The folks at Fiat-Chrysler are imbued with the heartening optimism that characterises any company undergoing a revival. Yes, there are some exciting things to look out for, such as the refocusing of Alfa Romeo, which we hear will usher in some scintillating products that promise to do justice to the brand’s illustrious heritage.
Of course, such turn around strategies take time. But if the new Renegade, from the group’s Jeep division, is anything to go by, the road ahead looks promising indeed. The newcomer seeks to capitalise on the lucrative B-segment SUV market, an area in which practically every manufacturer has an offering. Since the ambit is crowded, automakers have had to think out of the box to have a better chance at seizing buyers’ hearts and wallets. Quirky styling is common place here, with players such as the Nissan Juke proving just how successful oddball looks can be. So what does the Jeep bring to the party? In addition to the prestige of its lineage, it offers endearing aesthetics, great road manners and a host of novelties to make the daily commute more interesting.
With the exterior, the designers sought to pander to a more youthful set while retaining those distinctive Jeep traits. You still get those hallmarks such as the seven slot grille, round headlamps and a boxy silhouette. But there are several intriguing cues, such as the rear lamps, which mimic the imprint of the jerrycan strapped to the original Willys Jeep. There are a variety of alloy wheel designs to pick from, too. And the group’s Mopar accessories catalogue is stocked with items to make the Renegade look even meaner. The colour palette is pretty exuberant as well, and you can have different liveries and motifs, for added kerb-side appeal. It is the same story inside. The theme of the cabin is said to have been inspired by extreme leisure activities, you know, the kind of outdoorsy pursuits that require safety gear and pricey equipment. It all looks very cool and there are good things to be said about quality overall. There are soft, squishy surfaces as well as elements throwing in a splash of ruggedness. Once again, you can pick and mix between upholstery and trim colours. The Renegade ticks these boxes but inevitably, you are going to want to know if it is an authentic Jeep.
Well, it is only available as a two wheel drive derivative at present, which will dash the hopes of weekend mud warriors. But we ought to remember that nobody buys a B-segment SUV or crossover for its prowess on the rough stuff. Urban usability is what it is all about, and the Renegade showed impressive skills in the concrete jungle. No, seriously. With its 175mm ground clearance, we were able to climb some pretty hefty kerbs. We also trundled through a makeshift off-road obstacle course on the fringes of the Johannesburg CBD and the Jeep did not flinch. Its road manners are equally impressive. We were disappointed with the behaviour of its bigger sibling, the Cherokee, when we tested it earlier this year. Expectations for the Renegade were low. Happily, we can report that the compact Jeep feels a lot more accomplished, it is confident, surefooted and there is a sense of connection that you do not get in the Cherokee. It is the first Jeep to employ a selective damping strut system, developed by shock absorber specialists Koni. This gives the Renegade a polished ride quality; road surface imperfections below are ironed out quite nicely.
Your only engine choice in the Renegade currently is the 1.4-litre multi Air II mill, picked from the Fiat and Alfa Romeo power train department. It is mated to a six-speed manual transmission. In addition to sauntering around the trendy Maboneng Precinct, we also trekked out into Muldersdrift, where the Renegade showed an eagerness to stretch its legs. Overtaking might is ample, while the on-board computer showed an average consumption figure of 6.1 litres per 100km, 0.1 litres off the combined figure claimed by Jeep.
In terms of standard kit, you get rear park distance control, a five-inch touch screen interface, Bluetooth, cruise control, a tyre pressure monitor and climate control. Interesting options include an audio system made by Dr Dre’s cash spinning label, Beats. There is a but, however. The price. The Renegade will cost you R375990 and the less expensive derivatives are only expected later this year. It seems like a hefty asking price when you consider the cost of its peers in the segment. But if you are going to buy one, now is the time. The first 500 units brought into South Africa are fully kitted with a bunch of optional extras such as leather upholstery and navigation all at no extra cost.
Power: 103kW at 5 500rpm
Torque: 230Nm at 1 750rpm
0-100km/h: 9.3 seconds
Top speed: 194km/h
Fuel consumption: 6l/100km (Claimed)
Price: R375 990