Jeep sales are skyrocketing right now, with sales up 45 percent for the first half of 2014, with the Wrangler, the new Cherokee and even the venerable Compass having their best month ever. But how to keep that momentum going? Mathematics would suggest that at some point, things have to level off. But for the meantime, Jeep keeps adding winning players to the team, suggesting that it won’t be ending any time soon. Viz. the Jeep Renegade.
We won’t be seeing the Jeep Renegade here in the U.S. until first quarter of 2015—Europe gets it first, fourth quarter 2014—nor have we driven it, but we just got a closer look and more information than we did when it was revealed at the New York International Auto Show this spring. And we like what we saw.
The Jeep Renegade arrives as the Jeep Liberty retires, though it’s not a replacement for that almost a mid-size SUV that aged faster than potato salad at a Texas barbeque in August, coming out of its metaphorical refrigerator in 2002, completely new in 2008 and expiring after 2013. The new Jeep Cherokee fills that void and then some.
Nor does the Jeep Renegade supersede the Jeep Patriot or Jeep Compass, both of which at least for now will continue to fill the compact SUV slot and the…whatever slot the Compass resides. Instead, Jeep foresees the Renegade being cross-shopped against the Kia Soul and the Nissan Juke, vehicles perhaps without off-road credentials of the Jeep Renegade. The Kia Sportage, with a similar SUV-like profile seems to us a likely competitor, though like other compact SUVs, it’s noticeably larger than the Renegade,
Jeep’s forecast is likely more accurate than ours because when Jeep shows the Renegade, it’s the Trailhawk version that’s shown. The Renegade Trailhawk, with taller ride height and a differently contoured front fascia for a steeper approach angle, necessities for Jeep’s Trail Rated badge make us think more rugged competitors.
The Jeep Renegade will have more variation within its lineup, however. In addition to the 2.4-liter four that powers the Trailhawk, the Renegade will powered by a Fiat-sourced 1.4-liter turbocharged four, the former for power to the ground—or more precisely, to the dirt—and the latter for fuel economy.
The 2.4-liter will be matched to Chrysler’s nine-speed automatic while the 1.4 turbo will come with either that automatic or a six-speed manual. Indeed, no CVT for the Renegade.
The engineering for the Renegade was done in Italy, actually, certainly a first for the iconic American brand. Styling was done here, however. While we hope Fiat gets the mechanicals right, we have concerns whether Europeans could do Jeep style right. Certainly what Jeep hath wrought for the Renegade didn’t garner the initial equivocation the Cherokee received for its tradition-busting styling.
Certainly the Renegade has more Jeep styling cues than the Cherokee. Mark Allen, head of Jeep design says that was deliberate. The Jeep Wrangler, the Jeep icon, was the inspiration for the Renegade design, which is why the Renegade looks so much like a Jeep. In addition to the seven-slot grille, the Renegade has classic Wrangler round headlights plus the hexagonal wheel openings.
To add a military flair, an “X” theme was used extensively, inspired by the jerry can, the five-gallon stamped steel gasoline cans carried by WW II Jeeps. The theme is perhaps most obvious in the taillights, which are also designed to look separate from the body, like those of the Jeep Wrangler. And all the design elements are oversized compared to what might be expected. “When a big dog is a puppy, everything is ‘too big,’” says Allen, inferring that the Renegade is, well, a puppy compared to other Jeep models.
Allen says that the Jeep lineup has the Grand Cherokee as one bookend for the Jeep brand and the Jeep Wrangler as the other, with every Jeep model positioned somewhere along a line between them. The Renegade is purposely positioned towards the Wrangler end of the scale. But while the Renegade is inspired by the Wrangler, there are no flat panels—though some are close—on the Renegade, as there are on the Wrangler. The windtunnel was a challenge, Allen admits, but claims the Renegade is more aerodynamic than it looks.
Younger designers were assigned to work on the interior, says Allen, which resulted in things like the air vents above the center stack inspired by sport goggles.
Cost was a factor too. Jeep wanted to keep the Renegade affordable. So instead of a conventional sunroof, the Renegade gets two removable opaque plastic roof panels that open up the vehicle’s overhead completely. The panels can be stored inside the Renegade, says Allen, making the decision to go with or without easier. (Note: We suggested a removable accordion-folding fabric roof. If you see this available on the Jeep accessory list, you know where they—and you—heard it first).
And all over the Jeep Renegade, there are “Easter eggs”—little semi-hidden classic Jeep grille markers. We won’t tell you where (and we don’t think we found all of them), but the two most obvious are in the headlights and taillights. Look closely.
The Jeep Renegade, designed in America and engineered in Italy, will be made in Italy as well—plus Brazil for some South American markets. Will this stop customers from buying the Renegade? We say not likely, and by the decision to go ahead means that Jeep believes it won’t make a difference. Someone will just have to do the math again because Jeep sales are about to go up again.