2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk mud review: Into the sippi

2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk entering mud

The 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk enters mud, but will it come out?

Yeah, right.

We’ve been assured that the “Trail Rated” badge on the 2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk is earned, not just stuck on Jeep’s new small SUV, along with knobbly off-road tires and rugged-looking trim, but the Renegade is also based on a Fiat platform and built in Italy. How tough can it really be, Tony?

Would you, could you take it off-road?

2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk instrument panel

The tachometer on the 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk instrument panel has a “mudline” rather than a redline. (click to enlarge)

We did in our first drive at a Jeep Renegade media introduction event. But the off-road venue was on dry California dirt and, well, we’ve seen a 1965 Chevrolet Impala conquer the desert. True, we did some perilous descents that we’d not trade a 2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk for an old Chevy sedan. But there’s nothing like mud and slop to test the off-street cred of a would-be “trail rated” SUV.

Because most journalists are wary of abusing the vehicles are loaned for evaluation, the folks at FCA provided a “watch this” moment for assorted writers and talkers at a locale used for among other things teaching government, um, security forces to drive off-road to show off the abilities of the 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk.

2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk interior

The 2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk interior has red accents. (click to enlarge)

The Renegade, of course, debuted as a 2015 model, and in its second year has received minor changes and additions, but remains fundamentally unaltered for its sophomore year. The base engine for the Renegade is the familiar FCA 1.4-liter turbocharged Multiair four-cylinder while the Renegade Trailhawk, along with the comfort-oriented Limited, comes standard with the more powerful 2.4-liter Tigershark with Multiair 2 four (which is also available on the Sport and Latitude trim levels). These engines should seem familiar. We’ve seen the 2.4-liter in everthing from the Dodge Dart  to the Ram Promaster City van. For the Renegade, the Tigershark engine comes standard with the nine-speed automatic also finding homes in a variety of FCA vehicles.

The Renegade is built around strut suspension front and rear—technically MacPherson strut front and Chapman strut rear—calibrated for Jeep use. With the Trailhawk, the system has up to 8.1 inches of wheel articulation. Ride height for the Trailhawk was increase by 0.8 inches to 8.7 inches of ground clearance.

2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk foglight

The front end of the 2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk is contoured to give a steep approach angle. (click to enlarge)

The front and rear were changed to allow a 30.5 degree approach and 34.3 degree departure angles, along with an off-roadable 25.7 degree breakover. Skidplates are standard, as are front and rear tow hooks. Standard tires are off-road capable Goodyear Wrangler SRA or Falken WildPeak H/T on 17-inch alloys specific to the Trailhawk.

The 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk includes standard Jeep Active Drive Low four-wheel drive. The system can send 1,475 lb-ft of the engine’s available torque to any one wheel, depending on which has the most traction. Active Drive without the Low is available on other Renegades, but Active Drive Low, as the name suggests, has a low range with a 20:1 crawl ratio for creeping through and over rough terrain. It also includes a center locking differential and hill descent control, activated via buttons on the center console.

2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk

The 2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk into the sippi and yes, it came out the other side. (click to enlarge–you really should)

A twist knob changes modes of the standard-on-Trailhawk Jeep Selec-Terrain system. In the Renegade Trailhawk, it has five modes—Auto, Snow, Sand, Mud, and Rock (the lasat exclusive to the Trailhawk)—to vary traction control, transmission and power distribution. The Renegade Trailhawk also has front brake lock differential which applies the brake to either front wheel that might be spinning in slippery conditions in order to keep both wheels turning at the same speed. There’s a nifty Jeep video to explain how the whole system works.

So does it work? It did on dry surfaces out west, but muddy West Virginia is another matter. Throw in a persistent rain, slippery rocks and up and downslopes and, well, we didn’t need those tow hooks to extract the Renegade Trailhawk from impromptu sippi holes. The only place we had any problem was a sharp incline too slick climb. Simple. We had come at it too slowly, expecting to crawl over its slimy surface. We couldn’t. But adding a bit of momentum helped us get over the top.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been unexpected. The Jeep Renegade Trailhawk is after all “trail rated.” Is it real? Yeah.

Price and specification next page.