-traction conditions."
For those seeking the most off-road capability possible, Jeep Active Drive Low is needed, and it's standard on the Trailhawk. It offers a 20:1 crawl ratio and adds hill-descent control to the Selec-Terrain system. This system is really a traction management system allowing drivers to adjust traction settings, which include Auto, Snow, Sand and Mud. Power comes from a choice of two engines, the standard turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-four with 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, or the optional naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four with 180 hp and 175 lb-ft. The base engine can be paired to a six-speed manual or a nine-speed automatic, while the 2.4-liter comes only with the nine-speed.
For an extra $1,500, both powertrains can have four-wheel drive. Which engine-transmission combo is better? It depends on what you expect from a vehicle. The base turbo four is pretty good and we're always happy to see a manual available which, in this case, offers precise shifter throws. The NA four is just okay and is nothing particularly special, and comes standard on the Limited and Trailhawk high end trims and optional on Sport, Latitude and Altitude. Some may recall early calibration problems affecting the nine-speed slushbox but those have fortunately been sorted out.
During our previous time at the helm, we took a Renegade off-roading outside of San Francisco and we weren't the only ones impressed; a bunch of 4x4 enthusiasts also stopped to see what this little box was capable of. Those boxy proportions definitely make the Renegade a standout among subcompact crossovers. The styling clearly dictates the Renegade is far more capable off-road than any of its direct competitors. We wouldn't say it's love it or hate it styling, but it's without question unique and oh so very Jeep. Same goes for the interior. It's relatively straightforward, but still maintains a rugged look that was directly inspired by the larger Cherokee and Grand Cherokee.
We particularly like the front passenger grab handle and the optional My Sky removable roof panels (available on all models). For 2018, Jeep redesigned a few interior bits, such as the location of the Selec-Terrain controls. The infotainment systems, a standard 5.0-inch touchscreen, or optional 7.0- or 8.4-inch screens have also been freshened. Apply CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on the Latitude, Limited and Trailhawk trims. Whether this outdoorsy styling appeals to you or not, what can't be debated is the solid amount of interior space available for passengers and cargo. With a base price of $18,445, a nearly fully loaded Trailhawk will top off at in the low $30,000 range.
With its unique styling inside and out, powerful (enough) engines, smart use of interior space and, above all, off-road capabilities, the 2018 Jeep Renegade is the affordable and dirt-loving subcompact crossover of choice.