The Jeep Renegade is so cute, I was genuinely worried its styling would interfere with my objectivity. With all the rugged toughness of a Wrangler, it's the rottweiler puppy of the automotive world. You just want to hug it.
Like the Cherokee (which sells really well despite looking like a cockroach), the Renegade is a transverse-engine crossover. It rides on a new platform that is shared with the Fiat 500X and, despite being about the same size as the Wrangler, is in no way a replacement for that body-on-frame truck. Phew.
Engines are familiar from the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) lineup, starting with a 1.4-liter, 160-hp turbo four. Power is sent to either the front or all four wheels, through a proper six-speed manual transmission. With more than 3000 pounds to lug around, the Renegade won't win many drag races. When the roads get twisty, though, the Jeep turns Italian hot-hatchy.
Yes, really. This adorable trucklet is built in Italy, and it apparently learned a few things before being shipped to the States. The shifter feels great, the brakes are linear, and the steering is precise. With Koni FSD shocks—a pleasant surprise—at each corner, body control is excellent. The Renegade is the first Jeep that willingly carves through canyons in the sports-car sense, not just the truck sense.
WHEN THE ROADS GET TWISTY, THOUGH, THE JEEP TURNS ITALIAN HOT-HATCHY.
With a clatter at idle and a sharp, Osterizer wail at full load, the optional 2.4-liter four makes for a louder Renegade, if not necessarily a faster one. It produces 180 hp and 175 lb-ft and is mated to the same ZF nine-speed automatic we've complained about before. Mercifully, the transmission has been retuned for quicker, smoother responses. As a bonus, the automatic model's extra mass contributes to a better ride.
The Renegade's back seat fits full-size humans (a.k.a. Americans), who can peer at the sky when the optional, and very cool, roof panels are removed. Like most new vehicles, the Renegade is available with a full complement of electronic driver aids, including a steering wheel that does a Tina Turner shimmy if you go near a lane marking. Thankfully, you can switch the system off.
It's the inevitable Trailhawk trim, though, that earns the Renegade the right to wear a Jeep badge. In addition to the big motor, automatic, and 4x4, the Trailhawk gets a suspension lift, revised fascias, and a 20:1 crawl ratio. As you'd expect, it's quite capable off-road.
Surprisingly, the Renegade is also capable on tarmac, although we'll reserve judgment until we drive one off a dealer lot. Not because I was blinded by the styling, but because we've been smitten with preproduction FCA products before, only to be disappointed later. That said, if the production Renegade is as good as the carefully prepped media vehicles I drove, you'll want one.