THE 2015 award for new car with the most character? For exterior drama alone, Jeep's new Renegade will take some beating.
American designed and tested but built on Fiat's 500X chassis, Jeep's small SUV is a fun front-wheel drive style statement with decent dynamics and room for the family, or in top-spec Trailhawk guise, a talented off-road toy worthy of Jeep's 4x4 heritage.
Shoppers have a choice of five models, all petrol engined. Entry is a Sport with an 81kW 1.6-litre four-potter and manual gearbox; the Sport auto, Longitude and Limited all offer a torquey 103kW/230Nm 1.4-litre; and if you want 4WD (not available on the rest of the range), the Trailhawk's your choice with its 129kW/230Nm 2.4-litre four.
Positives abound. Besides the looks there's superb cabin space, it's a hoot to drive, and technology, kit and interior layout impress.
There has to be a but though, and it's price. The Sport manual is the only one in the sub-$30 bracket, and to get the better 1.4-litre engine you'll need $32,500 for the Sport auto. Big money in the hotly contested and crammed small SUV segment.
Surprisingly roomy inside, front and rear passengers enjoy oodles of fresh air above their heads and acceptable leg room.
There is a feel of quality and solidness throughout the cabin in all models, while Uconnect audio and touchscreens are standard, with impressive 6.5-inch screens in Limiteds and above.
Seats are at their best in the higher grades with leather and electric adjust, but all are quite solid, upright chairs which are fine for normal drives, but I suspect might not be the most cosseting for longer ones.
Multi-function steering wheels seem to have more controls than modern F1 cars, but work well when you get used to the buttons.
On (and off) the road
The Renegade's sense of fun carries over from the styling to the drive experience.
Our bitumen test was limited to models with the torquey 103kW 1.4-litre engine, and it's well suited as a flexible all-rounder for town, highway and back road trips.
The four-potter takes some persuading to get moving initially, but proves responsive if you keep the revs up; the torque hit from low down punting it along with gusto.
Don't expect grip, balance or steering feedback to match more sporting orientated premium SUVs, but the Renegade is by no means a body rolling horror. It's fun, stable and planted through the turns, and does a decent job of absorbing road bumps, but the electric steering can feel oddly weighted.
Trailhawk buying 4x4 fans won't be disappointed. Range Rover Evoque-matching 211mm ground clearance, wheel articulation up to 205mm, 20:1 crawl ratio, multi-mode Selec-terrain, hill descent control and fully disconnecting rear axle. This thing has the off-road smarts, and tackled some significant climbs and descents with aplomb.
Interior passenger dimensions are excellent making the Renegade both an ideal family hauler and weekend adventurer for five adults. It's still a small SUV, so while the boot opening is large and practical, the 351-litres cargo space isn't vast. Fuel economy - especially as tested - isn't groundbreaking.
What do you get?
Uconnect touchscreen audio with integrated voice command and Bluetooth, cruise control, seven airbags and rear-view camera are across the range.
Sport models get a 5-inch screen, 16-inch alloys and cloth upholstery; Longitudes bring blind spot monitoring, leather steering wheel, dual-zone air con, parking sensors, two-way electric driver's seat and 17-inch alloys; Limiteds score leather upholstery, 6.5-inch touchscreen, 7-inch colour instrument display, sat nav, BeatsAudio system, power 8-way driver and passenger seats (also heated), bi-xenon headlights, 18-inch alloys and some bling for the front grille, mirrors and roof rails.
The Trailhawk 4x4 also gets off-road specific fruit, including Jeep's Selec-terrain with low range, hill descent control, underbody skid plates, 17-inch off-road alloys, Trailhawk front and rear fascia, bonnet decal, black front grille and red tow hook.
Most obvious rival is Subaru's strong-selling XV ($26,490), or the incoming Citroen Cactus (around $25,000) will rival the Renegade's visual flair. Or if you're in the soft roader SUV category, the Mazda CX-3 ($19,990), Honda HR-V ($24,990), VW Tiguan ($28,990) and Suzuki Vitara ($21,990) for example are cheaper options, albeit without the Renegade's funkiness.
Bucketloads. It's tall, boxy, flat sided and vertically windscreened making it look superbly retro Jeep with a modern twist.
Clipped front headlights means it looks tough rather than cutesy, while an illuminated 'X' in the taillights, a My Sky lift-out roof panel option and bright colour palette are just some of the funky themes.
The Jeep brand's coolness factor has just climbed another notch with the Renegade. Praise is due for the retro style, nods to Jeep designs of old, while the colour range and clever design features will draw buyers who appreciate meaningful quirks.
Family friendly, decent engine and ride plus a seriously good off-roader in the Trailhawk make for a compelling offering. But the price means it needs to be a heart over head purchase.
What matters most
What we liked: Striking and fun styling, cracking 1.4-litre engine, impressive interior space, Trailhawk's genuine off-road ability.
What we'd liked to see: Cheaper pricing more in line with other 2WD soft roaders, rear air vents, seats may be a bit firm for long trips.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited kilometre warranty. Menu price servicing is every 12 months or 15,000km.
Model: 2015 Jeep Renegade.
Details: Four-door front- or all-wheel drive small SUVs.
Engines: 1.6-litre four-cylinder generating maximum power of 81kW and peak torque of 152Nm (Sport manual); 1.4-litre four-cylinder with 103kW/230Nm (Sport auto, Longitude and Limited), 2.4-litre four-cylinder with 129kW/230Nm (Trailhawk).
Transmissions: 5-speed manual (Sport only); 6-speed DDCT auto (Sport, Longitude and Limited); 9-speed auto (Trailhawk).
Consumption: 6.0-litres/100km (Sport manual); 5.9 (Sport, Longitude and Limited); 7.5 (Trailhawk).
CO2: 141g/km (Sport manual); 137 (Sport, Longitude and Limited); 175 (Trailhawk).
Towing capacity (braked): 800kg (Sport manual); 1200kg (Sport, Longitude and Limited); 907kg (Trailhawk).
Bottom line: $29,500 (Sport manual); $32,500 (Sport auto); $34,500 (Longitude); $38,500 (Limited); $41,500 (Trailhawk) all before on roads.
Driving experience - 16/20
Features and equipment - 18/20
Functionality and comfort - 17/20
Value for money - 12/20
Style and design - 19/20
Total - 82/100
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