In the ever escalating race to build the best compact crossover imaginable, Jeep has taken it upon themselves to give us something a wee bit different. While everyone else is busy cranking out sleek and stylish machines that are more interested in being sports car-like and techy, Jeep has decided to go a different route and offer the public a vehicle that is just as compact as it is rugged. The 2015 Jeep Renegade Limited 4×4 is a whimsical curveball for all those traditional naysayers who believe that compact crossovers need to be boring and cannot have multiple traction settings, and when we got our hands on one the other week we were pretty pleased with what we discovered.
Now as a disclaimer, we did not thrash the hell out of this thing in some bog or hit the Mojave Desert with it like the guys over at Edmunds did a while back. This was just a quick spin that was made possible by our friends over at Jake Sweeney Automotive so that we could get some quick snaps, test it out in daily driving conditions, and then return it to the dealer scratch-free. Most of us will never see the Mojave Desert in our lifetime, and if we do chances are it will be from the air conditioned confines of a tour bus on its way to a sorbet stand. Cars like this are designed for frugal first-time car buyers, teens whose parents want them in something with all-wheel drive, and outdoor enthusiasts who need something that can handle moderate terrain but don’t want to gouge the mountainside with the footprint of a Wrangler or a Cherokee.
This is a sporty, rugged, middle of the road machine, that puts the fun in the word “funky.” Sure, the Limited 4×4 version we got our mitts on costs over ten grand more than the $17,000 base model, but we wanted something that struck a balance between the turbo entry-level model and the rugged Trailhawk edition.
But before we begin to dive into all of the details that make this compact/subcompact crossover a genuine contender, let’s look at one of the most overstated features on this vehicle: the branding. Jeep has taken it upon themselves to go beyond badges and stamped steering wheels by putting the Jeep name and its logos on virtually every component of the car. From the side-view mirrors and the reverse lights, to the speaker covers and the center dash that is stamped “SINCE 1941″ there is a smorgasbord of branding in this thing to remind us of what we are driving if for some reason we should forget. The funny thing is we don’t think that Jeep needs all of these insignias in the Renegade, as we found it to be quite a memorable little car.
Even before pushing the automatic start button, we were overcome by a feeling of awe that ended up lasting the whole day. No, we’re not talking about the cappuccino-colored compact crossover’s quirky lines or unusual tail lights, it’s the inner beauty of that gorgeous upholstery and clever interior that makes us swoon. From the supple heated leather seats and the button adorned steering wheel with matching features, to the high-quality digital gauges, knobs, and switches, this thing oozes with quality on levels far above its meager price tag. It’s roomy for being so minuscule-looking too, with plenty of room in the front and back for “larger” individuals like myself, and it even has a height adjustable cargo area that houses 18.5 cubic feet of extra storage space.
At speed, the Renegade was relatively quiet and controlled on the run, with surprisingly steady handling for something so boxy and bouncy-looking. It also had a fantastic layout in place for the driver, with switches and knobs in all the right places. In the handling department, the Renegade fared far better than expected as well, giving us controlled turns and less body roll than anticipated, with a surprisingly smooth steering response when the pedal was down. Though the acceleration was a tad pokey and inconsistent, the brakes offered us one of the nicest surprises of the day outside of the interior: Firm and fluid, they’re better than anything we could hope for in a car that looks so unassuming.
Our complaints with the Renegade are ones that have already been well-documented by the likes of Consumer Guide and Car and Driver, who also found the 2.4-liter Tigershark engine to be a confused combo of under-powered and indecisive, much like the overly-enthusiastic nine-speed transmission it has been mated to. Gear shifts arrive either too soon or too late under throttle, and there is a general feeling that the Limited edition should have been made available with a six-cylinder powerplant — or at least a more potent four. The under-sized, oddly-positioned center stack display is somewhat awkward, sitting too far out and requiring considerable movement for proper viewing. But that was about it — everything else on this car was seemingly just right, from the over-sized windows to the built-in rechargeable LED flashlight, this was a a surprisingly good little car that suburban “soft-roaders” shouldn’t find much fault with.
The Jeep Renegade really is named quite appropriately too, as it tends to follow its own path while having a bit of cheeky fun along the way. It’s cute and bubbly enough to win over a high school cheerleader when it’s clad in Solar Yellow, and it can become rugged and utilitarian enough for the average millennial outdoorsman who needs a 4×4 with snow, mud, and sand traction settings. The Limited 4×4 version is the perfect blend of the two in our opinion, as all of the cuteness rides high on top of a practical platform that is designed to perform. It’s kind of like taking a Jello shot in college: It’s all fun, colorful, and silly sounding the first time you do one, but give it a few minutes and you’ll realize that there’s more to it than meets the eye.