We ask whether a firm that specialises in small cars can build a Jeep that’s true to its heritage and is relevant today
When the world financial crisis hit in 2007, the ramifications for many car manufacturers was extreme, with some of the largest car brands in the world almost hitting the buffers.
Chrysler seemed to be one of the hardest hit before an Italian firm, themselves not known for wealth or deep pockets, came to the rescue.
In 2014 Fiat completed the takeover and in 2015 launched the first joint-venture vehicle, a compact-SUV. Under the Fiat brand arrived the 500X and for the Jeep, it was the Renegade. They’re built alongside one another at Fiat’s Melfi plant in southern Italy (somewhere between Naples and Bari).
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The Renegade sports traditional Jeep styling cues including a seven-slot chrome grille, round headlamps and trapezoidal wheel arches, which gives it a stocky look that’s unmistakably Jeep.
Available in two or four-wheel drive, it’s powered by a choice of six engines, equally split between petrol and diesel. Depending on which engine you go for, you either get a six-speed manual gearbox, six-speed automatic or nine-speed automatic.
There are four main trim levels; Sport, Longitude, Limited and Trailhawk. For 2016/17 there’s also a 75th Anniversary special edition.
We’re testing the 1.6-litre MJET diesel engine with two-wheel drive, a six-speed manual gearbox in Limited trim and is priced at £24,695. The entry-level Sport with a 1.6 E-torQ 108bhp petrol engine is available from £18,195.
Limited trim brings; 18in alloy wheels; dual-zone climate control; heated front seats; leather steering wheel; leather upholstery; 7.0in colour TFT screen; 6.5in touchscreen infotainment system with sat-nav and Bluetooth; privacy glass; and rear parking sensors.
How does it drive?
What the Renegade excels in most is ride comfort. It’ll absorb large bumps and potholes with aplomb although smaller imperfections are more noticeable, however, for long periods it can be smooth and creamy.
That comfortable ride comes at the expense of roll through the corners, which isn’t excessive but is noticeable. Its steering is generally well-weighted but ask it to do too much, it can become inconsistent.
Traction is a slight issue off-the-line as the 1.6-litre diesel generates too much torque for the front wheels to cope with. That being said, it means the engine is powerful, quick and gives the Renegade plenty of flexibility for overtaking.
Peak torque kicks in just below 2,000rpm (officially 1,750), with little on offer before. It then storms to around 4,500rpm where it runs out of puff.
The six-speed manual gearbox feels robust and has a short quick action to it.
Inside, there’s little disturbance until higher speeds, as the engine is very quiet while suspension and road noise are well suppressed, with only wind noise becoming noticeable at motorway speeds.
Visibility to the front and side is good but the over-the-shoulder is hindered by a thick rear pillar and small window.
What's it like inside?
The first thing you’ll notice climbing into the Renegade is the classic 4x4 feel it has with its upright windscreen and near vertical dashboard. Then there’s the 1941 inscription signifying Jeep’s year of inception, map contours on the anti-slip tray may and a classic Jeep etched onto the windscreen.
It also feels bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside. There’s plenty of head and shoulder room while most should be able to get comfortable with good seat adjustment and a steering wheel that adjust for reach and tilt.
Add to that a chunky gear lever, large rotary climate dials, the stout speed and rev counter surrounds complete with a splash of mud graphic and it all combines to give this car a rugged character. Its materials also feel robust, with those on the top half of the dash being soft to touch.
The steering wheel is wrapped in leather as is the central armrest which has an averaged sized storage compartment underneath complete with a USB port. The glovebox and door bins are too small, though. There are two cupholders between the seats.
A 6.5in colour touchscreen sits high up on the dash and while it is simple and easy to use, it does feel a little outdated compared to newer rivals. It has DAB radio, sat-nav and Bluetooth.
Getting into the back is made easy with wide door openings. There’s loads of head and leg room while knee room is more than decent. Three younger teenagers would fit easily across the back. The seats are also comfortable and a bottle will find a home in each door.
The boot gets a large square opening but there is a bit of a lip to get over as there was no adjustable floor on the model we had but that did mean that the boot was usefully deep. Under the boot floor, there’s extra storage compartments and a tyre inflator kit.
Jeep’s official combined economy is 64.2mpg with CO2 emissions of just 115g/km, although we achieved 44mpg over 80-miles over a mixture of town, country and dual carriageway driving.
The CO2 translates to an annual road tax of £30 and it falls into a 23% company car tax banding.
This model gets an insurance banding of group 13.
It comes with a three-year 60,000-mile warranty.
The Renegade is comfortable, swift, refined and rugged. It feels spacious inside yet is no larger on the outside than a VW Golf.
The omission of four-wheel drive is a loss here due to the lack of front end grip and sledgehammer torque when pulling away from junctions. There’s also a little too much roll to make it entertaining to drive.
It’s full of character this Jeep, it’s highly commendable and is a very likeable vehicle. We’d stick with a lower trim model with a cheaper asking price but would add four-wheel drive.
Can Fiat make a Jeep? Oh, yes they can.
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Driver's Seat Rating:
3.5 out of 5
It's worth considering:
2016 Jeep Renegade 1.6 MultiJet II Limited 120 6-Speed Manual: