Jeep Renegade Deserthawk: Capable and Affordable

2017 Jeep Renegade DeserthawkModel Tested: Jeep Renegade Deserthawk 4×4

Engine: 2.4-Liter Multi-Air I-4

Transmission: 9-Speed 948TE Automatic

EPA Ratings: 21/City/29/Highway/24/Combined

Base Price: $26,895

As Tested: $33,665

Overview: The Jeep Renegade is the most compact Jeep wagon since the original 1941 Willys — and the smallest crossover you can buy today. Debuting in 2015 as a 2016 model, it took top honors in the Northwest Automotive Press Association’s nationally recognized off-road competition, Mudfest, in 2016. It’s been updated for 2018, with new interior choices, larger displays, the latest version of Fiat-Chrysler’s Uconnect platform, as well as some other electronics like Apple CarPlay and Andriod Auto. A rearview camera is standard and there’s more sunroof options.

Walkaround: Vacillating between cute and rugged-looking, the Renegade is tall, slab-sided, and unmistakably Jeep, with oversized styling cues accenting its heritage. Adjoining Jeep’s signature seven-bar grille are large, round headlights, rubber-covered wheel arches, and taillights showcasing X shapes reminiscent of WWII-era Jeeps with gas cans strapped to the back. While upright and square, it looks more like a real Jeep than the larger Cherokee. However, underneath, it’s an Italian-made hatchback, sharing its platform with the Fiat 500X.

Interior: The front seats are comfortable and well-bolstered. The Renegade is wider than most small SUVs, so it’s roomier, with plenty of headroom. Rear visibility is hampered by thick roof pillars.

Instrumentation is slightly oversized and easy to interpret at a glance. The console offers abundant storage space, and contact surfaces are a combination of soft-touch and hard plastic.

Under The Hood: There’s two powerplants: A turbocharged 1.4-liter, 160-horse four-banger married to a 6-speed manual is standard. Powering our test vehicle was the 2.4-liter four-cylinder coupled to a 9-speed automatic, that delivers 180 horses and 175 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard. All-wheel drive is available with either engine.

Behind The Wheel: While not as capable off-road as the Wrangler, but impressive over rough terrain, for serious off-roading, the Trailhawk model is the way to go, but the Deserthawk has no trouble up or down steep inclines on dirt, gravel, or through mud and/or water, and can work through boulders almost as large as its wheels. Standard Renegade 4x2s have 6.7 inches of ground clearance while 4_4 models offer 7.9 inches, with the Trailhawk at 8.7.

Electric power steering provides modest feedback, but holds the road comfortably, handling winding two-lanes better than expected. Because of its diminutive size, it’s easy to park and maneuver in tight quarters like crowded parking lots and primitive trails.

Whines: Neither engine delivers notable acceleration, fuel economy is average for the class, and the ride is often somewhat rough.

Bottom Line: While based upon the Fiat 500X, as the entry-level Jeep, the Renegade is both capable and reasonably refined, creating a value for the price.