Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

When it comes to this SUV, looks aren't everything

Very cool, indeed, but lacking in power, handling

Jeff Rundles //September 7, 2016//

When it comes to this SUV, looks aren't everything

Very cool, indeed, but lacking in power, handling

Jeff Rundles //September 7, 2016//


The Jeep Renegade came about in the partnership Jeep/Chrysler forged a few years ago with the Italian automaker Fiat, which fully “merged” with Chrysler in 2014. At base the Renegade is a front-wheel-drive subcompact SUV, available in trims Sport, Latitude, Limited and Trailhawk. 

My son, the teen-age car expert, was very excited the day the Renegade was delivered, calling it one of the coolest vehicles he had ever been in. Hard to argue. They brought us the top-of-the-line Trailhawk edition, painted in this Anvil exterior paint, a matte gray color not unlike the gray primer color that is often used as a base coat on automobiles. That color, combined with some aggressive trim accents not seen on regular Renegades, gave this vehicle a very bold look that drew stares everywhere we went.

Inside, the interior carried on the aggressive feel, with black premium cloth bucket seats up front featuring topographical map accents and red stitching. The topo map motif was carried through to the console surfaces, and there were also red trim pieces on the radio speakers and climate blower outlets, and red stitching on the leather-wrapped steering wheel. It’s a very cool vehicle, no doubt.

What we didn’t get on this model – and I saw last year on the Limited edition – was a feature Jeep calls “My Sky” – a dual panel removable roof that can give the Renegade that very Jeep-like look so popular on the Jeep Wrangler. My Sky is available on the Trailhawk for an additional $1,095 for manual operation and $1,495 for power retractable panels.

For the first few days, I just drove the vehicle around town, and I found the 2.4liter I4 engine (made by Chrysler; the base model 1.4-liter turbo is a Fiat engine), coupled with a Chrysler 9-speed automatic transmission to be efficient and even a little zippy.

It is rated at 180 horsepower (while the turbocharged other engine is rated at 160 hp), and for just running around it felt fine. The transmission is very smooth, and while I wouldn’t refer to the power as speed-demon-like, in town it was just a little more than adequate. And the handling was fine. For the record, this engine is rated at 21 mpg city/20 mpg highway

On the highway, however, I found the power and the handling to be lacking. Once you get this vehicle up to speed, it is relatively difficult to get it to accelerate for passing in a manner that at least I would like. It seemed like the hamsters were doing their best to keep this Renegade going at 65 mph, much less having to kick it into another gear for a burst of needed speed.

Then there’s the handling. The Renegade, up close, looks a little blunted, especially in the back, and you feel this at speed. The center of gravity feels like it is off, and there were many times that I felt as though I needed to brake and slow so as not to tip the vehicle.

Ah, but out in the back country, it’s another story. I didn’t exactly go off-roading, but I did go up in the mountains on a very bumpy dirt road, and I was impressed. They call the Trailhawk “off-road ready,” and it features an off-road suspension with underbody skid plates, and a little more clearance (a 20 mm, or .79 inch, lift kit not seen on regular Renegades), and I must say I have never driven a vehicle in these conditions that took the bumps so smoothly.

The all-wheel-drive system is great.  They call it Jeep’s Active Drive Low four-wheel-drive system, and on the console panel you can dial up traction control for any conditions: Auto, Snow, Sand, Mud or Rock. Very cool, and I could very much fell the difference when I dialed up Sand on the loose dirt road. It’s also an intelligent AWD system that reverts automatically to 2WD to save on fuel when the conditions are smooth. It was August when I drove it, but I think it’s safe to say that this Trailhawk would be great in the snow.

This Jeep featured a smallish LED screen in the middle of the dash – which I liked (6.5”, an upgrade from the standard 5”) – that handled the controls for a very nice radio (with XM satellite, of course), the navigation system and rear back-up camera, and the ubiquitous Bluetooth hands-free phone connections, all of which was very easy to use. There was also all of the power outlets and hookups for technology that everyone requires these days.

Inside, the second row seating was roomy, and the seat can fold down flat 40-20-20, which helps greatly for gear and extra passengers. This is needed because the storage space in the back of this SUV is quite small, as the stunted rear end of this vehicle I mentioned earlier had to be taken from somewhere. 

I’d like to mention two other, smaller things that I found to be quite nice. First, this vehicle has a remote start feature, accessible from the keyless entry key fob (a $125 option), that worked great and could be a very nice thing in the winter (unless you break the “puffer” law about idling an unoccupied vehicle). And then the power windows have the fastest up and down speed I have ever seen; it stunned me, really.

The base price on this Renegade Trailhawk 4X4 is $26,495. They added in a Cold Weather Package – heated front seats, wiper de-icer, heated steering wheel – for $495, the keyless entry for $125, and, for $1,245, a Navigation Group package with UConnect that upgraded the screen size, featured navigation and map, and added in Sirius XM Travel Link and Traffic with a 5-year subscription. They also added, for $595, an auto-dimming mirror, the fold-down rear seat with a pass through an upgraded climate control with dual zone controls, and a power driver’s seat with lumbar support. As always, there is a destination charge of $995, so the bottom line came to $30,075.

Based on other SUVs of this ilk I have driven, that $30,000 price is pretty good. I really did like the Renegade Trailhawk, and I could see that for back-country enthusiasts, it would be a wonderful weekend excursion choice. But if I needed something to drive frequently on the highway for long distances, I would get something else.