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2015 Jeep Renegade: a small but fun ride

The 2015 Jeep Renegade was designed in the

The 2015 Jeep Renegade was designed in the United States but it's being built by Fiat in Italy and will be sold in more than 100 countries. Photo Credit: Dodge/Chrysler

Just like the brand's loyal fan base, Jeeps pretty much come in all shapes and sizes. That will be especially so when the Renegade arrives on the scene later this year.

It's the smallest of Jeep's sport utility vehicles, by a long shot. It was designed in the United States but it's being built by Fiat in Italy and will be sold in more than 100 countries.

The Renegade is based on Fiat Chrysler Automobile's new "small-wide 4x4 architecture" that's engineered to handle plenty of rough- or off-road pounding. You might not think so looking at it as the body appears like something the animators from Disney's Pixar Studios might have dreamed up as a companion for Lightning McQueen in the next "Cars" movie installment.

The exaggerated slotted grille and round headlights seem a bit too large for the sub-compact sheetmetal. Likewise the height-to-length ratio appears askew and there has been no attempt to integrate the pasted-on taillamps with the rear fenders and liftgate. Yet. collectively, all of the unusual styling elements harmoniously fit together. The Renegade exudes a fresh, youthful attitude that doesn't take itself too seriously. Let the good times roll, baby.

For off-road activities, the body's front and rear body overhangs (the distance from the bumpers to the front and rear wheels) are practically non-existent and there's a generous amount of space between the tires and the fenders. Properly kitted out, the Renegade should take you to most places that other members of the Jeep family can also travel.

An interior look-see confirms the Renegade's designers weren't fooling around when considering occupant comfort. The vehicle's narrow width - about three inches shy of the Jeep Wrangler - does place a premium on elbow room, but the dash and control panel are well laid out, the oversized knobs are clearly marked and the meaty steering wheel closely replicates what's found in the Grand Cherokee.

Where the Renegade really shines is an extra-tall roofline that creates a spacious storage area with the rear and front passenger seat left upright or folded flat.

Base models run with a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder that produces 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Select the non-turbo 2.4-liter four-cylinder option and output climbs to 184 horsepower. Torque is slightly less at 177 pound-feet.

Transmission selection depends on the engine. The 1.4 turbo comes with a six-speed manual while the 2.4 is matched to a nine-speed automatic.

Front-wheel-drive is standard for all (except the top-line Trailhawk off-road model) while Jeep's Active Drive four-wheel-drive is optional. The system's Auto, Snow, Sand and Mud modes are augmented by an exclusive Rock setting for the Trailhawk. Additionally, the Trailhawk comes with a low-range 20:1 crawl ratio gearing, unique wheels with all-terrain tires plus other off-road features.

There's no word yet on fuel economy, but Renegades equipped with either drivetrain should be reasonably thrifty since there's less than 3,500 pounds to move around. A gas-saving automatic-axle-disconnect feature on 4x4 models automatically reengages the rear wheels when maximum traction is required.

At a best-guess starting price of $17,000 (including destination charges) the base Renegade Sport includes only the bare essentials. Moving up to the Latitude model adds air conditioning, roof rails, fog lights and touch-screen audio, while the Limited gets dual-zone climate control, heated leather-trimmed seats (including eight-way power driver's seat) and 18-inch wheels (16- and 17-inchers come on lower trim levels). One unique option is the MySky dual glass roof panels that can be removed to maximize the open-air experience.

The Trailhawk gets most of the Limited's spruce-up gear, but is the only route to take for adventuring far off the beaten path. But all Jeep Renegades include that one essential, yet hard to find ingredient. Fun.

What you should know: 2015 Jeep Renegade
Type: Four-door, front- /four-wheel-drive compact sport utility vehicle
Engines (hp): 1.4-liter SOHC I4, turbocharged (160); 2.4-liter SOHC I4 (184)
Transmissions: Six-speed manual (1.4); nine-speed automatic (2.4)
Market position: Jeep is creating fun, funky and affordable vehicles that are primarily intended for a burgeoning youth market. As the first truly "world" Jeep, the Renegade is small and it's built in Italy, although it was designed here.
Points: Like it or not, off-the-wall styling should generate significant feedback; Properly equipped, the littlest Jeep can be taken for some very rough rides; Surprising amount of passenger and storage room for such a small vehicle; Surprisingly, no automatic transmission available with base turbo engine; Believe it: this small Jeep will sell.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; driver's knee airbag; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG: (city/hwy) 24/32 (1.4, est.)
Base price (incl. destination): $19,000 (est.)

By comparison

Chevrolet Trax
Base price: $19,000 (est.)
New-for-2015 wagon is identical in size and power to the Buick Encore.

Mini Cooper Countryman
Base price: $23,000
Roomy Mini specializes in  sporty handling and impressive fuel economy.

Nissan Juke
Base price: $20,000
Nifty little runabout comes with a 1.6-liter turbo I4 that makes up to 215 hp.


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