People often say that a culture clash isn't a good thing.
Take Jeep, for example. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, more American than burgers, milkshakes, and -uh- freedom fries. The brand hails from Detroit and is practically the Star Spangled Banner on four wheels -all of them being driven- and it even helped win a war.
But all that has changed. Being part of the Chrysler group, Jeep is now also owned by the Fiat group, or Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). Yes Jeep is now Italian-owned, meaning what was once the all-American burger now comes with mozzarella and not cheddar.
And here is perhaps one of the newest and clearest off-springs of this trans-oceanic, cross-continental, cross-cultural marriage: the Jeep Renegade.
In terms of heredity this Jeep traces its name to the CJ-5 Renegade of the early 1970's; an optional package that took the standard CJ-5 further. But this time it's not an appended badge onto another nameplate, but a standalone model that represents the entry level of the Jeep brand under FCA. And so strong is the Italian connection with this one; it's actually born, err, made in Italy.
A love child this may be of two very different automotive cultures, it's lost none of the Jeep-ness that we've come to know for the past seven or so decades. The retro round headlamps, the signature grill, the boxy shape, the 2-box silhouette, the ride height and the stance; all are hallmarks of Jeep.
The dimensions of this Renegade are small, measuring in at 4.2 meters long, 1.8 meters wide and almost 1.7 meters tall. The measurements put this Jeep squarely in subcompact territory and utilizes a Fiat group platform for small cars; the same one used in the Fiat 500X and the Grande Punto. Yes, it's a crossover.
Inside, this Jeep Renegade is quite funky. Actually it's very funky, and Jeep calls the interior “Tek-Tonic”. Whatever the name, I like it. The application of white leather, a liberal attitude towards the use of geometry, the utilization of orange accent panels and a load of other details give the Renegade the impression that it's no longer meant for the G.I. but is intended to be driven by someone like Liberace. And that's fine; flair isn't a bad thing, so long as the use of it is tasteful and sensible.
The more time I look around, the more I notice that Jeep's (or Fiat's) designers peppered the car with the signature Jeep grill and fascia. You can find these little things all over the crossover: the inner tailgate panel, the Beats speaker bezels, the light sensor cluster ahead of the rear-view mirror, the taillights, and more. It's amusing to look for them, and shows how the designers truly embraced the brand's heritage and had a bit of fun with it.
Starting up this Jeep is an unusual experience too. Modern Jeeps that we get in our market usually come with V6 or V8 motors, meaning there's a neat little growl that comes from the engine bay at start up. But this one has a tiny 1.4-liter four-banger under that hood, so no growl and no drama.
It is, however, no ordinary straight four: it's the MultiAir Fiat engine. That means it's turbocharged and and as a result the Renegade has 168 horses to play with and 250 Newton-meters of torque at 2500 rpm; this should be fun and economical at the same time. And it has a 9-speed automatic transmission with a modern Jeep classic: intelligent and selectable four-wheel drive.
Tooling about town, this small Jeep is neat to drive. The design turns quite a few heads, no doubt a result of the funky design, but more than that, it feels surprisingly larger than its dimensions suggest. The tall seating position and the greenhouse gives a commanding view of the road ahead, allowing the driver to easily position the car even in the tight city streets especially with the light steering.
Fuel economy was what surprised me a bit. Jeeps have never really been known for fuel economy, but this one is different, clocking in 7.8 km/l (19 km/h average) in the city. On the highway it fares much better at 11.2 km/l (88 km/h average); I felt it could be better, but the boxy body was not meant for aerodynamic efficiency. Of course if you want to achieve those numbers, you really have to be sensible with your right foot so as not to activate the turbo.
If you do like putting your foot down, the Jeep can oblige. 168 PS is plenty, but its the early availability of torque that is key. Cruising on the highway is alright, but you do feel the wind resistance especially with such an upright windscreen.
On a road that demands better handling, the Renegade feels confident; it's no corner carver by a long shot, but it gets the job done. On a light trail composed primarily of packed dirt and a plenty of rocks, the Renegade performed as a Jeep should. The Selec-Terrain system and traction control work well to provide surefooted confidence throughout the drive. The ride height allowed clearing of more common obstacles.
Just when I was starting to really enjoy the Jeep, I had to explore the possibility of reports around a flaw with the Renegade's behavior during braking, specifically the one about Jeep Renegades being able to pop a nosedive “stoppie” (rear wheels in the air) under hard braking. I tried it out on a closed road, and I have to say, the rear does get a bit light. Not too much to cause alarm at the speed I was doing (50 km/h), but emergency braking at higher speeds it could well be a concern. Looking at the engine bay, I think the cause might be the position of the engine itself.
The engine, the single heaviest component of the car, appears to sit in a position is just that little bit forward of the axle. Basic physics: under heavy braking with the weight shift going forward, the engine can be the cause of the rear going light. The high ride height (read: high center of gravity) perhaps also contributes to it. If there are passengers in the back seat, that could offset the nosediving tendency of the Renegade, but you shouldn't have to do that.
As a daily driven crossover around the city, the Jeep Renegade works well. But the way and how dramatically the weight shifts because of what I suspect to be the positioning of the engine is a significant cause for concern, one that outweighs what could have been a really neat crossover from Fiat and Jeep.