THERE’S nothing new about badge-engineering in this world and the practice of applying different brand names to a common base isn’t necessarily bad. For instance, I wonder how many branded watches are actually powered by Seiko movements and how many “different” televisions derive their images from Samsung internals?
Closer to Top Gear subject matter and this article in particular, I wonder how many of you know that the Jeep Renegade isn’t built in America and it doesn’t contain too many “American” bits and pieces?
Underneath that obviously Jeep-orientated set of clothes sits a Fiat 500X which was dressed by Italian workers, with maybe a few Turks and Slovakians thrown in, on a production line housed in Melfi, southern Italy!
This unusual set of facts may well account for why the Renegade has been adorned with an unusually large number of Jeep design cues. “Mud splashes,” the original Jeep grille graphics and “jerrycan” images can be found in all manner of places which telegraphs to me that the brand custodians are trying a little too hard to convince occupants that this vehicle really is from the original Jeep bloodline.
I know it’s not, but that’s just my cynical mind at work. It’s just as plausible, I guess, to say that these splashes of Jeep memorabilia are symbolic of the fun approach to motoring that the Renegade so dearly wants to project.
The question to answer here is whether it is actually fun to drive and occupy and whether Italian mechanicals can successfully gel with American heritage.
The test unit was painted, rather well too judging by the depth of gloss, in a bright but not unattractive Solar Yellow hue that contrasted nicely with the all-black interior. The Limited spec (a strange choice of model nomenclature, don’t you think?) sits between the Longitude and Trailhawk models in the Renegade range and brings with it niceties such as 17-inch wheels (the test unit was on optional 18s) wrapped in 215/60R17 three-season rubber, dual zone air con, adaptive brake lights, lane departure warning, parking sensor, 40/60 split rear seat with load-through, a premium instrument cluster with TFT colour display and various bits of bright work. All this kit supplements items from the Longitude spec that include front fogs, multiple airbags, electric rear view mirrors with heating, a speed limiter, electric windows, leather steering wheel, ambient lighting, roof rails, cruise control, 6 speakers and a driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment and 2-way electrical drive.
Open a door and if you ever take any notice of less obvious parts of a car, you’ll be impressed by the big, solid door handles and hopefully by the fact that the doors are double sealed all round and feature triple seals above the window line. It certainly didn’t escape my notice either, that all doors opened and closed with commendable precision and that all gaps were uniform and acceptably tight.
But I’ve digressed from telling you what’s inside. In this example, the seat facings were executed in decent quality black leather that wrapped thickly-padded and comfortable front seats. Those in the rear are not so well off as the split seat is rather narrow and flat but four adults will feel at home even if they may have to keep an eye on how much luggage is brought along as the nicely-carpeted luggage area is only adequate at 351 litres with seats up. A pity though that Jeep has used hard plastics for the sides of this load area and that the accountants had their say by ensuring that there is no clear coat on the insides of the remotely-operated tailgate which means that yellow paint is all dull here. For the record, rear three quarter visibility is poor owing to the bulkiness of the rear pillars.
If the interior ambience passes muster on initial acquaintance, it’s probably because the designers have done a good job in hiding the fact that a lot of the interior is clad in hard plastics. Liberal use of satin finishes and the use of soft-touch upper dash and armrests help immensely though – as does the general chunkiness of the overall execution – in overriding a slightly utilitarian feel.
A large central touchscreen dubbed Uconnect and available with five or 6,5-inch displays (please note described spec may only be offered as an a option in your market) can also be controlled from the steering wheel which manages Bluetooth connectivity, radio, USB and aux inputs. Further, the larger of the units is satnav capable, but again, please consult your dealer on availability.
In the Limited model, the TFT full colour instrument display is standard fare and apart from providing a very clear read-out of speed and revs, provides info on fuel economy, safety warnings, audio selection and more, not least fuel levels and engine temp. It’s a neat, modern display with a tongue-in-cheek inclusion of a mud splash graphic marking out the red line on the rev counter. Also, hats off to Jeep for providing a rotary light switch instead of confusing stalk controls that blight so many cars, especially those from the East.
In line with modern trends and as outright confirmation of its European origins, this smallest of Jeeps in this instance is powered by a 1.4 litre turbocharged 4-cylinder motor driving the front wheels via a 6-speed manual gearbox. (Again, please talk to your dealer about availability of AWD models and auto transmission).
Peak power of 103kW is more than competitive but it’s the torque peak of 230Nm available from just 1 750 rpm that matters most as this ensures that the Renegade is endowed with very acceptable mid-range pull that negates the need to change gears constantly. Turbo lag is detectable at very low speeds but be assured that the inclusion of a turbo is a huge advantage at altitude as performance is virtually unimpaired by the thin air.
If you need to know, top speed is listed at 194 km/h and the 0-100 dash takes 9.3 seconds but it’s the relatively relaxed power delivery occasioned by the use of higher gear ratios (possible thanks to that torque peak arriving so early) that matters most, not just because mechanical thrash is reduced but also because fuel consumption is reduced too. I recorded a very pleasing 7.5l/100 km overall and given that this involved a fair bit of snarled-up traffic, I feel that’s a representative figure for the average motorist.
Given the wonderfully light and smooth acting clutch and the fantastic quality of the gear shift, changing gears is no chore at all. Also notable was the good isolation of wind and road-induced noises – remember my comment about the multiple door seals – and while the Renegade can be hustled along twisty roads at good pace, its relatively high build must always be allowed for. This feature does allow for a degree of considered off-roading, notwithstanding the FWD configuration, as departure and approach angles are generous.
Mac Pherson struts suspend the Renegade and provide a firmish but never-uncomfortable ride, albeit that I never had the chance to find out how it copes with heavy loads or nasty dirt roads that are never part of my driving menu. Let’s just say that the Renegade is endowed with a nice, solid feel that is rather confidence-inspiring.I also had no cause to test the stamina of the braking system which in normal use offered effective retardation, albeit that some modulation was required at low speeds to mitigate a slightly grabby effect caused by overly-strong assistance.
The powered steering system offers a nicely-judged level of assistance and proved to be responsive and free of vagueness which can afflict some assisted systems.
From a purely practical point of view, I couldn’t help but notice that the black trim pieces around the wheel arches and along the lower edges of the doors, all part of the macho make-up, got dirty very easily and that the dirt was quite resistant to removal owing to the grained finish of the trim material. Doubtless though, this rubber would help ward off parking dings!
In conclusion, it’s rather difficult to categorise the Renegade Limited in FWD guise. Truth be told, it’s more of a down-sized crossover than a true bush-whacking Jeep. Traditional Jeep design cues are there in abundance but truth be told, they are cosmetic and part of the image enhancement process which ultimately creates a mildly funky, somewhat expensive, yet practical toy. The fact that it drives well is mostly to do with its modern European underpinnings and for me, that’s good enough. There’s a fun factor at play and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Zimoco are the official Jeep importers for Zimbabwe.
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