IAIN ROBERTSON

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Vaunting himself as a lover of most things jocular, Iain Robertson feels that the motor industry has taken itself all too seriously for rather too long, which is why he appreciates the humour present in the latest, funkiest Jeep.

 

When you reflect on what created Jeep, the reality is a sweetly humorous moment, at a time in our not so distant past, that might have been termed more appropriately as a tragedy. While the very term, Jeep, has garnered as much importance as a generic like Hoover, or, from the commercial vehicle scene, Transit, at least General Purpose, the US Army’s Stores Department description, ‘US Army Truck, ¼-ton, 4×4’, regardless of it being little more than a darned good yarn, proved to have pertinence in transport terms.

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After all, the WW2 ubiquitous Jeep was precisely that: a nameless, service entity, upon which a massive number of troops would become dependent. It warranted its own ‘Purple Heart’, so significant was its purpose. Yet, the jest remained and, in post-war America, the Jeep became the go-anywhere mode of transport that melded into the wide-open landscape and developed a wider place for itself. Just remember that, had it not been for Jeep and its maker, Willys-Overland, Land Rover and its now rather grand descendants would probably never have existed.

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Its emergent need was formulated in just eleven days and the resultant prototype had to comply with several vital statistics on width, height and, most importantly, weight, which could not exceed 1300lbs (590kgs), a figure that was later revised upwards. Those firms tendering for the business were required to supply a first prototype in a mere 49 days, with just 75 days allowed to produce 70 test examples. Interestingly, Bantam was the only company able to meet the contractual arrangement and it won the bid.

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However, Bantam had neither the financial capability, nor the production capacity to satisfy the subsequent orders, so Ford and Willys were asked to produce their alternatives. The requisitioning was a mess and Bantam could never live up to the demand for 75 delivered examples every day. As the Willys product had the punchier engine and could supply the next order for 16,000 vehicles, it won the contract in 1941. In total, a remarkable 363,000 Jeeps were produced, of which over 50,000 were shipped to Russia under the ‘Lend-Lease’ programme.

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Intriguingly, it was Ford that devised the pressed and pierced sheet metal grille that is now synonymous with Jeep. Yet, while the Ford featured nine bars, the Jeep alternative was just seven and that was copyrighted. The CJ model name is simply ‘Civilian Jeep’ and it remains as a series description. Of course, raw and largely unrefined 4x4s were never going to be suitable for an on-road market, which led to the development of many other models, among which was Renegade.

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Jeep of today, now in strategic partnership with Italian giant, Fiat, continues to produce and sell successfully its various models worldwide. Early in 2015, the latest iteration of the Renegade made its debut. As part of a costs-cutting venture, its technology was shared across the US-Italian company and a new Fiat, the 500X, would appear and would provide the first proper crossover model to the Italian marque (although Fiat did have a dalliance with its Sedici model…another jest, 4×4=16…arising from its association with Suzuki, through the General Motors partnership period). Traditionally, Jeep has always been inextricably linked to 4WD but the partnership has meant that it can justify Fiat re-entering the crossover sector, to which two-wheel-drive is the more important engineering criterion in sales terms.

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Of course, this means that Fiat can now boast the best 4×4 technology, through leaning on Jeep, while Jeep can shock traditionalists with a 2WD line-up. Naturally, 4WD, although common to both brands, is reserved for the most costly versions, which the test car is not. In fact, priced at £22,995 (a few extras bumping up the invoice bottom-line to £24,615), it represents moderate value for money, even though the equivalent Fiat is around £1,500 less.

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While there is no joke on the price front, little cartoons, messages and cheeky nuances abound in and around the latest Renegade. The most popular is an imprint of the iconic Jeep radiator grille and flanking headlights, which appears on the door speakers for the stereo system, embossed on the seat backs, at the base of the centre console and even on the lower carpet of the split-level boot floor. The legend ‘Since 1941’ appears above the touch-screen in the upper-dashboard moulding.

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However, the even more iconic Jeep MJ (Military Jeep) outline is printed small in the lower corner of the black surround to the windscreen, which does take some concentration to find it, while an even more amusing ‘Ciao Baby!’ logo alongside a representation of a spider is placed within the fuel-flap splash moulding. Even the rubber anti-rattle mat, in the bottom of a small storage trough ahead of the gearlever, is imprinted with a Jeep Adventure map, while the rev-counter’s red-line consists of a ‘muddy splash’ of colour, instead of a conventional triangle of red.

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Somebody within Jeep’s design department must have had words with the company’s otherwise unfunny accountants, to ensure that each of these little niceties could appear completely unadulterated and put a smile on the faces of customers, keen enough to spot and to understand the jokes. I am sure that you might be able to apply any number of teasingly appropriate jests, quips and pranks on any one of a number of cars on sale today but only Jeep delivers and I love it!

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There is something more traditional, if mildly off-the-wall, in the Renegade’s overall design. Regardless of the angle of view, it has the look of a stocky, cheery bloke, standing with his hands on his hips…it almost helps you to personify the car and it is most definitely a masculine thing. The almost upright windscreen is a retrospective element, while the short front and rear body overhangs hint at its multi-surface potential (4WD is available). From inside, the very upright dashboard, while packed with modern equipment, also harks back to the traditional Jeep.

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The amount of interior space is excellent for a 4.2m long car and a sit-up-and-beg driving position, while certainly not lacking in comfort and support from the excellent, leather-clad seat, which adjusts in all necessary directions, once more reflects on the Jeep’s past. There is even a largely unnecessary steady-handle ahead of the front passenger and the base of that seat flips-up to reveal a usefully secure storage bin. Priced to compete with the BMW Mini, which is just a little too earnest in its retrospection, Jeep carries off the ‘illusion’ to perfection. It is also a very compact machine, which means that it fits into the Nissan Joke…sorry, Juke mould exceedingly well.

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Its petrol-turbo power unit, started by pushbutton, is surprisingly small capacity (donated by the Fiat end of operations), displacing a mere 1,368cc. However, it is not short of beans, developing a handsome 140bhp and a useful 170lbs ft of torque at a diesel-like 1,750rpm peak. Despite weighing 1.35-tonnes, it possesses enough punch to zip the Renegade from 0-60mph in around 10.5 seconds, although it feels appreciably zestier, its top speed being posted at 112mph.

 

While its Official Combined guide fuel economy figure is given as 47.1mpg, a number that I struggled to approach, even with its ‘stop:start’ mode, on my eco-driving route, I was satisfied with a 38.7mpg return after a week’s worth of mixed town and country motoring. If you want a lower CO2 figure, you will need to specify the diesel alternatives but, at 140g/km, the Jeep just scrapes into Band E and will cost an annual £130 for road tax. Bear in mind that company car users pay an extra 3% in Benefit-In-Kind taxation, for the privilege of driving a diesel, which Chancellor George has now decided will remain in place for the next five years at least.

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There is zero hardship to driving the Renegade. It is very refined and rides quietly and proficiently over most road types, its handling being equally well resolved for a chunky crossover. Body roll is restrained and the steering is crisply responsive, displaying neither kickback, nor negative reactions, to driver input. The brakes are reassuringly firm and haul up the Renegade in short order from quite high speeds. Even the 6-speed manual gearbox has a pleasantly swift shift and 30mph per 1,000rpm gearing in top for unfussy cruising.

 

Conclusion:     Characterful, unusual to look at and packed with many amusing features, the Jeep Renegade not only matches the highest expectations of a crossover but also displays characteristics that satisfy the buyers of any decent estate cars. It presents a beguiling range of competencies and never feels less than beautifully built and ready to tolerate whatever is thrown at it. There are no reasons not to contemplate Jeep ownership and the Renegade demonstrates that it is entirely feasible to have fun, while carrying out serious motoring.

 

 

 

 

 

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).