DSC_1379_editedIAIN ROBERTSON 

One of the UK motor industrys most excited sectors is that of the SUV, the Sport Utility Vehicle, which Iain Robertson believes has not only lost most of its definition but has become a repository for worthless new models, although the new Jeep Renegade has just turned it on its head.

 

For some years now, I have broken down the SUV sector into ‘big off-roaders’ and ‘junior leaguers’. To be fair, it is such an emotive arena that I have often wondered, just like 7-seat MPVs (and their smaller 5-seat brethren), why any new car buyer would want for anything else. After all, they gain from greater height off the road, which means that parking on Sainsbury’s rose bushes, or the verge outside the local education establishment, is facilitated. However, there is an associated safety benefit of greater height above ‘normal’ vehicles, which makes all-round vision less of a compromise.

 

Mind you, were we all to drive SUVs and MPVs (don’t you just love the American acronymic terminology?), we might reach a point at which every driver is on par with LGV drivers, which would make the safety aspect somewhat irrelevant. However, do not dismiss this possibility, as so many SUVs now populate our roads that it is only a matter of time before saturation ensures that we all adopt them and the inevitable trade-off will occur!

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In the meantime, it is worth highlighting that the greater height also poses fewer issues with the elegance by which we enter and exit such vehicles. There is far less chance of an unsolicited paparazzi picture of some young starlet showing off her private and personal zones alighting from the seats of an SUV, than some über-luxurious German saloon car.

 

Yet, having mentioned the ‘c-word’ earlier (compromise), I should like to stick with the SUV and focus on it instead. The typical SUV is now little more than a hiked-up estate car possessing some useful aspects of additional practicality, sometimes even with four-wheel-drive chucked in, as an expensive bonus. As a result, every brand (and its dog) has seen fit to invest in the sector. The best-selling SUV in the UK is one produced at its maker’s Sunderland factory and I am more than delighted to inform you that it is also the most compromised of them all. In fact, so much so that I can scarcely comprehend that the flaming thing sells at all!

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The Nissan Puk…sorry, Jok…sorry, Juke is the car to which I refer. Ironically, it offers less interior space than the equally abysmal Nissan Micra. However, it also handles like a dose of stuck wind bouncing and jouncing along smooth tarmac, as though it were traversing the rocky cobbles of the Appian Way. I can tell you that having driven virtually every junior-leaguer in the burgeoning list of them, the Juke should be at the bottom of the pile. The biggest issue for me is that only the top version is available with 4WD, yet a lot of customers believe that their front-driven models are 4WD. However, innumerable other manufacturers can pull broadly similar tricks with their variations on the theme, which is singularly unsatisfactory to my mind and shows how easily gulled is the Great British Public.

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However, Jeep, the originators of the entire, current 4×4 scene, without which Land Rover would simply not exist, has just launched a newcomer that refuses to compromise in any way. The all-new Renegade (which has also fostered the equally stunning Fiat 500X) is the ultimate no-compromise SUV. It is a car of genuine intent and is armed with phenomenal capabilities.

 

As a road-going machine, the Jeep Renegade is excellent, possessing first-class steering (in terms of both weight and responsiveness), lithe and supple suspension that absorbs road surface imperfections as though they did not exist, with exceptionally comfortable seats in a cavernous interior package, powered by a 1.6-litre diesel engine that can score 50mpg frugality potential (a 1.4 turbo-petrol unit is not far behind) and a truly zesty delivery.

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As an off-road machine, it idles up slippery one-in-one slopes effortlessly (thereby qualifying it as a JEEP), tackles chassis-twisting traverses, without a murmur or creak from its body, or trim, provides enough engine and gearbox braking (there is a brilliant 9-speed auto-box option to the slick 6-speed manual) for controlled downhill plummets, with a tight turning circle that is perfect for close-quarters manoeuvring, boundless grip from all four wheels and enough ride height to stop it from scraping its bottom off tree-stumps and boulders, allied to a muscularity that belies its relatively small engines and eco-pretensions.

 

For all normal people that should be more than enough. However, the Renegade has a number of additional tricks up its sleeves for good measure. The amount of space in the driver’s seat places it in an unique position. I stand two metres tall. I can clamber into and out of the driver’s seat without an issue. Once ensconced, I have headroom in abundance, more than enough shoulder space to avoid clashing with trim (especially in the off-road ‘boondocks’) and legroom aplenty. No other SUV on the market makes better use of its interior dimensions than the Renegade, while still retaining a modest little footprint that is little larger than the BMW Maxi (sorry, Mini) Countryman. It makes the all-powerful Mini look cramped and sick. The Jeep Renegade ought to be sold to members of The Tall Club of Great Britain, as it is the least space compromised of almost any car on the road today.

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While I shall not dwell on the aforementioned engines (there are six altogether, including a 170bhp 2.0-litre turbo-diesel variant and a 1.6-litre enhanced torque petrol), the performance of the two smaller units is sparkling. Both are zippy enough for squirting around town, while moderately leggy gearing ensures that they can tolerate motorway cruises at low engine speeds, which aid refinement tremendously. If anything, the petrol is the sweeter of the two, thanks to its delightful engine note, in contrast with the diesel’s more businesslike drone. Floor the throttle at 65mph in top, with either variant, and the speedometer needle soon soars into the realms of illegality. There is more than enough verve in the Renegade.

 

Yet, it is the charming little extras that you start to notice with every drive. The little Jeep Wrangler logo in the black surround of the windscreen is a case in point, as is the spider (and its legend: ‘Ciao Baby!’) within the fuel flap. Even the slightly twee but true ‘Since 1941’ embossed into the upper trim surround of the 6.5-inch Uconnect ‘touch screen’ for sat-nav and other on-board functions works for me, along with the headlamps and 7-bar signature Jeep grille logos embossed into the door speakers, the rear lamps and the seat trim. Yet, even the ‘To New Adventures!’ legend around the start button suggests the same sense of fun (you know, it’s not a sin to have fun in a car) that allowed the design team to use a paintball ‘splatter’ to denote the red-line area of the rev-counter. The psychological benefit means that it is good to smile, while driving.

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Having sampled two versions, as well as one with the more focussed Selec-Terrain transmission, that boast Jeep’s new Active Drive 4×4 system, I can tell you that the Renegade feels like any competent 2WD estate car, kicking in the extra traction of 4WD only when it needs to. However, the Renegade is a 4WD car.  The fact that such a system is fitted means that owners will feel more secure than in the pseudo-4×4 models (most of which only drive the front wheels) from other manufacturers, which tend not to behave as well as their makers insist they do. However, I have some extra news for you. None of the test cars was of the Trailhawk specification, which is significantly more traction focussed for real 4×4 lovers, who want to travel the extra miles off the beaten track. Due later this year, you can regard it as the real ‘heavyweight’ in the 4×4 scene (priced accordingly at £27,995), which will have Jeep traditionalists baying at its doors for a demonstration drive.

 

Yet, therein lies a problem. Jeep knows that 8-10% of its customers will buy a Renegade. That leaves 90-92% of the market that will neither know, nor care, about the Renegade. Unless people can be encouraged to try it for themselves, Jeep’s conquest aspirations will come to nought. The fact that it is built in Italy might even harm the situation. Yet, it is the best built and most all-round engaging Jeep that I have ever driven.

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Conclusion:   No Jeep has ever been more perfect in every detail than the all-new Renegade model. It might not be the prettiest car on the block but it possesses an innate sense of fun that all other car manufacturers seem to have forgotten, or ignored, in their haste to get something to market. Jeep might be a late-player in this sector but it has produced a new and unassailable market leader that kicks sand in the face of its potential competitors. Prices start at a modest £16,995 for the 1.6i, or £18,695 for a very well-equipped 1.6TDi in Sport (base) trim. Longitude and Limited trims are also available. The orange Launch Edition model, which is value-packed, costs from £23,195 but is also available in white (only 100 examples of each colour in total). If you want an SUV, then the Renegade is the one to go for, without an ounce of doubt. For such a compromising sector of the new car scene, Jeep has produced the consummate, no-compromise multi-surface vehicle in the Renegade and, once you have sampled it, you will appreciate that it is unique and a true leader, just as a Jeep should be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).