HOLLISTER, Calif. -- The Renegade subcompact SUV is Jeep’s latest attempt at an entry-level vehicle.
In 2006, Jeep, then part of DaimlerChrysler, introduced the Compass -- and later, its platform mate, the Patriot -- as a unibody SUV aimed at attracting first-time buyers to the brand.
The original combination of front-wheel drive and a continuously variable transmission was derided by the Jeep faithful as an affront to the brand’s off-road heritage, and sales lagged at first.
The Renegade fixes those brand sins with a powertrain that is peppy but, Jeep says, still achieves in excess of 30 mpg on the highway. And the vehicle is rugged enough off-road to wear the brand’s Trail Rated badge.
With prices starting at $18,990, including shipping, the first Italian-made Jeep should help the brand thrive in the competitive subcompact market.
The Renegade, arriving in U.S. dealerships in volume by the end of March, will compete against such vehicles as the Nissan Juke, Mazda CX-3, Kia Soul, Honda HR-V and Chevrolet Trax.
The front-drive Renegade shifts into all-wheel drive when more traction is needed, with disconnecting awd similar to the Jeep Cherokee.
Two powertrain options feature inline four-cylinder engines: a base 1.4-liter turbo that makes 160 hp paired to a six-speed manual transmission and an optional 2.4-liter that cranks out 180 hp mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission.
The Renegade’s three main trim levels -- Sport, Latitude and Limited -- all come standard with fwd. Awd is a $2,000 option.
The top-end Trailhawk trim excels off-road. With 8.7 inches of ground clearance, responsive electric steering and generous approach, departure and break-over angles, the Renegade Trailhawk trails only the two-door Wrangler in capability on trails.
The Trailhawk comes standard with an electronically enabled crawl ratio of 20:1, enabling downhill awd descents without the need for braking.