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An Italian-American Renegade

An Italian-American Renegade

The usually rugged Jeep gets an Italian makeover. The Renegade is a good-looking vehicle from just about any angle, perhaps due to the Italian input.

Words: Stephen Smith

Pictures: Stephen Smith and Supplied

Jeeps. They’re big, all-American, rugged off-roaders with great big V8s under the bonnet, guzzling gas as well as they bash bundu, aren’t they? Well, not if the new Renegade is anything to go by. Designed and built in Italy, with a whole bunch of Fiat bits and bobs under the skin, the Renegade is actually Italian-American, with the emphasis firmly on the Italian.

You might want to know why the Italian link – well, Fiat bought Chrysler in its entirety a few years ago, and has been sharing technology ever since. The Renegade is based on the Fiat 500L/X platform, complete with Fiat engines and gearboxes. Basically, the Jeep-specific bits are the ones that you can see, like the chunky body and funky interior.

Fiat makes millions of cars with small-capacity engines every year, which are hugely popular all over Europe, and they’re good at it, which is why Jeep used their alliance with the Italian company instead of developing their own engines for the Renegade.

I was lucky enough to drive a few versions of this latest Jeep, all in bright colours and with a little Italian panache added to Jeep’s rugged persona. All of them were powered by the 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine, good for 103kW of power and 230Nm of torque – a feisty little engine that justifies why Jeep didn’t go to the effort of developing their own units from scratch. It’s no ball of fire, but it has enough torque to stay in sixth gear up most highway hills, and good torque for trundling along dirt roads.

For much of my month I work for a gardening publication, which takes me to beautiful gardens and shows. I took the Renegade on two garden-related excursions, and it was well received wherever I went.  It looked as great against the bright colours of summer as it did with a backdrop of the subdued hues of a drought-stricken veld.

Because of the hatchback underpinnings, I was sceptical about the ride quality on rough surfaces, so I took the Renegade on a familiar back road that I try to incorporate into most of my SUV tests. It’s a dry, corrugated, bumpy piece of dirt road with some slow patches and some fast, sweeping bends. All I can say is that the Renegade not only silenced my doubts, but it gagged them and threw them in the boot to dispose of later. It was outstanding, with nary a rattle or creak, and both the ride quality and handling were excellent. I suppose that’s Jeep’s experience in the SUV field coming to the fore – I’ll be interested to drive the Fiat 500X on the same road to see if it is as composed.

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The Jeep does all the basics well, but it also has lots of fun touches. There are little adventure ‘Easter Eggs’ all over the place, from images of Jeeps tackling mud on the edge of the windscreen to Abominable Snowmen on the rear windscreen, to the mud splash on the tachometer and the ‘X’ from a Jerry can on the taillights. There are also images of the Jeep grille scattered all over the place, and it is all done with un-American subtlety.

One thing I really didn’t like was the lane-departure warning. Basically, when you cross the painted lines of a lane without indicating, the car subtly nudges you back between them. In theory it’s brilliant and safe, and in some cars it works very well, but on the Renegade it is quite intrusive – I felt like a sheep being gently nudged by a Border collie’s nose every time I strayed from the correct path. One other thing I disliked was the sound the car makes when you lock or unlock it – it’s a piercing whistle that comes directly from Fiat/Alfa, and just doesn’t suit the car.

Other than the 1.4-litre engine I drove, there is an entry-level 1.6-litre petrol engine (81kW/152Nm), a more powerful version of the 1.4 turbocharged petrol (125kW/250Nm), a 1.6 turbodiesel (88kW/320Nm) and a 2.4 petrol (137kW/236Nm). Only the latter will be available with 4×4, in Trailblazer derivative, while an all-wheel-drive version will be available with the more powerful 1.4 engine.

I like the Renegade, and if it was R50 000 cheaper I would love it. In my ideal world, Jeep would dump some of the technology (like lane-departure warning and whatever else they can) to lower the price, and get the AWD/4×4 models here asap. In the States you can pick up the entry-level model for under $20 000 (R280 000), which is almost R60 000 less than locally.

And it’s not even made in the States… The Renegade looks particularly expensive when you compare the price to other vehicles that also look like SUVs but aren’t really: Kia Soul (R250 000), Nissan Juke (R250 000), Mitsubishi ASX (R300 000), Nissan Qashqai (R287 000), Toyota Rav4 (R310 000). Even a Nissan X-Trail is R330 000, whereas the Renegade starts at R340 990 and goes up to R450 990.

Fact File

  • Name: Jeep Renegade
  • Body type: Compact SUV
  • Engine capacity: 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol
  • Power output: 103kW Torque: 230Nm
  • Price: R375 990

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