Renegade

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2020 Jeep Renegade Test Drive Review

2020 Jeep Renegade High Altitude Front Quarter View Personality can go a long way toward making a vehicle appealing, and so it is with the 2020 Jeep Renegade, an otherwise wholly unremarkable small SUV.

7 /10
Overall Score

Based on a Fiat platform and built in Italy, the Jeep Renegade is American in name only. Equipped with traditional Jeep styling cues and, depending on the version, Trail Rated off-road capability, this cartoonish subcompact SUV is more than just an appliance on wheels. That alone makes it more appealing than many of its direct competitors, but if you want all of the extras, get ready to pay a premium for them.

Look and Feel

8/ 10

It’s easy to understand why people consider the 2020 Jeep Renegade. It’s got the signature Jeep round headlights, the Jeep 7-slot grille, and the Jeep trapezoidal wheel arches, all wrapped up in purposeful yet expressive design.

Primary trim levels include Sport, Latitude, Limited, and Trailhawk, that last one the version of the Renegade that is best for off-roading. Additionally, Jeep offers myriad special editions ranging from the affordable Jeepster to the pricey High Altitude. Pricing starts at $25,210 for the base Renegade Sport trim level. Our test car was the Renegade High Altitude, and it was loaded up with extras that brought the MSRP to $36,515, including the destination charge of $1,495. That is high, indeed.

In exchange for that lofty sum, we sampled the best-of-the-best when it comes to the Renegade. Our High Altitude had extra-cost paint, trendy dark gray 19-inch wheels wrapped in pavement-friendly 235/45 all-season tires, and a dual-pane panoramic glass roof bathing the black leather interior in natural light.

The result is a surprisingly grown-up look for the Renegade, which usually exudes a youthful exuberance. From the full LED lighting all around the SUV to its interior contrast stitching, black headliner, and metallic cabin accents, this is the “luxurious” version of Jeep’s small SUV.

At the same time, though, it displays clear evidence of its inexpensive origins. Hard plastic is the dominant interior material, and in combination with the High Altitude’s all-black cabin color scheme, the end result looks inexpensive and unimaginative in spite of the fancy details.

Performance

6/ 10

Most Renegades have an uninspiring 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine wheezing out 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque. A turbocharged 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine is available on higher trims, generating 177 horsepower and 210 lb-ft of torque. We tested the turbo.

A nine-speed automatic is standard with both of these engines, with front-wheel drive (FWD) on base Renegade models, and all-wheel drive (AWD) on higher trim levels. Two all-wheel drive systems are available, and our test vehicle had the most common one, the Active Drive setup that disconnects the driveline to the rear wheels to save on fuel and then automatically activates when the front wheels slip. For maximum off-roading capability, you’ll want the Renegade Trailhawk trim for its more talented Active Drive Low AWD system, which includes simulated low range to offer more of the capable of traditional Jeep four-wheel drive models like the Wrangler.

With the turbocharged 1.3-liter, peak torque arrives at just 1,750 rpm, helping the Renegade to feel genuinely energetic. Unfortunately, there is some turbo lag and the feeling of hesitation is compounded by a nine-speed automatic transmission apparently calibrated to maximize fuel economy rather than keep the engine in the thick of its torque band.

For example, say you’re coming up to a curve or a corner, and you brake in advance of turning in. As you pass the mid-point of the turn and step back on the accelerator pedal, you’re often greeted with a momentary lack of response from the powertrain while the transmission sorts out what gear you need. Impatient, you press harder on the gas just as the automatic downshifts. Suddenly, a surge of torque propels the Renegade forward with unexpected speed, so you lift your foot off of the accelerator pedal, engine revs drop, the transmission upshifts again, and you’re back to where you started.

This is aggravating, to say the least. And I haven’t yet mentioned the evident torque steer under hard acceleration until the AWD system reconnects and sends some of the power rearward. Or the fact that the turbo requires premium fuel. Or the fact that I averaged just 23.6 mpg instead of the EPA estimate of 26 mpg in combined driving. Or the fact that the Renegade has a tiny 12.7-gallon fuel tank, resulting in a real-world range of about 250 miles unless you’re willing to drain the Jeep dry.

Still, I’d rather have the turbocharged 1.3-liter than the comparatively anemic base 2.4-liter four-cylinder.

Moving on to the Renegade’s driving dynamics, a flinty ride, sloppy steering, and loud cabin combine to make highway driving a chore, but at least you’re not dealing with the uneven powertrain response issue. In urban and suburban settings, the Renegade is more agreeable in terms of its driving dynamics, but then you’re managing the off/on nature of the engine and transmission.

Past experience with the Renegade Trailhawk model suggests that it’s the best version of this Jeep. Made for off-roading, the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk trim delivers on the promise of the brand and supports the lifestyle, real or perceived, of a Jeep buyer.

Form and Function

7/ 10

When you get into a Jeep Renegade, one of the first things you notice is how far away the windshield is, how thick and curved the windshield pillars are, and how vertical the side glass is. Presumably, these are the unintended effects of the Renegade’s boxy exterior design.

What these characteristics do, especially in combination with the panoramic glass roof, is to make the Renegade feel much larger inside than many of its direct competitors. It feels wider, taller, and more open to the outdoors, which are all good things.

When equipped with an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, it’s easy to get comfortable behind the Renegade’s thick-rimmed steering wheel. Front passengers do not benefit from seat height adjustment, putting them a bit too low in relation to the dashboard and windowsills. Rear seat space is cramped, but softly padded front seatback trim and good foot room help to make it acceptable for shorter trips. Air conditioning vents are not available for rear-seat occupants.

While the Renegade’s interior feels big, it’s really not. In addition to tight rear-seat space, this Jeep has few practical interior storage spots, which is unusual for a vehicle like this one. Cargo volume isn’t much to brag about either, measuring 18.5 cubic feet behind the back seat and 50.8 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down.

Tech Level

9/ 10

Areas where the Jeep Renegade proves impressive, aside from its off-roading capability and outsized design personality, relate to technology.

Take, for example, the familiar Chrysler Uconnect infotainment system, which in the test vehicle had an 8.4-inch touchscreen display that looked large and modern in the Renegade’s narrow cabin. Though this version of Uconnect is starting to show its age, it remains the model of simplicity that has made it a favorite for years. From its volume and tuning knobs to its logically arranged menu buttons arrayed across the bottom of the screen, Uconnect 8.4 is mostly a pleasure to use.

Better yet, it comes with Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone projection, Amazon Alexa integration, and a Wi-Fi hotspot. SiriusXM satellite radio provides the connected services platform, including remote engine starting and functions that help parents to keep tabs on their children. This year’s new Kenwood premium audio system offers good sound for the subcompact crossover segment.

Additionally, the Renegade offers a comprehensive driver information center where you can select preferences for a range of configurable features. And if you find parking to be a challenge, Jeep offers a parking assist system that works for both parallel and perpendicular spaces.

Safety

7/ 10

That parking assist system is included in the Advanced Tech Group, which also installs adaptive cruise control, full-speed forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assistance, and automatic high-beam headlights.

Separately, the Safety and Security Group adds blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic warning to the Renegade. Collectively, these driving assistance and collision avoidance technologies add less than $2,000 to the price of the Renegade High Altitude.

This is an impressive offering for the segment, but when used some of the safety features are fairly rudimentary compared to newer and more sophisticated versions from competitors. They mainly lack refinement, not accuracy. For instance, the forward-collision warning system blares loudly enough to startle the driver. But then, maybe that’s the point.

In terms of crash-test ratings, the Renegade earns a 4-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Note that in side-impact testing, the Renegade’s rear-seat occupants are protected at a mediocre 3-star level.

In tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Renegade earns commendable scores in most tests. But it does not carry forward its Top Safety Pick rating from 2019 due to more stringent requirements for 2020.

Cost-Effectiveness

5/ 10

A Jeep Renegade is not a cost-effective entry-level SUV, especially when decked out in the top trim level. However, Jeep typically offers big rebates and discounts on this model, making it more appealing. For example, as this review is written at the end of the model year, $4,750 in cash rebates is sitting on the Renegade’s hood. Subtract that from the MSRP, and the Renegade starts to look like a deal.

When you choose a Jeep Renegade, you’re buying it for emotional reasons. You want access to the Jeep fraternity, or this SUV’s outsized personality, or the Trailhawk’s impressive off-roading capability, or some of the more unique features the Renegade offers, like the My Sky removable roof panels (as opposed to a traditional sunroof). And if these traits are what appeals to you, the price tag is worth it.

But if you’re buying a small SUV just because you need a cheap set of wheels for transportation, you’ll probably find something with a stronger reliability record, a longer warranty, and top-rated safety to be a better choice.

Updated

Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience reviewing cars and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, J.D. Power, the New York Daily News, Autobytel, and Vehix. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.

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