Sure it has polarising looks, but the Renegade is a strong new Jeep product and well worth a look if you're in the market for a compact crossover.
In the Metal:
I like it. Not everyone will. In fact, one colleague commentated that it had better be reliable and brilliant to drive because it looks awful. That may be (eye of the beholder and all that), but personally I'm a sucker for the Jeep legend so the Renegade's chunky, four-square styling that contains so many cues and throwbacks to the original 1941 Willys Jeep just clicked with me instantly. Yes, it's colour and spec sensitive (avoid the chrome grille option, please) but it certainly looks like nothing else in the segment and the Nissan Juke proves that challenging looks are no barrier to success.
Inside, things are a little more conventional, but still pretty good. Jeep's overall cabin quality keeps improving with every generation, and while there are some scrappy plastics down low around your knees, up high and on the doors everything is fine. It's more rugged than it is classy or luxurious, but that's surely appropriate to the brand and it gives the impression that you simply won't care when your kids start taking chunks out of it and spreading Marmite on the upholstery. The uConnect touchscreen infotainment system is standard and simple, the main dials look a little cheap (and the mud splash redline on the rev-counter just looks silly), but the central digital display (either 3.5-inch monochrome or 7.7-inch colour TFT optionally) is classy and clear. It's comfortable too and these left-hand drive test cars had an excellent driving position. A warning though - the footwell on the right-hand side felt very tight on space, so right-hand drive cars may not be so comfy.
Space in the back is decent (Jeep claims it's class leading, but we reckon a Skoda Yeti is more spacious still) and the 351-litre boot is big and sensibly proportioned. You can really go all out on the options, including pop-out roof panels and all manner of colour highlights and detailing, but it all seems to look better if you keep things relatively simple.
Still nursing memories of just how awful the 2004 Grand Cherokee was to drive, I sat into the Renegade with a small bit of apprehension. I needn't have - it's not quite as slick to drive as a Yeti, nor as sharp in the steering as a MINI Countryman, but overall the Renegade is very well dynamically sorted. The steering's a bit numb, but it's nicely weighted and while the ride is quite firm (and could potentially be a bit too jittery on Irish roads) it's well damped. The Renegade is very calm and unperturbed by high motorway speeds, and reasonably agile in the corners.
The 1.6-litre engine is a bit on the noisy side, although it's better here than in the related Fiat 500L - it just never entirely goes away, noise-wise, although engine warmth and cruising speeds help. Still, it's torque-rich enough to make upgrading to the 2.0-litre diesel pretty pointless, unless having four-wheel drive is paramount for you.
It will also tackle rough roads with ease and aplomb, despite being front-wheel drive. Certainly the odd gravel track on our test route gave it neither cause nor pause for concern, so if you're a country-fried type, it could prove ideal.
What you get for your Money:
Pricing is still to be announced, but the Renegade should clock in at around the €25k mark, and the uConnect touchscreen, air conditioning and a bevy of safety equipment are all standard, so it should be pretty good value for money. A limiting factor will be Jeep's lack of dealers in Ireland at the moment - if you want one of these, you're going to have to search hard for it when it goes on sale in February of next year.
This 1.6-litre diesel, front-drive Longitude (one up from basic) model is the one that will actually sell. The one you will want though is the Trailhawk. Expect prices for this one to be will into the €35k region, but then it does have four-wheel drive, a 2.0-litre 170hp diesel engine and a nine-speed automatic gearbox.
It also has higher ride height, with 210mm of ground clearance compared to 175mm for the standard car, and huge approach, break over and departure angles too. It's a proper, pukka off-roader, the car that allows the rest of the Renegade range to wear the Jeep brand with pride. We got it to slop, slip and slide through some seriously slippery Italian ooze and it has also been tested in the wilds of Utah, the heat of Death Valley and more. It's off-roading prowess like this that gives the brand and the model proper legitimacy and makes some of its rivals look just a touch fey.
This Renegade is the best thought out and most dynamically balanced Jeep product for some time, and one that should do well in bringing new fans and customers to this storied brand. How well it will do in pure sales terms will depend on Jeep Ireland getting its pricing just right, expanding its dealer network and convincing people to abandon their familiar Japanese and European brands for a little slice of Italian-American pie.