Jeep Renegade Review: An Entry-Level Wrangler For the Urban Jeep Lover

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

There are a lot of cars out there that boast all-wheel drive or 4×4 capabilities, and while they may do their jobs well, adjustability remains minimal at best and very rarely do they come attached to a manual gearbox for added control and fun. So when I was offered the overly-patented Jeep Renegade Sport for a week-long review, the topic of a turbocharged, six-speed option was put on the table. Sure, why not — I could use a brief departure from virtually every other crossover on the market today.

Averaging a 27 mile per gallon EPA estimate from its 1.4-liter MultiAir turbo engine and boasting no stamp of its off-road prowess outside of some badging, the Fiat-based Renegade is an homage to Jeeps of yesteryear when they were small, clutch-driven, and slightly under-powered. So what if it isn’t the most well-appointed CUV I have ever driven? The unrestrained hooplehead inside me loved driving this rabid little runt around, as it provides a feeling akin to seeing a badass rock show and then getting to drink a beer with the band after curtains.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Exterior

Built to look like a retro-modded, modern day version of the classic car we all recognize, the Renegade Sport is obviously all Jeep. But with its smaller stature, honeycombed front grilles, blackened plastic trim pieces, protruding lower air dam, two-tone, removable hardtop, signature taillights, and purpose-built wheel gaps, there is little confusing this vehicle for anything else on the road.

Sporting “Sierra Blue” paint, blacked-out roof rails that match the “My Sky” removable hardtop, and a Lego-ish outline that is both youthful and memorable, it’s the little features like the front fascia being stamped into the taillights and miniature Jeeps driving around the edge of the windscreen that remind us that cars aren’t just meant to be driven, they are designed to be enjoyed. Plus, who doesn’t like the look of large, X-beamed back-up lights?

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Exterior pros and cons

+ Boxy, basic, and outlined in mountains of black, the styling of the Renegade Sport is equal parts adorable and capable, even if slight of stature.

+ Jeep’s “My Sky” removable roof panels are a nice touch and add a great two-tone look to the top of the vehicle in order to balance out all of that black trim around the undercarriage.

+ While it may not serve any purpose, small stuff like the little Jeep off-roading across the corner of the windscreen and the logo being integrated into the taillights are little touches to help remind us of how much fun cars can be.

– That iconic, boxy Jeep look has the drag coefficient of an ocean liner, so dodging wind gusts and achieving stellar gas mileage are not in the cards with this one.

– The Renegade’s stock wheel/tire combo are about as undersized and unimpressive as it gets. This little guy really needs some alloy options, a slight lift, and some fatter rubber wrapping the rim.

– There are no exposed, polished exhaust ports on the Sport version, something drivers typically associate with “sportiness.” An integrated dual-port exhaust with polished tips a la SRT Grand Cherokee would look fantastic on this Jeep.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Powertrain

Turbocharged cars that run on regular unleaded are one of the greatest automotive advancements of our age in my opinion, and while the Renegade Sport may not have much in the way of displacement, the addition of a turbocharger and a six-speed manual gearbox make it far more fun than one might expect. Sure, there’s a little turbo lag, but after you hit second gear this rambunctious little bastard begins to hit all 160 horses without issue, leaving you smiling regardless of whether it is on or off the beaten path.

Turbocharged fun aside, it’s the gearbox and drive settings in this thing that really steal the show. The C635 manual offers drivers an extremely forgiving clutch and multiple drive modes for conquering snow, mud, sand, and anything in between. It’s a little clunky at times and may make a bit of noise, but this is a Jeep. Just relish in the balance and know that in all of my years of driving I have yet to encounter a better, unmodified SUV/truck in which one might teach beginner drivers the ways of the manual transmission. If my kid were old enough to ask for a Wrangler, I’d give them this instead.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Powertrain pros and cons

+ That six-speed C635 manual transmission has to have one of the easiest clutches imaginable in it, and when it engages you get instant results even when the mud is nearing knee-high.

+ The Renegade Sport’s 1.4-liter MultiAir motor may be slight in stature, but in many ways it’s the little engine that could. A plucky little bastard, this Fiat-based powerplant doesn’t shy away from redline, and is always just as happy to hit the highway as it is to see the swamp.

+ With its multiple traction modes, there is very little terrain the Renegade can’t tackle. Snow, Sand, Mud, or Auto settings are always available at the push/turn of a knob, and being able to run on just two wheels is appreciated when it’s interstate time.

– For as good as the 1.4-liter engine is, it does suffer from a little turbo lag. Larger displacement in the future (2.0 liters perhaps?) might help iron those wrinkles out.

– Not a deal breaker, but the engine/drivetrain does generate a bit of vibration/noise under heavy load. Get used to telling passengers that it’s “a Jeep thing” and that they just “wouldn’t understand.”

– Being the Sport version, you would think the Renegade receives some nice Mopar power mods, but it really doesn’t have any. A more free-flowing exhaust, a snorkeled air intake, and a computer re-flash could really bring this machine into its own by freeing-up some hidden power.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Interior

When reviewing the Renegade Sport’s cabin, I found that there were more things missing from the equation than issues, like the absence of a sunglasses holder, lack of storage room in the center console, and there not being a clock anywhere other than on the radio (which has to be turned on for you to see it). Otherwise, everything was pretty peachy, as this version of the Renegade offers drivers a no-frills cockpit that is easily accessible, well laid out, and solidly constructed.

With its well-positioned, beefy shift knob, contrasting seat patterns, sturdy plastic trim pieces, removable “My Sky” roofing, and angled speakers with snug cupholders, this quirky internal take on what a Jeep can be is a perfect reflection of its exterior. Maybe if FCA threw in some vented quarter glass up front, and kept the olive-drab military pouch for the instruction manual in the glovebox, Jeep would have an even more interesting throwback on its hands. Special Mopar edition, anyone?

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Interior pros and cons

+ Minimalistic and ruggedly appointed, the interior of the Renegade Sport is a no-frills swing at practicality, something it does surprisingly well.

+ Roomy, sturdy, well laid out, and attractive in a “less is more” kind of way, the cabin is a fantastic urban spin on the old-school Willys Jeep.

+ It was way too cold for me to remove the “My Sky” hardtop, but I’m confident that this addition is one of the coolest things about this chassis. Add that to its clever, height adjustable rear cargo floor and solid seating spacing, and buyers will find that there is so much about this Jeep that works design-wise.

– While forward-facing and side visibility in the Renegade is pretty good, the absence of a rearview camera makes looking out the back glass mandatory, an action that is not nearly as rewarding.

– The removable top is nice, but having a regular retractable sunroof up front, with a larger “My Sky” setup in the back would be better, as it would instill more light, ventilation, and class within the cabin.

– Both the steering wheel and the seats are definitely on the firm side, so after an hour of gregarious driving, expect some hand and back fatigue. Jeep needs to leave the seat bolstering and steering wheel size alone, since they are both solid, and instead add a slightly more cushy-style of compliance for my fat ass.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Tech and safety

The Sport version of the Renegade isn’t the most tech-savvy example of Fiat/Chrysler engineering, but that isn’t why you would be buying one anyways. Want a bunch of cutting-edge technology in the Renegade? Go straight to the top and check out the Limited 4×4 version that I drove back over the summer, because that would likely suit your fancy. Don’t give a crap because your smartphone is amazing? Well then keep on reading…

I’m not saying that the Sport version is a complete return to the 1960s, but much like the six-speed transmission, there’s an interesting blend of automatic and manual in the tech department here. Half of it is missing all together: 75% of the tech on this car is either safety-related (and no, not the accident mitigation kind), drivetrain-focused, or charging-oriented. Less is more in the Renegade Sport, and even though the windows are automatic and the daytime running lights are in play, don’t expect your seats to have electronic buttons or the latest infotainment center to fire-up when you step inside, let’s leave that to the Grand Cherokee.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Tech pros and cons

+ Supplemental front and rear airbags, inflatable knee bolsters, electronic stability and all-speed traction control, hill-start assist, and anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes all are the kind of standard safety we like to see.

+ A 3.5-inch Multi Information Display (MID) showcases bright and crucially significant stats like vehicle speed, tire pressure, system warnings, messages, and exterior temps. Crisp and concise, it’s nice to see something so super simple look light-years ahead of cars that cost twice as much.

+ 12V auxiliary plugs front and rear, USB ports, and a package that gives you things like power heated mirrors and AC help make the rugged Renegade slightly more refined.

– Roll-back mitigation is a must if you have an electronic e-brake, but just like the Scion iM I reviewed over the summer, this sort of system still allows some noticeable rear drift on slighter slopes, something you should never experience, regardless of steepness. Tailgating Porsche Panamera Turbos, are no joke guys.

– While the Sport model is largely minimalistic, the Renegade’s basic radio’s display is about on the same level graphically as a boombox from 1997. Utilizing the tech found in the MID would greatly improve things, especially since Jeep has already installed a USB and auxiliary port for various purposes beneath it.

– The lack of LED lighting inside the cabin, accompanied by the absence of a slew of steering-mounted controls make you feel like there was an abrupt cut-off point when this version was designed, where inexpensive tech additions were omitted without reconsideration.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

The drive

On the highway in rear-wheel drive mode, the Renegade Sport is a pompous little miscreant. Having driven both the automatic, 2.4-liter Tigershark version and this one, I can safely say that this incarnation is the better of the two. It may not have all of the luxurious interior amenities or next-generation technology within its cabin, but when it comes down to sheer enjoyability behind the wheel, the turbocharged six-speed version really is the only way to go. Shifting is effortless thanks to the height/position of the shift knob and the quality of the clutch, visibility, cabin noise, and ride quality are not bad at all. Other high points for me were the Mopar disc brakes that I found on each hub, which were well proportioned and refused to fade, and how the steering response remained somewhere between lightweight and loaded regardless of whether I was on the pavement or off.

Speaking of going off-road, the Renegade Sport is a far more capable machine than it appears from afar, and after sliding around in a mud-riddled gravel pit for the better part of an afternoon, I can attest that the “Mud Mode” works quite well when things get messy — and that the regular 4×4 selection works extremely well for higher-speed frolicking. Ground clearance was acceptable, the ride was quieter and more comfortable than expected, traction was rarely an issue, and literally everything that got thrown at this crossover was handled with ease.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Wrap up and review

You know a car is a great when it wakes your ass up at 6 a.m. and refuses to let you go back to bed; every fiber aching to drive it just a little bit more. That’s exactly how I felt about the Renegade Sport once it was almost time for me to trade it up for a fresh face. I would go for random night cruises just for the hell of it, actively search out construction sites to explore in detail, and hit the country roads outside my friend’s house just to experience the joy of driving a Jeep in a forest for a change.

This is a near ideal car for anyone who is in the market for something fun, capable, turbocharged, and manually-driven, because with its meager $19,995 starting price, you would be foolish not to seriously consider it. Sure, FCA has had a ton of poor luck pertaining to recalls and reliability over the years, but for every set-back it encounters, something emerges that is completely out of this world in almost every way. Though everyone wants to talk about the Hellcats on the other end of the spectrum, I remain a firm believer that you don’t have to feel 707 horsepower to have a good time. We could always opt for the Trailhawk edition of the Renegade, but for the money, its hard to deny the value of this more base model. So slap it into second gear, and let’s aim for the next mountain of mud.

Check out Autos Cheat Sheet on Facebook and Twitter.

More from Autos Cheat Sheet: