2016 Jeep Renegade Sport review: More enjoyable than you might expect

2016 Jeep Renegade Sport

2016 Jeep Renegade Sport

At first glance the 2016 Jeep Renegade Sport that arrived for my inspection seemed shockingly primitive —- no 4-wheel-drive, no automatic transmission, no navigation, no satellite radio, not even a rear-view camera.

Oh, there were a couple of comfort and convenience features —- air conditioning, cruise control, power heated outside mirror —- but they were all part of a $1,495 option package.

And, the color – – – Oh, boy! What the marketing folks call Omaha Orange could more aptly be called eye-watering orange. It’s a shade that maybe only a Clemson University fan could love.

Renegade instrument panel

Renegade instrument panel

“And they call this thing a Jeep,” I muttered to myself. “A Jeep with no off-road capability? A Jeep with front-wheel-drive only? A Jeep with the bones of a subcompact crossover Fiat 500X?”

But, preconceived notions can be upended by reality and I have to admit that the newest and smallest Jeep, quirky looks and all, grew on me after I got accustomed to its bare-bones amenities and its unusual driving dynamics.

True, it’s not a Jeep in the usual rock crawling, creek-fording, desert demonizing sense. But it could be a foul-weather friend (but only with a set of grippy snow tires) and it quite likely could be a faithful companion to a youthful buyer, perhaps a college student who will be taking “Agent Orange” to, from and around campus.

In short, the Renegade Sport qualifies as a subcompact crossover rather than a true sport-utility vehicle. If you are looking for serious off-road competence, you need to upgrade from this base model to the top-of-the-line Renegade Trailhawk.

Renegade front seats

Renegade front seats

Power for the Renegade Sport test car came from a turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that develops 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. The only available transmission is a 6-speed manual, but anyone who loves to drive should not despair. It is a slick shifter that slips easily from gear to gear. Clutch pressure is light enough that long red lights will not cause left leg fatigue.

The electrically powered rack and pinion steering supplies only vague information to the driver, but it is comparable to other crossover vehicles. The four-wheel antilock brakes have vented rotors at the front wheels and solid rotors at the rear.

I can report that the 3,044-pound Jeeplet will definitely go from a stop to 60 mph and beyond, but I don’t have an exact time to report. My advice: patience is the order of the day.

On the other hand, the Renegade and its little engine love to thumb their fuel-sipping noses at gas stations as they amble past. The EPA estimates fuel efficiency at 24 miles per gallon of regular unleaded gasoline around town and 31 mpg on the open road. I averaged 28.9 mpg while tooling along the flatlands of South Carolina’s Lowcountry.

Renegade rear seats

Renegade rear seats

Oddly, the Renegade feels roomier from the inside than it appears on the outside. Five adults (6 feet and under) will fit in reasonable comfort and there’s 18.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat. Fold the seatbacks forward and that space expands to 50.8 cubic feet.

I didn’t spend time on the rear bench but I found the driver’s bucket seat to be comfortable in all my travels.

If the Renegade Sport is not built for rugged off-road adventures, it is well-suited for urban and suburban travel. The independent suspension offers a comfortable ride over most road surfaces, the diminutive dimensions are welcome in congested traffic and tight parking spaces, and its 36.5-foot turning diameter makes U-turns a relatively simple matter.

If you are thinking of using a Jeep Renegade Sport for towing, don’t. Four-wheel drive models are capable of pulling 2,000 pounds when powered by the manufacturer’s 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, but the manufacturer recommends against any towing by front-wheel-drive models.

Renegade cargo area

Renegade cargo area

While the Renegade Sport test car had minimal creature comforts, it did not skimp on safety equipment. Included were a full complement of airbags and side curtains, electronic roll mitigation, traction control, stability control, hill-start assist and tire-pressure monitor.

Standard features included in the $17,995 base price were a four-speaker sound system with an auxiliary jack and USB port, power front windows, two auxiliary 12-volt power outlets,, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and an outside temperature display.

The optional Power and Air Group, mentioned above, costs $1,495. Aluminum 16-inch wheels add $595 and the $995 delivery charge brings the suggested retail price to $21,080.

When you think of Jeep, the Renegade Sport is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. But, if off-roading is not what you need in a compact utility vehicle, this funky little five-door runabout is fun to drive and amusing —- some would say endearing —- to look at. Even in Omaha Orange!

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