Car Reviews

2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk review

Robert Pepper’s 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and rating.

In a nutshell: A small, stylish and safe SUV that lets you stand out from, and then drive away from, the crowd.

2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk

PRICE :  $41,500 (+ORC) WARRANTY : 3 years / 100,000 km SAFETY : ANCAP NOT TESTED, EURO NCAP 5 star tesTed in 2014 ENGINE : 2.4L 4-CYL POWER : 129kW @ 6400 rpm TORQUE : 230 Nm @ 4400 rpm  TRANSMISSION : 9-speed Auto DRIVE : SELEC-TErrain ADAPTIVE TERRAIN SYSTEM with JEEP ACTIVE DRIVE LOW, on-DEMAND 4WD  BODY :  4259 mm (L);  1805 mm (W);  1697 mm (H) TURNING CIRCLE :  10.8 m Wheelbase :  2570mm GROUNd CLEARANCE : 211mm : APproach / RAMP / DEPArTURE ANGLES : 30.5 / 25.7 / 34.3 Wading depth 480 mm WEIGHT :  1550 kg SEATS :TOWING : 907kg braked / 400kg unbraked FUEL TANK : 48 litres SPARE :  FULL-SIZE ALLOY THIRST : 7.5 L/100km ADR81/02 combined cycle FUEL : 91RON PETROL

Editor's Rating

How we rated the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk
Practical Motoring Says: The Renegade Trailhawk lives up to Jeep's proud offroad heritage with superb off-road capability that surprises even experienced off-roaders. It is also distinctively stylish, safe and functional. If that's what you want and the pricetag doesn't bother you, then take a closer look but also be aware that this vehicle is not near the top oft he class for onroad dynamics or driving enjoyment.

We also have an in-depth look at the Renegade Trailhawk’s technical features and a comparison between the Trailhawk and other small offroaders.

UPDATE: as of January 2016 Jeep have dropped prices and offered a cashback.

Design

Plastic-fantastic soft-roaders are ten a penny. Most of them look like variations on a theme, they drive with blandly unexciting competence and are advertised with the same hopelessly ambitious cliches about adventurous design.  But then there’s Jeep, one of the few companies that consistently delivers true offroad vehicles.  Any time Jeep releases a new product, the off-road world pays attention. Especially when it’s a Trailhawk.   IMG_4384   Jeep, like its specialist rival Land Rover, is very much moving into what are in effect roadcars – low clearance, 2WD, no recovery points.  This is done to increase sales and profit, as well as get lower fuel consumption figures across the brand.  Some see this expansion away from offroading as pragmatic necessity, others as a betrayal of brand values, and some others welcome it but they’re kind of weird.  That discussion is for another time, but what’s important here is the Trailhawk name, which is what Jeep is putting on offroad-oriented versions of their vehicles.  There was a time when all Jeeps were off-road-capable, but that’s in the past.   The Renegade manages to look different to pretty much all of its rivals, which is a credit to Jeep.  There’s the seven-slot grille, the flares around the wheels, the distinctive rear lights with the jerrycan motif, and the boxy shape.  We got plenty of interested looks during our week-long test drive.    RMP_4753   Americans are not noted for subtlety and Jeep has done the usual badging and bling, creating what they term “Easter Eggs” which are little design features denoting off-roady-ness or Jeep-ness.    There is fake mud on the tacho (apparently inspired by a paintball event), a little Willys Jeep on the windscreen, Trail Rated badges here and there, tyre tread patterns on the floormats, “SINCE 1941” on the dash in block stencil caps (because 4WD), one of the rubber inserts is a map of the famed Moab offroad area… you get the idea.     

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The tail light design X is from a jerrycan. As demonstrated. You’re welcome, Proquip.  There are other Xes elsewhere, clearly Jeep like them quite a lot.

  A quick poll of mostly Aussie readers on our Facebook page indicated that readers thought it “yeah, nah mate”, so I asked our token American Person to explain, a fellow so American he willingly eats peanut butter and jam sandwiches.  He tells me that as this is the first Jeep to be built outside the USA that Jeep has gone overboard with making sure everybody knows it’s still a gosh-darned freedom-loving, god-fearing all-American vehicle. Maybe also because the driveline is entirely designed and manufactured by the British company GKN, which is a good thing, they do a much better job than, say, Haldex. Oh, and the suspension is Dutch, by Koni.   Anyway, whatever the reason, you’re either going to love or hate all the extra bling.   I don’t mind it too much, as it’s different and doesn’t affect the car’s considerable capability.  Except for the fake mud.  That I don’t like.

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So how big is this Renegade?  It is 4.2m long, 1.8m wide and 1.7m high (approx) and a wheelbase of 2.57m.  This makes it bigger than a Suzuki Jimny which is 3.6 / 1.6 / 1.7m.  As a comparison, the 3-door Suzuki Grand Vitara is 4.1 / 1.8 / 1.7, and the 5-door is 4.5 / 1.8 / 1.7.  The other “small” softroaders like the RAV4 and Outlander are growing fatter every five minutes, so it’s good to see this car is actually small.

Room & practicality

A bit above average for the class of vehicle – actual design of seats and space is average, but there are lots of little touches which lift the car above the mainstream. 

Up front there’s a glovebox, and sidepockets fit only for drinks, but there’s a cubby at the base of the dash, and a decent centre console that’ll take a handheld radio.  There are two more drinks holders in the centre, sensibly designed like so much on this vehicle as they have rubber inserts which grip the bottles.

In the back there’s a 40/60 split, with a fold-down table that opens up the back a bit too.  Dual seatpockets on the front row.  The second row seats don’t fold down quite flat, but the two outer ones are comfortable for adults and the centre one isn’t too bad either.

The rear has a removable parcel shelf, and there’s a false floor which is easily removed to reveal a full-sized spare (yay, Jeep!).  There is a 12v socket in the back, and not one but two lights.  These are small but important features you don’t find on all SUVs, and fitting for the price and the Jeep name.  Good to see.

As you can see, a set of four Maxtrax doesn’t fit in the back unless a seat is folded down.  Japanese manufacturers ensure a set of golf bags can fit in sportscars – 4X4 manufacturers should ensure a set of Maxtrax fits in the back of 4X4s.  However there are four good solid tie-downs located in the right positions (two visible below), and recessed. Little things done right.

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Overall, the Renegade is properly practical for a small SUV but not market-leading.

On the inside

The interior is well designed and far more interestingly stylish than the average SUV in this class, and that’s despite, not because, of all the Jeep bling.

The colours are coordinated, the controls are simple to use functional dials that don’t let style override function, nothing is hidden, everything is arranged logically.  It is a job well done and a refreshing change from the tedious Japanese interiors.

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There are premium little touches such as soft lights in the sidepockets and around the drinks holders.

The uConnect infotainment system is excellent.  Responsive, intuitive, lots of features and feels integrated with the rest of the car.  Swearword count while using it – 0.  The centre dash display is clear, modern and shows lots of useful information, and it cross-connects with uConnect for phone, nav and the like.  The voice control works effectively, and the car readily reads text messages.  It’s all good, and I only wish all other vehicles had similar setups.

The sound system is from Beats.  In the space of an hour three people under 15 examined the Jeep and all were hugely impressed by the presence of the Beats logo.  Nobody else knew what it was.  That’s a win for Jeep marketing I guess.

As usual with Jeep there are hidden controls at the back of the steering wheel for volume and menu selection.  Easy to use and means less clutter on the front of the steering wheel.

Our test car had a massive sunroof with removable panels to blank it out (something Jeep did well with the Cherokee).  There’s also a white shade that is electrically operated, and you can even have it open.  If you like sunroofs you’ll like this one.

Performance, ride and handling

Around town: Small SUVs are normally great around-town cars but on this score the Renegade is far from the best.  Front visibility is marred by A-pillars the size of oak trees, matched in size only by the pointlessly gigantic C-pillar so rear visibility is not great either.  And then we find the car is not exactly overpowered.  But the worst problem is the gearbox, which while having nine speeds to choose from always seems to be somewhat startled by corners.   Finally, handling is a bit indistinct, specifically the steering which lacks feel through over-assistance, not helped by the chassis which isn’t the most dynamically exciting to come out of the USA, and there’s a bit too much torque through the front wheels which doesn’t help with the steering feel or neutrality around corners. You can chirp a front wheel out of a sharp corner and that should never happen in anything all wheel drive.   On the positive side of things the suspension handles anything yet offers a comfortable ride, and the reversing camera is great, which mitigates the rear visibility issues to some degree. The headlights are excellent, and have a turn-assist function that illuminates an extra light in the direction of turn so you can easily see where you’re going around tight corner   The Renegade Trailhawk works around town, but isn’t a zippity-quick towncar SUV or what you’d call fun. Its talents lie elsewhere.

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Not on the roads that showcase its best talent.

On the open road: 

This is where the Renegade starts to really starts feel underpowered, and the gearbox still doesn’t help matters. For example, it’s always seeming to kick down out of corners.  There was one occasion when we were in a hurry and from the passenger seat I asked my partner to get a move on.  “My foot”, she intoned, “is already welded to the floor” as we whirred our way up an incline. 

There is a manual mode on the gearbox but it’s hopeless, the car refuses to change gear until it’s in precisely the right rev range.  You may as well leave it in Drive and just hope for the best.  Still, the vehicle is stable and an easy cruiser at higher speeds.  You won’t enjoy twisty roads with that vague steering, lack of power and gearbox though.  It’s amazing that Jeep have managed to make a 1550kg car with a 2.4L engine and a modern 9-speed auto this uninspiring on road, but they’ve managed it.

Off-road:

This section gets a bit technical and assumes you know your HDC from your RTI, so you might want to first have a read of our Jeep Renegade Trailhawk: technical analysis. If you want the summary – the Renegade Trailhawk is bloody good off-road, will whip anything else in its class and is more than enough off-roader for casual owners who are looking for a bit of sand fun or rough-road access to activities like mountain biking, rogaining or whatever other weird things people do in state forests that don’t involve cars.

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The Jeep Renegade Trailhawk is a highly capable off-road vehicle that is a credit to Jeep’s proud history in off-road vehicles. Oh, and it’s a bundle of fun too. 

The engine is tractable, clearances are better than they look and gearing is acceptably low.  But the real secret to the car’s success is its superb traction control system.  Barely will a wheel spin before it is braked, and then the car moves on. It’s one of the best systems on the market, and while in rocky terrain it’s not as good as a cross-axle locker it’s yet another indication that lockers will soon be replaced entirely by traction control (yeah, shoot me now or wait for the article where I explore this in more detail).

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This is impressive for a small vehicle without low range. It requires low-speed control, and either good suspension flex or good traction control. The Renegade has the latter. Plenty of small SUVs wouldn’t have the clearance to handle this, or the traction.

While I’m on the subject of upsetting traditionalists let’s address the wheel travel. Jeep say there’s plenty of it – every other sentence in their press releases goes on about suspension when they aren’t repeating 20:1 crawl ratio like it’s a prayer – but out in real life there’s next to no flex, so instantly many people write off the car’s chances. 

But they are wrong. Back in the day one wheel in the air meant wheelspin and no progress, but not today with traction control as good as Jeep’s.  Yes, it is better to keep all four wheels firmly on the ground for stability, but it’s no longer as necessary as it was before.

And the disadvantages of long-travel, flexible suspension are that when cross-axled the chassis ends up lower to the ground, as well as reduced stability on sideslopes. Shorter, independent suspension avoids those two problems. The bottom line is that there are pros and cons which can be argued till the campfire is dark red, but the fact remains the Renegade Trailhawk is a damn capable bit of kit even with its lack of flex. 

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However, the car isn’t perfect.  The turning circle of 10.8m is a bit too large for the car.  The visibility is not very good, as Jeep has followed the American style of smallish windows high up.  And there are two major transmission flaws which disappointed us.

The first one is that while the Renegade is a primarily front-drive vehicle with a lock button to bring the rear axle into play, with a nominal 50/50 torque split, it’s not actually a proper lock.  Drive remains biased to the front, and this can be seen where the front wheels ever so slightly spin and slip and the rears don’t help as much as they should, and then the front of the car slips.  I have seen this many a time in on-demand systems, and the Jeep’s on demand system is good for what it is, but a bit more of a 50/50 torque split (or even 40/60) would fix this.  We took the car to the Hill of Truth and found that it didn’t spin both front wheels and leave the rears rotating, and didn’t lock both fronts when reversing down either.  So we didn’t roll the car, and that’s a good result.

The second problem is more serious, and that is the car’s tendency to decide it won’t give you any more power.  Here for example:

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Photographed a split second before the wheels stopped spinning, the car decided that no matter how far we pressed the throttle it would not turn the wheels. It wasn’t out of clearance, and there were no signs of overheating. Just had enough, and this is something we’ve seen with many other no-low-range offroaders, including VW’s Amarok.  Low range isn’t dead yet, even if it is being measured up for a coffin. We also found the same effect on a steep hill. 

This is not good, because any 4X4 should turn the wheels in response to the throttle no matter what situation you’re in.  We didn’t have a chance to drive the Renegade in deep sand or snow, but the last thing you want there is the car restricting your throttle input.  Again, this throttle-limit feature is by no means unusual in softroaders, but as this is a Jeep, and a Jeep with “Trailhawk” written on the side then the bar is raised and I don’t consider this behaviour acceptable.  In practice, you’ll still get places but you may need momentum you wouldn’t otherwise have required and that starts to raise risks of damage, particularly given the limited clearances of the Renegade.

Here’s a short video which shows the effectiveness of the traction control and hill descent control.  The hill couldn’t be crawled up, insufficient traction because of the loose surface and ruts.

Back onto the positives now with the hill descent control (HDC) system.  Here again I need to upset the traditionalists and say that the electronics will do a better job of bringing the car slowly down a steep hill than you can, and indeed the Renegade sans low range is a better hill descender than many cars with low range.  This HDC is the same brilliant system as fitted to the other Jeeps, and it works smoothly and effectively down to 2km/h, braking individual wheels to achieve the set speed.  The descent speed is set simply by the driver – the system maintains whatever speed it is at when you remove your feet from the pedals, so if you want to speed up touch the accelerator, want to slow down touch the brakes, and when done feet off (well, just hover) and the car will do the rest.

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HDC is highly effective. Does a better job than you can.

The Renegade is reasonably well set up for offroading – the underbody is quite well protected, but the exhuast is vulnerable as it is set a bit too low and will scrape. We’d also like a bit more approach angle with a redesign of the front lip which is prone to damage. Otherwise it’s all fairly well tucked up, and the sills are protected to some degree by hard plastic which won’t survive a rock hit but will handle scrapes.  Like it’s doing in the photo.

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Looks good under here except for the exhaust which had a good scraping before we got the car, and we added our own on top of that. Note the bashplates ahead of the rear axle. At the front it’s a bit plasticky.

The wheels are 17-inch, and that’s too large a rim for a tyre.

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Here are the 17s at 22psi… that rim is far too close to the ground. It seems that 215/70/16 seem to fit which is an overall diameter of 707mm compared to the factory 215/60/17 with 690mm, so extra clearance of 9mm to improve on the factory’s 211mm to about 220mm which is now looking very good indeed.  But of course the low gearing takes a slight hit, a worthwhile tradeoff we’d suggest.

For some reason the tyres are directional.  This is just silly for a recreational offroader because then you can’t swap tyres left to right and your spare (full-size alloy) is set up for one side of the vehicle only.  We asked Jeep:

Q: Why are directional tyres fitted when they cannot be swapped left/right?

A: The unidirectional tread pattern maximises tyre performance. If tyre rotation is required to maximise the life of a ‘set’ of tyres then front to rear swapping is possible. If after a puncture its necessary to fit a tyre the wrong way round it is possible to do so and continue driving. However, tyre performance will be reduced and to benefit completely from the unidirectional tread it is advised to restore all tyres to the correct direction as soon as possible.

That will require pulling the tyre off the rim, flipping it, refitting and rebalancing.  My suggestion is just to buy a good set of bi-directional all-terrains instead in at least extra-load (XL) carcass construction if not light-truck. Directionals are fine for high-performance comp trucks or sportscars (I run them on my 86) but not for cars like this.

Jeep have Selec-Terrain in the Renegade and as I’ve found in previous tests it’s hard to work out why they bother.  It doesn’t really make very much difference – the benchmark in this respect for adaptive terrain systems is still Land Rover with Terrain Response.  Even the throttle response between Sand and Snow is little different, but the car does hold gears longer in Sand.  The traction control settings (read here for more on this tech) are presumably changed, but don’t make much difference.  What does make a difference is engaging 4WD Lock as compared to Auto.

On the subject of the transmission you can’t directly force a pull away in second gear – if you try to select second using the manual override it refuses.  However, the car will automatically select second in some situations such as when Low is not engaged, or some Selec-Terrain modes like Snow.  With the low button selected (not low range!) the gearbox still exhibits the cat-like indifference to driver commands we found in high range.  Luckily, in offroad situations you very rarely need to override the car’s own choice of gear.

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I’m not quite sure how she managed to get the tail out up this hill but anyway the response is correct – look where you want to go, keep the steering wheels pointing where you want to go and be prepared for the snap back.

One good note is that the Renegade never showed any signs of distress.  No overheating transaxles, transmissions or anything else.  It just kept on driving and driving and driving, whereas even if other SUVs had made it over the same ground they would have needed a rest or dribbled their fluids out in sheer terror after leaving a trail of plastic trim all over the bush.  Nothing broke either, although we added to the scuff marks.

You cannot underestimate the value of engineering a good solid offroader, and that takes precedence over sheer offroad capability.  Luckily, this car has both.

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Out of ground clearance. 211mm isn’t bad. The plastic underbody is prone to scrapes though.

Overall, the Renegade is a capable offroad vehicle by any standards, and particularly so in its segment of small SUVs as opposed to more focused vehicles like the Jimny and Wrangler.

We have a technical analysis of the Renegade here, but we do need to talk about recovery points.  Spot the difference in the photos above and below:

US-spec Trailhawk with two front tow hooks, missing from the AU version.

Yes, two bright red recovery points at the front are missing on Aussie versions.  Now these hooks might look like more Jeep bling, but they’re not.  They are very, very important.  You see, if a 4X4 gets bogged (and they all do) then you need to recover it, and these hooks are rated to 1.5x the vehicle’s GVM.  The silly little screw-in eyes supplied in most vehicles are not up to the mark, hence you need good solid recovery points like these which are also painted red in accordance with offroad motorsport conventions.

We asked Jeep:

Q: Why don’t Aussie models get a front recovery point?  How should the vehicle be recovered forwards in the event of it being stuck?

A: The recovery hook for Australian-spec Jeep Renegades are located at the rear of the vehicle. As such, any recovery equipment needs to be attached at the rear recovery point.

So there you go, no front recovery… you can make your own mind up on their response without my saying anything. Let’s just hope someone figures out how to fit the points, but I suspect our silly nanny-state regulations are to blame for their deletion.

Touring

You could absolutely go offroad touring in a Trailhawk, but it suffers from the usual Jeep problem of high fuel consumption and small fuel tank. You only get 48L which is fine for the lighter 2WD versions, but you can expect more than to 10L/100km when loaded and in mixed conditions so it’s about 350-500km before you see the fuel light come on, and that’s just not far enough for Aussie conditions. I did a commute in slow but flowing freeway traffic with a bit of slower speed stuff either end, and returned 10.5L/100km, whereas other cars of this size would be more like 6-7.  

Dirt-road handling is competent but not fun.  The suspension is great but the steering and inability to balance the car with power in a selected gear, and the front-drive bias all add up to a bit of a yawn.  This is not fun like a Subaru Forester or Outback.

Otherwise the car is comfortable, spacious for its size, has a full-sized spare and will handle lots of tracks marked “4WD Only”. In fact I’d go so far as to say all tourist-class tracks as distinct from tracks you go on just for the hell of it.  But remember to ignore the odd looks you’ll get from owners of lifted Nissans and Toyotas, and yeah mate, that car WILL get down there… and back!

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The Renegade caught in its natural environment, but not too far away from the nearest servo.

Towing

We didn’t tow with the Renegade and to be honest neither will many owners.  It’s a mere 907kg braked towing, and 600kg unbraked, not great for a 2.4L engine with 9 speeds that weighs 1550kg, although that major issue with towing is typically overheating of engine and/or transmission.   That capacity is about enough for a small camper trailer.  We’d also expect fuel consumption to jump, and with that small fuel tank you might want to put a jerrycan or two of juice on the trailer.  The front-wheel drive Renegades tow 1400kg which is better.

Safety

Depending on which press release you read the Rengade has 60 or 70 safety features, which sounds impressive but when you realise that these are two of them:

Express up/down windows: One-touch powered express up/down window button located on the front driver and passenger-side door

Global position sensor (GPS): Used for navigation guidance and electronic vehicle tracking

Then it’s really just making up a long list for the sake of it.  But that said, the Renegade is definitely near the top of the class for safety because it has all the usual safety features such as ABS, electronic brake distribution and side airbags, and even a few active tech features that are still a bit unusual in this segment.   Even better, these safety features are implemented very well.  Here’s the reversing camera and sensor:

The reversing camera is very clear, and not only has guidelines that move with the steering wheel but there’s a centreline too.  Not seen a better camera on any vehicle.

There’s three child restraints, plus ISOFIX tethers in the rear seat.  Front seatbelts are height-adjustable.  There’s Lane Sense Assist which detects when the car is about to drift outside the white lines, and then it’ll straighten up for you.  There are a few settings, and on Early / High it is quite severe, turning the wheel almost 10 degrees.  If you let it happen a second time the car yells at you to put your hand back on the steering wheel and beeps in annoyance. Very cool.  However, it can be intrusive so there is an off switch and you can reduce the sensitivity.   Regardless, it’s one of the best such systems I’ve used.

There’s also blind spot warning with Rear Cross Park Detection.  Again this works well, and the car beeps if it reckons you’re indicating to move into a danger zone.  It is a bit too conservative though, and the beep cuts the radio sound so you can’t hear your DJ as you cut someone up.  The beep can be switched off.

There’s also a tyre pressure monitoring system (excellent) which is standard in the USA and not here for some reason.  And even though the Renegade Trailhawk has a miserable 907kg tow rating it has trailer stability control to keep the trailer from turning the towcar upside down.

There’s also a full-sized spare under a removable compartment too:

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The Renegade has not been ANCAP tested but has scored well in Euro NCAP with a 5-star rating. We expect it to do well over here too.

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Horribly thick A-pillar blocks your view.

Overall, the Renegade is definitely above average for safety both on features and how well those features work.

Pricing & Equipment

There’s just one Renegade Trailhawk spec.  The other Renegades aren’t designed for offroading because they’re all front-drive only, but here’s the list anyway with what each model grade adds:

  • Sport – 1.6 – 81kW, front wheel drive, 5-speed manual, 6-speed auto, $29,500
  • Sport – 1.4L turbo – 103kW front wheel drive, 5-speed manual, 6-speed auto, $32,500
  • Longtitude – 1.4L turbo – 103kW front wheel drive, 6-speed auto, adds blind spot monitoring, reverse camera, more speakers, 17″ wheels, auto headlights, dual-zone aircon, $34,500
  • Limited – 1.4L turbo – 103kW front wheel drive, 6-speed auto – adds Uconnect radio with 6.5″ screen, satnav, HID headlights, 7″ touchscreen, BeatsAudio, power driver/passenger seats, 18″ wheels, leather, tinted windows, $38,500
  • Trailhawk – 2.4L  – 129kW, all wheel drive, 9-speed auto – adds Selec-Terrain, bashplates, full-sized spare, leather seats, rear tow hook, $41,500

The front-drive models weigh 1295kg vs the Trailhawk’s 1550kg, so that’s 255kg extra kg to lug around.   The Limited has a fuel consumption of 5.9L/100km on the combined cycle vs the Trailhawk’s 7.5, and that’s due to the extra weight and offroad tyres.   So, don’t be seduced by the extra power of the Trailhawk and the extra three ratios, the Limited would be as quick and is just as well specified.

Towing is different – the Sport 1.6L tows 800kg braked/600kg unbraked, the others 1200/600, Trailhawk 907/400.  Interestingly, the Trailhawk’s turning circle is 10.76m vs 11.07m for the rest.

Diesel Renegades exist but only for Europe.  Australia doesn’t really do the small diesel thing.

Factory options are minimal – My Sky Power sunroof, and option for Trailhawk and Limited is Lane Departure Plus and Parallel / Perpendicular Park Assist.  Forward Collision Mitigation Plus option on Limited only.  There’s nine exterior colours including some nice bright ones, and interior colours such as black/brown/sand.

If I was buying one I’d definitely want to run smaller rims, non-directional tyres and if there was even a slight suspension lift I’d take it. 

Check back in the coming days and weeks as we will publish short comparison posts on the Renegade vs some of its natural rivals like Jeep’s own Wrangler, Suzuki Jimny (offroad review here) and Grand Vitara. Next year we’ve got a Suzuki Vitara coming on long-term test and you can be sure that will have wheels in the air sooner rather than later.

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Second opinionS

When we test offroad vehicles we do so out on real-world tracks.  There’s me to drive and photograph, and at least two highly experienced helpers to track build, spot and recover if necessary with their own cars which are touring-modified 4X4s.  So here’s some more opinions:

Michael Haworth, Committed Jeep Owner, Peanut Butter and Jam Sandwich Enthusiast, American Citizen

Fun, bold small Jeep for the city bound, wanna-be outdoors enthusiast. Definitely designed for 20 somethings with lots of cash.

Pros: Great turning circle, tons of safety kit, hill start feature, incredible traction control (until power is cut), small sized is easy to manoeuvre through obstacles, very roomy for such a small vehicle, nice materials, glass roof opens up interior.

Cons: Expensive, cannot drive through brakes (might not really need this feature with hill start braking though), VERY limited wheel travel, very limited ability to modify vehicle (lift or tyres), power zapping traction control, poor ground clearance, low air intake, low alternator; oh, and did I mention expensive.

This is a vehicle I might consider for my boys when they start driving on their own. It is small and has most of the important safety features I require. I will probably purchase one that is 2-3 years old to let someone else take what is likely to be a large hit on depreciation.

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Ian Salmon, experienced off-roader, spotter-in-chief and lunch-break enforcer

  • I found the road manners of the car quite stable which enabled relaxed driving.
  • Acceleration was not outstanding but once in the power range, over 3000 rpm, it motored along very nicely. If spirited driving was required, then use of the manual shift was required. Did I say manual shift? Well it would when it felt like it, not when you asked for it! Most frustrating.
  • Steering was responsive and brakes capable. The EBD system adjusted well for different braking situations.
  • 9 speed gearbox raised questions like – why would you have 3 overdrive gears? Why wouldn’t you create 3 low gears to eliminate the need for a low range in the transaxles? Why wouldn’t you have a first gear that would allow the engine to reach its power band on slow take off?
  • Traction control – SUPERB! This enabled us to negotiate tracks that it had no right to be on. Given restricted axle movement, road tyres and low clearance this vehicle proved to be capable on many rutted and rocky tracks.
  • Seating was very comfortable and easily adjusted for a driver of larger frame!
  • The overriding question in my mind is “why would you buy this car?” If you wanted an off road vehicle you would look for something that had real credibility. If you wanted an on road car then you don’t need off road capability. Driver skill and experience is required to get the most out of this vehicle in off road driving but it would certainly help the inexperienced driver get out of a situation that they wished they hadn’t encountered!

Juliette Remfrey, novice off-roader and noted lover of Japanese cars

The Renegade Trailhawk reminds me of a car I owned and loved, but only in appearance – my 2005 Nissan YGZ11 CUBE3. Boxy, narrow and tall, minimal overhang at the front and rear. But that is where the similarities end as offroad in the front-wheel drive CUBE3 was the occasional excursion into a gravel carpark. The CUBE3 seated 5 in comfort or 7 in complete discomfort whereas the Trailhawk only sensibly tries to seat 5.

Aside from comparisons to a Cube I’ve also overheard someone commenting “that looks like a Rukus.” I think it has a style that grows on you. I screwed up my nose at the look of the car the first time I saw it but the more time spent with the car the more I warmed to the look. The same goes for the endless little Jeep and offroad symbols scattered throughout the entire car. My immediate reaction was “oh that’s so tacky”, and as I found more, “wow that’s even tackier.” But after a little bit of time with the car I began to ignore them. I’m sure there’s more I haven’t discovered, I decided not to make it my mission to find them all. It’s quite obviously aimed at a younger market.

I can’t comment much on the off-road driving as I observed it throughout most of the testing and its off-road capability has been well documented by Robert, so I’ll instead give you my impressions of its on-road liveability.

This is where the number of things that annoy me about the car outweigh the number of things I like about it. The 9-speed automatic left in Drive is okay, although there is no need for 9 speeds. The 9 speeds are for fuel economy – and unfortunately it fails miserably at being frugal and the tiny fuel tank means you are filling up all the time. The kickdown from the automatic isn’t the greatest, delayed and abrupt. Should you wish to take manual control however, good luck to you.

The transmission will occasionally think about the gear you are asking for and obey your command after a significant pause, or it will ignore you completely and continue doing its own thing. It’s not that you are trying to select too low a gear for the current engine speed – it just ignores you. You might give it the command 5-10 times before it changes, or it just won’t. Very frustrating. The steering is far too light for my liking, and personal preference again but I find the brakes and accelerator on the overly touchy side.

The brakes themselves however are fantastic, especially on very low traction and combination dirt/gravel/tarmac surfaces where the brakes and electronics work in concert to pull the car up smoothly, quickly and in a relatively straight line. The car wants for more power though. While it’ll amble along quite okay through the suburbs it runs out of power for carrying people, gear and in situations where a bit out extra power is needed, such as an overtake manoeuvre.

Onto the interior – when carrying 4-5 adults space is cramped and legroom for rear seat occupants isn’t really adequate. The boot is too small. Half a week’s shopping for two people filled the entire floor space of the boot. The A-pillar is incredibly large and can obstruct some forward visibility, particularly if the car is at any angle.

The Trailhawk has an excellent rear-view camera utilising a central line that moves with the car. The picture is very clear and it’s easy to see detail at night which is just as well as visibility is obstructed by more body at the back. The lane keep assist works well when there are clearly marked lines on both sides of the lane and will steer the car back on track quite reliably should its cameras detect the car wandering. It’s more annoying on narrow roads (when set to Early intervention and High correction) as it’ll continually try to correct your steering, and I ended up turning it off in these situations.

Basically, it does a great job on the highway and becomes a bit of an annoyance on a narrow rural road where it tries to help too often. Thankfully, you can dial the sensitivity down or turn it off completely but it is a great feature to have and could save lives. The fit and finish of the interior is quality and overall it’s a comfortable place for two occupants (and maybe small children as rear-seat passengers.) Once you get past the Jeep and offroad symbols, the cabin is a nice place to be. Colours that keep things interesting, courtesy lights in the drink holders and door pockets are a welcome touch and the cup holders fit reasonable sized drink bottles. All of the dials are well placed and easy to use. There may be a fair bit of tech inside but it’s not difficult to work out.

It’s a car I would like if it handled onroad duties (where it will spend the majority of its life) a bit better. A slightly more powerful engine, a better transmission, better fuel economy, a bigger fuel tank, better handling, slightly more interior space and it could have been great.

RMP_3355

Want more Renegade views?  Like all cool cars, there’s an owner’s forum -> http://www.jeeprenegadeforum.com/

RMP_3550


  • off the beaten track

    The Renegade doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense as a small 4wd vehicle because it’s too compromised : it’s too small , under powered and too thirsty . And with a fuel tank size of 48 litres , driving range is very limited off road anyway .
    The traction control however, is very impressive . It turns an average SUV into a trail warrior (liked the video -great demo ).

    Although not quite as capable off road , there are Japanese alternatives around the same price that would be much better all round SUV’s than the renegade .

    • Fair comments! But, if you like the car it’s worth the money, and for many that will be the case. Certainly not a budget buy though. There will be a post comparing it to alternatives soon.

      • trackdaze

        Are you listening Suzuki? this thing is trying to eat your lunch. I trust you have plans in hand to gear up the metro vitara?

        • Jim

          nah Suzuki is not listening…. :-(((

    • Jim

      and the Japanese alternatives would be probably cheaper too

  • Upright Monkey

    Nice. Might have to visit a JEEP dealer and take a LONG test drive.

  • Ian Anderson

    I’ve never seen Mike’s Wrangler so clean before!!

  • Jim

    Too expensive and this is most disappointing for “Trailhawk”: the car’s tendency to decide it won’t give you any more power.

  • SnakeDoctor

    “Jeep have Selec-Terrain in the Renegade and as I’ve found in previous tests it’s hard to work out why they bother. It doesn’t really make very much difference – the benchmark in this respect for adaptive terrain systems is still Land Rover with Terrain Response. ”

    Whoa! I know i’m late to the party, but it makes a massive difference in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, in soft sand, with appropriate tyre pressure, not turning to sand mode means bogged as soon as you try and turn around, sand mode on means you can climb the biggest dunes at Stockton with ease.

    Most people find this out the first time they turn the car off and the car defaults to “auto” whilst they are in the soft stuff still.

    Also, the Jeep GC changes stability control (nearly off, but still kicks in on a BIG slide) by default in the sand/mud/rock modes, where-as the Landrover system requires these to be disabled separately. (different module).

    • In the Renegade it didn’t make much difference. When I’ve tested the GC (early model with it) same result. Over time, these things are improved which is why the LR system is the best. However, even that isn’t absolutely required and when I tested a Fortuner with nothing it worked perfectly in soft sand and rocks.

      LR’s system, like all sand modes, actually reduces the interference of ESC. Like Jeep’s. You can go further and manually disable it still further, but you can never turn it 100% off as you point out.

      • SnakeDoctor

        Thanks for the reply, going to disagree and elaborate somewhat.

        You didn’t say specifically but I find it extremely surprising IF you tested a QD/T2 Grand Cherokee in soft sand and found the terrain selection doesn’t make much difference.

        In the extreme, you can actually feel the binding in the driveline in mud mode on regular road. (high range, which in the GC is no centre diff lock like low range)

        If it was me writing, i’d have a more developed argument than existing for longer=better, re LR.

        • The GC I tested didn’t bind the driveline up to any extent differently in different modes. Didn’t have the chance to test it in really soft sand, and if yours is a late model maybe they’ve changed it.

          The LR system is so far the best I’ve seen, and my opinion is that it’s the best because it’s been developed for so long. Specifics would be a complete article, but some examples; I don’t know of another one system that cross-links air suspension, realises when a wheel is off the ground and tightens up ETC, automatically raises the car when grounded, and now they have Auto Terrain Response too which moves from mode to mode depending on conditions.

          Overall these systems are useful, but too many of them are just marketing. As time moves on that will change as they mature, and more and more of the vehicle is under electronic control.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is the editor of PM4x4, an offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com or follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RobertPepperJourno/