Jeep Renegade

Funked-up junior SUV moves to an urban groove

STEPHEN CORBY

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

IF YOU marketed a watch as being able to keep perfect time on Mars, or inside a volcano, there are some credulous fools who would buy it, just as who would buy it, just as there are people who will snap up the Trailhawk version of Jeep’s new, Dinky-toy variant, the Fiat-built Renegade.

The idea of a shopping-cartsized SUV that can tackle any trail (although not the famous Jeep-testing Rubicon, apparently) seems patently absurd, like sending a toddler to climb Everest, but there are people who will buy this rugged Renegade variant, just so they can point out to friends what it’s capable of.

To be fair, they’ll buy it because they like its tougher looks, higher ride height, bonnet stripes and shiny red tow hook.

Fortunately, even by Jeep’s own estimations, only 10-15 percent of Renegaders will opt for this $41,500 not-off-roader, despite the fact that it’s the only variant that comes with four-wheel drive and an almost passable 129kW/230Nm 2.4-litre ‘Tigershark’ atmo four. Yes, we did say $41,500. Jeep’s ‘sell ’em cheap’ pricing policy seems to have gone west with Renegade.

The other Renegade that almost no one will buy (fewer than 10 percent, which is probably an optimistic claim) is the $29,500 showroom-bait 1.6-litre ‘E-torq’ five-speed manual.

Most buyers will therefore likely opt for the $32,500 dual-clutch Sport, which comes with a Fiatsourced 1.4-litre turbo-petrol that makes 103kW/230Nm and goes up hills about as breezily as a cyclist with his feet tied together (0-100km/h times are, perhaps unsurprisingly, “untested”).

You might be tempted to call this 1.4 turbo underpowered, except that the 1.6 offers even less, at just 81kW and 152Nm.

The Renegade is not exciting to drive because it favours bodyroll and understeer, but its steering is at least better than traditional Jeep offerings.

Also on the plus side, it looks fabulous and feels much better fitted-out inside, although the buzzing and rattling noises from dashboard and trim on our test car were a concern.

While it looks small and cute, the Renegade is surprisingly roomy inside (the roofline is higher than a Cherokee), with excellent rear legroom, though boot space is marginal.

The new Jeep Renegade is very much a city SUV. While the Trailhawk version can hack some proper off-roading, I still managed to bog one in a cane field. But Jeep says 90 percent of sales will not have 4WD, so that won’t bother the market for this car at all.

They’re buying an image, the idea of off-road toughness, and they’ll buy it in droves. At any price.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Jeep Renegade Sport 1368cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 103kW @ 5500rpm 230Nm @ 1750rpm 6-speed dual-clutch 1295kg 10.0sec (estimated) 5.9L/100km $32,500 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Opportunistic pricing; no high-power 125kW 1.4 turbo for Oz Interior room; cool design; steering better than Jeeps of old

If not this, what?

THE Renegade sits at the premium end of the compact SUV segment, meaning direct competitors are thin on the ground. Mazda’s CX-3 (from $19,990) is the classy leader of the small SUV brigade, and Honda’s slightly offbeat-looking HR-V (from $24,990) is the other obvious alternative, but neither really compete directly with the Jeep’s style or pricing. People buying the Renegade will see it as having no rivals at all; okay, maybe a Mini Countryman, but no one buys them.