Gareth Butterfield discovers his adventurous side in the Jeep Renegade
ONE of my wife’s colleagues apparently informed her, as I was picking her up from work one day, that the Jeep Renegade I was testing was the “ugliest car he’d ever seen”.
He drives an Audi. And an Audi, in my opinion, is for people who don’t usually care too much about car design. Audi’s aren’t ugly, by any means, but they’re rarely beautiful and even the really fast ones lack a sense of passion and “fun”.
Now, ask my brother what he thinks about the Jeep Renegade’s looks and he’ll set off on a verbal torrent so enthusiastic he actually drools a bit. You see, he grew up with the A-Team programmes of the 1980s. And in the A-Team programmes all the baddies drove Jeeps. They were achingly cool. And the new Jeeps you see on the road today bear plenty of hallmarks of the old ones, if you look closely enough.
In fact, during a week in the new Renegade, a small SUV braced for battle with the ubiquitous Nissan Quashqai and all its clones, I continuously noticed nods back to the days of the old Willy’s Jeeps I’d marvelled at on the television as a youngster.
I’m a bit more pragmatic than my brother. If a car looks like a dog’s dinner, it doesn’t matter how much it pays homage to Knight Rider, it’s still a dog’s dinner.
But, I don’t think the Wrangler is a dog’s dinner. In fact, I think it looks refreshing and exciting. I love the fact it’s not following the usual crowd of Japanese and European curvaceous, predictable SUVs and I love everything about the exterior. Especially the lights and grille. Because they look like something straight out of the A-Team.
I’m not quite so keen on the inside, I must admit. Despite the fact Jeep is now owned by the Fiat-Chrysler conglomerate it still feels distinctly American inside. There’s a few cheap plastics, the infotainment screen is unforgivably small and, even with leather seats, it’s a tad unrefined.
However, the sense of fun I’ve enjoyed admiring from the outside more than carries on inside.
The Jeep “face” of round headlights and that seven-slot grille keeps popping up. It’s in the rear-view mirror, speaker surrounds and you’ll suddenly spot one on the tailgate after using it a few times. You’ll even find a mud-plugging little Jeep in the corner of the windscreen if you look carefully enough. It took me four days to spot it.
Because it’s aimed at the outdoorsy types who wear brightly-coloured trousers and colourful things in their hair, the vent surrounds are apparently inspired by base-jumping equipment, the pod-like central vents mimic ski goggles, and there’s even a mud splatter graphic instead of a redline in the rev counter.
All this fun will be lost on an Audi driver, whose interior resembles the inside of a neatly-arranged library in comparison to the Jeep’s wildly adventurous cabin. Perhaps I’m starting to see what offended my wife’s colleague so much.
There’s two petrol engines and three diesels to choose from and, for buyers wanting a combination of strong performance and decent fuel economy, the diesels will be the ones getting snapped up.
The torquey 168bhp 2.0-litre is punchy and works well with the automatic box on my test model. Other diesels aren’t as powerful or smooth, but will give better fuel economy. But where’s the fun in that?
There’s a fair bit of space inside the Renegade, and some clever storage options when you start hunting around for them.
The range available on the UK market begins with a sparse and utilitarian base model, but you can spec it up to a rather sumptuous flagship, which begins to look rather expensive over some of its established and well-appointed rivals.
On the road, the first thing that strikes you as a driver is that it feels a little numb and detached. Not in a bad way, fortunately, but if you’ve driven a Mazda CX-5, don’t expect anything like that level of competence from the Renegade. Don’t get me wrong, it rides very well, but it’s by no means exciting.
However, if you were to show the Mazda anything more than a slightly furrowed field, it would go all to pieces. And that’s where the Renegade plays its trump card. It is exceptional off road.
It’s got a few clever gadgets to help get you out of a pickle, but there isn’t a car in the sector which will keep up with it on the rough stuff and they’ll all have got into said pickle long before you reach for your adaptive driving modes.
So maybe that’s its niche. It’s been a while since we’ve had a car that’s comfortable on the road, brilliant off the road and cool enough to impress even the most picky of petrolheads.
So my wife’s work-mate was entitled to his opinion, but it’s a jaded one. He’s sold his soul to a life of the ordinary. I’d imagine he likes nothing more than driving his Audi to Ikea every now and again to buy bland furniture, then he’ll probably stop off at a Harvester for a bland meal before settling down in his bland armchair with a bland book.
I’ve got a cousin who tours the world rock climbing. I don’t think he’s ever been to Ikea. Or a Harvester for that matter. I think he’d like the Renegade. And I’m thrilled to say I do too.