2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk 4×4 Review – A Gimmick Wrapped In Nostalgia

2015 Jeep Renedate Trailhawk (15 of 20)

2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk 4×4

2.4-liter Tigershark SOHC I-4, MultiAir 2 variable valve and lift timing (180 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm; 175 lbs-ft of torque @ 3,900 rpm)

Nine-speed ZF 948TE automatic transmission w/ Jeep Active Drive Low 4×4

21 city/29 highway/24 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

20.5 mpg on the 50/50 city/hwy, 100-percent frustrated driver cycle (Observed, MPG)

Tested Options: Trailer Tow Group, Premium Leather Group, Premium Navigation Group, Safety and Security Group, My Sky Open Air Roof System – Power/Removable Panels, Keyless Enter ‘n Go w/ Push Button Start, Black Hood Decal, 9 Amplified Speakers w/ Subwoofer, ParkView Rear Back-up Camera, Remote Start System.

Base Price (Trailhawk):

$26,990* (U.S.)/$32,795* (Canada)

As Tested Price:

$33,255* (U.S.)/$39,525* (Canada)

* All prices include $995 destination fee (U.S.) or $1,795 destination fee and A/C tax (Canada).

There’s a reason why legions of buyers deplete their expendable income to welcome thousands upon thousands of Wranglers to their paved driveways in planned subdivisions every single year. Even if you never use all the capability offered by Jeep’s mainstay, you have the appearance of being able to tackle anything that comes your way, whether it be a blizzard in Southern Texas or spontaneous volcanic eruption in Manhattan. It also helps that you can take the top off, adopt the persona of one of those lightly bearded, unachievably cool college dropouts in the Jeep commercials, and see yourself living the perfect life that’s somewhere between Bear Grylls and Socality Barbie. (Though, pee-drinking endorser Grylls also endorses Land Rover over the much-romanticized Wrangler.)

So, what if you could have all that freedom in a more economical, slightly less brutish, equally colourful package? And what if it was “crafted” in Italy just like that Dolce and Gabbana bag that totally isn’t a Chinese knockoff?

Enter the Renegade. What used to be a special edition version of CJs and Wranglers is now a redressed Italian with more lifestyle gimmicks and kitch than one can fit in an artisanal Instagram feed.

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Exterior

Easter eggs are fun. I like fun. You like fun. We all like fun.

What I don’t like are easter eggs that show how much more fun I could be having in a real Jeep.

For starters, there are about eighty zillion seven-slot Jeep grilles on the Renegade. They’re in the headlamps, taillamps, rearview mirror, speaker grille frames (grilles on grilles!), center console and the interior plastic panel of the rear hatch. There’s also a virtual army of Willys MAs standing sentry on the rooflatches, floormats and windshield. There’s the map of Moab — where less than one percent of Renegade owners will actually go, so why do we need a permanent map of the place? — and World War II gas can X stamp upon World War II gas can X stamp.

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But, the thing that bugs me the most about the Renegade is the color. Not this particular shade of Sierra Blue, but its pairing with the burn-your-retinas red that adorns the inside trim pieces, exterior badges and front tow hooks.

Jeep: just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

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Our tester was fitted with the powered version of the Renegade’s “My Sky” open-air roof system, giving you the option of opening the front panel like a sunroof that you can’t see through when closed, or removing both front and rear panels and storing them in the trunk. Those panels require a special tool to remove them that’s so small that you’ll likely lose it. Also, the ease of removal isn’t a walk in the park. I’ve seen a 5-foot-nothing, 22-year-old female exert less effort taking the roof off a Del Sol than it took me to remove the roof panels from the Renegade. It’s not that the panels are heavy; they’re just awkward. Thankfully, the panels aren’t so clunky that they take up a huge amount of cargo space.

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As for the Renegade being a “small SUV,” well, see for yourself. The stretched version of the iconic Jeep Wrangler is nearly 15-feet-4-inches long. The Renegade? Nearly 13-feet-11-inches long.

The Renegade is longer than a Wranglerbut just a little over a foot shorter than the Unlimited. The Wrangler, regardless of length, is only 2 inches wider.

As for offroading, the Renegade’s short overhangs and ground clearance (6.7 to 8.7 inches depending on drivetrain and trim) will likely handle anything a future Renegade owner will throw at it. For those opting for the Trailhawk, you can even attack 19 inches of water for those flash floods in Houston when you’re really jonesing for some Marlboros and have to go to the store.

Regardless of its offroad capability, it looks cute. And I don’t think a Jeep should ever look cute.

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Interior

Whoever has been cracking out the handsomely penned interior designs at Chrysler lately obviously went on a long sabbatical when the Renegade project came around.

The steering wheel is standard Chrysler fare, so I will give that a pass. Same with UConnect, which works flawlessly except when it doesn’t.

Meanwhile, everything else looks and feels decidedly cheap. The seats aren’t much to look at, even though our tester was trimmed with the upgraded option. The red surrounds with their slight metallic shimmer are about one step away from being 99 cent clip-on earrings for your nearly-tween daughter. Also, the gimmicks continue in the instrument panel with a paintball splatter to totally denote the redline, bro.

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The return of button blanks continues the cheapness. Even on this top trim Trailhawk, loaded up with extras, the center stack featured five button blanks in a row of eight possible placements. I thought we were done with this. Same goes for the awkwardly placed 4×4 selector and USB port that are way out of reach of the driver which causes he/she/xe to take their eyes off the road.

There was also never a time when I felt comfortable in the Renegade. The driving position was a bit off no matter how much I adjusted.

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Without the roof panels stowed, and assuming you left the panel bag at home, the cargo area will take on 18.5 cubes with seats up and 50.8 cubes with seats folded. The Patriot, which costs less, will swallow more. The Wrangler can’t take as much stuff as the Renegade when seats are up (12.8 cubic feet) but maximum cargo yields an extra 4.2 cubic feet of volume.

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Infotainment

I really like Uconnect when it isn’t trying to kill us. I liked it in the Charger and I’ll continue liking it even if security is engineered by the Jin Xu Hi Sieve Manufacturing Co. It might not be as nice to look at as some of the next-generation systems coming online over the next year or two, but it sure does everything I want.

That said, with the 9-speaker audio upgrade, the Renegade only sounds OK. The car feels a bit tinny, and the audio makes that more apparent. It’s as if the sound waves have an endless number of empty spaces behind the door panels in which to reverberate. Also, this UConnect system sports the 6.5-inch touchscreen, but looking at the molding around the screen tells me the Renegade could have been easily fitted with the 8.4-inch screen and Jeep simply decided not to offer it.

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Powertrain

In the engine and transmission department, the Renegade offers two choices. Unfortunately, neither of those choices are, well, good.

For starters, a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is offered as standard. It makes do with 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. Our Trailhawk tester comes standard with the 2.4-liter “World Engine” four cylinder with 180 horsepower and 175 lbs-ft of torque. The turbo can only be had with a six-speed manual. The larger, naturally aspirated 2.4 gets the nine-speed ZF automatic as the sole transmission.

Before I even looked at the spec sheet, I took the Renegade for a drive. The 2.4-liter Tigershark isn’t what you would call smooth or refined, and neither is the nine-speed autobox. It felt like I was driving a small turbo mill with a bad DCT. It’s a dreadful pairing, like inviting Kanye West to any awards show. Whatever you are trying to accomplish will be interrupted at least once, maybe multiple times.

There was one moment during my drive that helped me decide the 2.4-liter and automatic should die a painful, horrific death. As I was merging onto the highway, I saw a vehicle approaching from behind that had been hidden at first glance behind a barricade. To try to get out of the way, I floored it.

One second. The revs are rising but I am not going any faster.

Two seconds. Revs are basically at redline but still no change in the rate of acceleration.

Three seconds. The transmission finally decides what gear it wants to select, grabs it and my rate of acceleration is only marginally better.

Around town or just cruising is a friendlier story, but that moment on the highway as much faster traffic was barrelling down on me was not just concerning, but also sincerely scary.

The cherry on top: Fuel economy clocked in at 3.5 mpg lower than the combined rating — and the rating of 24 mpg isn’t all that brilliant to begin with. If you are looking for a usable powertrain with decent fuel economy, you are better off with a Patriot with the six-speed automatic.

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Drive

Despite what I said about the Wrangler, I like it a lot. I like it so much, in fact, that if the Charger thing doesn’t work out and Ford doesn’t build a Bronco, a Wrangler might be the next vehicle to grace my paved driveway in our hastily planned 1980s subdivision.

The Renegade, on the other hand, tries to leverage all the cool of the Wrangler, but is nothing more than a gimmick wrapped in nostalgia. Even worse, the gimmicks try to hide a bad powertrain and numerous other flaws. While the MultiAir 2 valve system and ZF nine speed might be engineering marvels, they don’t make for an enjoyable drive.

And it doesn’t stop there. The Trailhawk offers up ride quality that would make the Lada Niva blush. For a faux-roader with no destination other than a local, artisanal butcher only selling chickens that have been stroked in a motherly fashion at least 10 times every week, the Renegade Trailhawk isn’t going to be taking on the Rubicon Trail anytime soon.

For all this, our tester rang in at $33,255. In Canada, it costs an even more dear $39,525. Before taxes.

*jaw drop*

For that money, you can get the Wrangler and enjoy a real drop top. You can even spend a little more and get into a Land Rover LR2 if you fancy yourself a urine-drinking adventuristHell, if you don’t need the off road capability, the choices are as vast as the open prairie.

I really wanted to like the Renegade because I hate the idea of it. I really wanted it to prove me wrong and show me Jeep can build an SUV with this level of off road capability without losing all the pleasantries that makes the competition so damn good. I like being surprised, even if it means being proved wrong. Yet, I think this is an answer to a question that was asked but shouldn’t have been. Or maybe simply a wrong answer. We all do that now and then, so I’ll forgive you, Jeep.

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2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk Roof Panel Storage, © 2015 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars
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2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk Roof, Image: © 2015 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars
2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk 4×4 Review – A Gimmick Wrapped in Nostalgia
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