Mountain Wheels: Newest sub-Jeep Jeep tries to be as Jeep as possible
2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk
MSRP: $26,495; as tested, $30,075
Powertrain: 180-HP 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine/nine-speed automatic transmission
EPA figures: 24 combined; 21 city, 29 highway
If the prospect of a hyperstylized Jeep body atop at Fiat 500-derived frame somehow lingers as your ideal micro-ute dream car, then the small, burly and somewhat problematic, Italian-made Renegade may be the answer to questions you’ve never asked.
Upgraded to the Trailhawk edition, which offers some actually valid off-road capability, as well as prominent tow hooks, the tiny and very international Jeep (production has now just started in Brazil, as well) gets an even more rugged overall look, despite its smallish comportment.
Up front, the old-school Jeep motif of absolutely round headlamps, the seven-bar grille and a stocky stance might have you convinced it’s a strangely shrunk Wrangler variant; even the rear aspect is kinda cool, with abrupt angles, a big aero lip over the glass and rock-solid bumpers.
But it is those big Xes in the brakelamps that sadly provide a less-than-subliminal message about this could-be-decent cross-cultural blend, though in reality, it feels like the world’s largest rolling collection of blind spots on the inside, like a half-sized Toyota FJ Cruiser.
Then there’s the power, or lack thereof. Trailhawk features FCA’s 2.4-liter inline-four Tigershark engine is rated for 180 horsepower and is actually the brawnier option for the Renegade line. Though maybe the 1.4-liter turbo might be better suited to Colorado buyers, as that 2.4-liter just does not do the trick here on takeoffs, even … like, out of parking spots.
Merges onto the highway and pushes for acceleration can be frightening, to say the least, and the nine-speed transmission — though vastly improved from its earliest variants — also adds to a noisy, underpowered and occasionally challenging interface with a world of larger vehicles, as this littlest Jeep is still 3,573 pounds in its Trailhawk mode (a base Wrangler Sport is about 3,800 pounds, by comparison).
Highway cruising was fine, but starts are very challenging and my total combined mileage was only 22 MPG, not far off the 24 MPG on the window sticker.
Granted, if you do end up heading somewhat seriously off-road (I tried the Switzerland Trail near Gold Hill in the Front Range, a rocky old railway bed), the Renegade Trailhawk does give it a good old fashioned college try at being rugged.
There’s a real Jeep 4×4 low-gear setting and the Selec-Trac system from the bigger models, allowing you to, I guess, crawl over rocks roughly the same size as the Renegade itself. Trailhawk gets 8.7 inches of clearance, hill-descent control and can go through 19 inches of water.
And while the little Renegade bombed along on the treacherous stuff (and was also easy to move out of the way of oncoming trucks), with even the descent-control system doing the Jeep-certified activities advertised, I got a “4×4 system failure” light on the ride home — a fault which magically corrected itself the next day, perhaps some of those long-ago Fiat gremlins still at work. Sigh.
Aside from the 2×4-thickness A-pillars and an inconceivably deep dash — the angles here are all a little weird, making it difficult to see around corners, or to the rear or to the sides, actually — the overall layout is indeed cheery and Jeep-modern in style.
You simply cannot get away from reminders that this Italian Jeep is a Jeep, with nine million tiny seven-bar-grille-and-headlamp symbols hidden throughout the vehicle, plus the somewhat incongruous (especially for an Italian-made import) “Since 1941” right there atop the smallish UConnect navigation/information screen on the dash — a $1,245 system which itself also repeatedly took three or four pokes to respond to inputs.
All that rubbery goodness, like the inside of a speaker box, does make for great sound from the stereo, but the occasionally garish mix of hexagons, oversized AC controls and the Trailhawk model’s red metallic highlights can get a little Iron Man after a while. Color-infused instruments — you’ll see a lot of the redline on this vehicle — and a version of the FCA mid-instrument cluster information overload, both appear.
Passenger and cargo space is relatively plentiful, with 50.8 cubic feet of storage if you drop the rear seats, and so much headroom you could wear a cowboy hat while driving. The panoramic sunroof is also a nice touch; other models have an accordion-folding roof system as an option, as well.
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