San Jose, Calif. — As the MVP of the new Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), Jeep finished 2014 with a phenomenal global sales increase of 39 percent setting all-time record sales of 1,017,019 units. U.S. sales were even better finishing up 41 percent at a record 692,348 units sold ? that?s nearly 1,900 jeeps sold every day of the year. How do you top that?
One way might be to build something new, different, cute and efficient, but make sure it maintains the iconic Jeep character and prowess. Because it?s different, let?s call it a?Renegade.
And so they did.
Jeep just rolled out their totally new global SUV at a press introduction in San Jose, Calif., and I was there getting a chance to be one of the first to drive this little gem. They often say good things come in small packages, and I think that?s certainly the case with the 2015 Jeep Renegade. However, this won?t be a slam dunk; the category is suddenly getting busy with similar new offerings from Chevrolet, Honda, Mazda and Fiat.
To put the small size in perspective, the Renegade is just a few inches longer than the Mini Countryman and the Fiat 500L, and nearly the same length as the Jeep Wrangler. It?s the first vehicle to use FCA?s new ?small-wide 4×4 architecture.? What makes it especially noteworthy is that it?s not simply an all-wheel drive like it?s competitors, it?s a full-fledge Trail Rated off roader, complete with a Selec-Terrain traction system that allows the driver to choose the best setting for on- or off-road. It even has an amazing 20:1 crawl ratio that feels powerful enough to climb trees if it could get the traction. It also comes with hill start assist and hill descent control.
The Trail Rated Trailhawk model comes with short overhangs, 8.7-inches of ground clearances and it can even ?swim? in up to 19 inches of water. And unlike some small vehicles, the Renegade will tow up to 2,000 pounds, which means owners can take along those important adult ?toys.?
The Renegade meets my very important first vehicle requirement ? it has to look good. Up front, the Renegade says Jeep literally and figuratively with its rugged-looking trademark Jeep grille, round headlights and front fascia. The sides have the traditional Jeep trapezoidal wheel arches and body protecting contrasting color cladding. The sculpted rear end has the Renegade signature ?X? pattern in the tail light lens. The ?X? is the Renegades design theme inspired by military equipment –exuding strength and playing on Jeep brand?s roots. To help with the coolness factor, Renegade planners made it available in some standout colors.
The interior is cozy, and quite comfortable. I thought the dash interior seemed a little busy, but very well organized, and that?s very important to an everything-in-its-place person like me. The seats are finished in a two texture cloth or attractive leather. Each of the trim levels has at least two color accents available, with the exception of the Trailhawk, which has red trim.
The Renegade incorporates some of the Jeep Wrangler open air features with removable My Sky open-air roof panels. The optional power tilt/slide top and the removable manual panels can be easily removed and stowed in a convenient pouch in the cargo area. The cargo area holds up to 18.5 cubic feet of gear when the rear seat are in place, but that expands to 50.1 cubic feetwhen the rear seats are folded flat.
Jeep did not skip on technology; the Renegade has a segment first Forward Collision Warning-Plus and Lane Sense Departure Warning-Plus. It also has Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Path detection systems available. Jeep lists 70 safety and security features on the Renegade including cool features like automatic dimming headlights, front wiper deicers, remote start and Jeeps outstanding Uconnect Access and Voice Command.
The 2015 Jeep Renegade is available with two engine choices, a 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo four-cylinder and a 2.4-liter Tigershark four-cylinder. The 1.4-liter turbo which is standard in both front- and four-wheel drive Sport and Latitude models produces 160-hp and drives through a standard six-speed manual transmission. A nine-speed automatic transmission is optional in those models and standard in the Limited and Trailhawk versions. The award-winning 180 hp Tigershark engine is standard on the upper-level Limited and Trailhawk trim levels and is an option on the other models.
The Sport, Latitude and Limited trim are available in front- and four-wheel drive, while the Trail Rated, Trailhawk model is only a four-wheel drive. Actual EPA fuel economy figures have not been announced, but Jeep officials say the 2.4-liter with automatic transmission and the 1.4-liter with six-speed manual should both get more than 30 mpg on the highway.
Renegade pricing starts at $18,890, including the destinations charge for a two-wheel drive Sport, then prices jump to $22,290 for the Latitude and $25,790 for the Limited. Four-wheel drive adds $2,000 to these prices. The off-road Trailhawk model is $26,990, and with exuberant option additions could take the price to just over $33,000.
My driving partner and I had a chance to experience the Renegade under a variety of conditions from freeways to narrow winding roads through the Santa Cruz mountains. At the famous Hollister Hills off-road park we did some hardcore off road driving; and I can announce that the 2015 Jeep Renegade is the real thing; I?m not sure it?s capable of climbing over the bounders on the Rubicon, but for nearly every other kind of off-road activity it is all Jeep and not some cute imitation.
It?s equally impressive on-road, too. The ride is quiet, and more comfortable than I would have expected. The steering is precise and I didn?t feel any significant body roll in the corners. It looks like Jeep may be in for another record sales year. The Renegade goes on sale in March.