G. Chambers Williams

Jeep Renegade Trailhawk model designed to handle some tough off-road assignments

Ready for the road or off-the-road, the 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk model comes with a sophisticated four-wheel-drive system, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, and a nine-speed automatic transmission.
Ready for the road or off-the-road, the 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk model comes with a sophisticated four-wheel-drive system, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, and a nine-speed automatic transmission.

Jeep’s all-new Renegade model, introduced last year as the iconic brand’s first subcompact crossover, has been designed to appeal to a wide range of consumers, including off-road aficionados (like me).

But I have to confess to being a big jaded when it comes to Jeeps. Like my frequent four-wheel-drive companion, my granddaughter Savanna, I’m something of a purist when it comes to driving a vehicle bearing the Jeep brand. To me, if I can’t take it off road, then it’s not really a Jeep.

Savanna has that same view – perhaps even more jaded than mine. I became aware of it when she was just 3-1/2 years old. She’s been going on Jeep off-road adventures with me since she was still in diapers, and on this particular occasion, we were flying into Richmond, Va., to attend a weekend Camp Jeep event near Charlottesville, Va.

On the flight to Richmond, she asked me how we were going to get to Camp Jeep from the airport, and I told her that a Jeep representative would meet us after we landed, and give us a Jeep to drive for the weekend.

We walked out to the airport curb just in time to see the man from Jeep drive up with a brand-new Grand Cherokee for us. Savanna – remember, she’s just 3-1/2 at this point – takes one look at that vehicle, puts both hands on her hips, and says, “That’s NOT a Jeep.”

To her – then and even now, at age 18 – to be called a Jeep, the vehicle has to be a Wrangler or a CJ. There are a lot of people who agree with her on that, but I fully understand the reasons why Jeep’s parent (now Fiat Chrysler) has broadened the brand to include a variety of vehicles bearing the Jeep name.

It’s a matter of preservation. To keep making the vehicles that we purists consider to be the real Jeeps, Chrysler needed to come up with more models that could beef up overall sales and make the brand profitable.

So now we have the latest Jeep iteration, the Renegade, which looks more like a Nissan Juke than it does a “real” Jeep. That’s OK, though, because the Renegade is cool looking, has a well-designed interior, and, at least in the Trailhawk version, can take me just about anywhere I want to go in the woods or down the beach.

Stubborn as I am about my Jeep proclivities, I complained about the first Renegade that Fiat Chrysler sent to me for testing a couple of weeks ago. Why? It was the base Sport model with front-wheel drive and a manual gearbox (starting price $17,995 plus $995 freight).

While I could live with the manual transmission (although an automatic is much better for those truly challenging off-road routes), I couldn’t handle the idea of a two-wheel-drive Jeep.

So this past week, the company corrected its “error,” and sent me the top-of-the-line Renegade Trailhawk model (base price $26,495) to test.

Although the base Renegade that I originally drove will appeal to consumers looking for a small crossover utility vehicle with decent fuel economy and rugged good looks, it’s not the one for those of us who like to take our vehicles into the wild.

Other Renegade trim levels for 2016 include the Latitude ($21,395, front drive; $23,395, four-wheel drive); and the Limited ($25,120, front drive; $27,120, 4WD). Also for 2016 there are two special models: the Jeep 75th Anniversary Edition ($23,375, $25,375); and the Dawn of Justice Special Edition ($26,250), which comes only with four-wheel drive.

The base Renegade engine is a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder with 160 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque.

But standard on the Trailhawk and optional on other models (for $1,280) is the Tigershark 2.4-liter normally aspirated four-cylinder engine with 180 horsepower and 175 foot-pounds of torque.

Helping with fuel economy is the segment-exclusive nine-speed automatic transmission. With this transmission on the Trailhawk, EPA ratings are 21 mpg city/29 highway/24 combined.

Two four-wheel-drive systems are offered. The base Jeep Active Drive is a fulltime system that offers some off-road capability, but does not have low-range gearing for serious trail climbing.

But the Trailhawk model, which comes with the “Jeep Trail Rating,” has the better Jeep Active Drive Low system, with low-range gearing and a 20-1 crawl ratio.

Both of these four-wheel-drive systems come from the slightly larger Cherokee model, and can send up to 1,475 foot-pounds of the available torque to any one wheel “for optimal grip and traction,” Jeep says.

Jeep says the Renegade also comes with “the segment’s first disconnecting rear axle and power take-off unit,” designed to enhance fuel economy by reducing the vehicle to pure two-wheel-drive operation when 4WD isn’t needed. The Active Drive and Active Drive Low systems “instantly engage when (four-wheel-drive) traction is needed,” the company says.

Both systems also include Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system, which includes four basic driving modes -- Auto, Snow, Sand, and Mud – plus, on the Trailhawk only, the exclusive Rock mode.

Our Trailhawk also came with 8.7 inches of ground clearance, underbody skid plates, red front and rear tow hooks, and unique front and rear bumpers/fascias that provide a 30.5-degree approach angle, 25.7-degree breakover angle and 34.3-degree departure angle.

Also included were unique 17-inch wheels with beefy all-terrain tires; up to 8.1 inches of wheel articulation for climbing over rocks and other objects; hill-descent control; and the capability of driving through water up to 19 inches deep.

The Trailhawk also can tow trailers weighing up to 2,000 pounds, with the available towing package, but only with the 2.4-liter engine..

Our tester’s 2.4-liter engine was a bit sluggish on takeoff, but had adequate power at highway speeds, and offered enough pickup for safe passing and freeway merges.

Off road, in low mode, there was ample power for steep hills, and on a small-but-rugged rocky and sandy course not far from my home, the Renegade made it through confidently, even with some mud on the trail from the recent rains.

The Renegade is roomy enough for up to five people, has four passenger doors and a rear hatch, and comes with two available retractable/removable roof panels ($1,470), included on our vehicle) for a true open-air experience on or off road.

The Renegade is based on a Fiat design, and is assembled in Italy. It adds a new dimension to the legendary Jeep brand, which dates to the military vehicles of World War II known as a General Purpose, or ”GP,” model (pronounced “Jeep”).

Among technology offered for the Renegade are Fiat Chrysler’s Uconnect Access, Uconnect touch screen radios and the segment’s largest full-color instrument cluster.

The Renegade also features up to 70 safety and security features, including the availability of Forward Collision and Lane Departure warning systems, Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross-Path Detection, and a Backup Camera.

Electronic stability control and seven air bags are standard, along with antilock brakes.

The front bucket seats are comfortable even for big guys like me, and the seat moves back far enough to accommodate beer bellies behind the steering wheel, as well – something that is a challenge in the Wrangler.

While three can sit in the Renegade’s back seat, it’s best to put a smaller person or child in the middle position, or leave that spot empty.

Among standard features on the Trailhawk were rain-sensing wipers and the backup camera.

Our vehicle came with the Anvil exterior paint color, which is a medium slate gray with either a blue or green tinge to it, depending on the light. It also had a black interior.

Extras on our test vehicle included the Premium Trailhawk Group ($1,545), which added an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Lux Leather front seats, 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat with pass-through, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats and steering wheel, power eight-way driver and manual four-way front passenger seats, power four-way driver lumbar support, and a windshield wiper de-icing system.

We also had the 6.5-inch Navigation Group with Uconnect ($1,245); the Safety and Security Group ($645), with cargo cover, alarm, and blind spot/cross-path detection; passive entry with pushbutton start ($125); and remote start ($125).

Total sticker price was $32,645, including freight and options.

To view full article and car summary, visit star-telegram.com/cars. The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at chambers@star-telegram.com or on Twitter @gchambers3.

2016 Jeep Renegade

The package: Subcompact, five-door, five-passenger, four-cylinder powered, front- or four-wheel-drive crossover utility vehicle.

Highlights: The newest Jeep model, introduced for 2015, the Renegade is based on a Fiat design and assembled in Italy. It’s offered in base form with two-wheel drive, or off-road capable with the Trailhawk, which features a sophisticated four-wheel-drive system.

Negatives: Could use more power; rear seat tight for three adults.

Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder: 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder (optional; standard on Trailhawk).

Transmissions: Six-speed manual; nine-speed automatic.

Power/torque: 160 HP/184 foot-pounds (1.4-liter); 180 HP./175 foot-pounds (2.4-liter).

Length: 166.6 inches.

Curb weight: 3,044-3,573 pounds.

Cargo volume: 18.5 cubic feet (behind rear seat); 50.8 cubic feet (rear seat folded).

Trailer towing capacity: Maximum 2,000 pounds with 2.4-liter engine and optional towing package.

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.

Electronic stability control: Standard.

Side air bags: Seat-mounted side, front; side-curtain, both rows.

Fuel capacity/type: 12.7 gallons/unleaded regular acceptable; premium recommended.

EPA fuel economy: 24 mpg city/31 highway/27 combined (1.4-liter, 2WD or 4WD); 21/29/24 (2.4-liter, 4WD -- Trailhawk).

Major competitors: Mazda CX-3, Chevrolet Trax, Buick Encore, Nissan Juke.

Base price range: $17,995-$26,495, plus $995 freight.

Price as tested: $32,645, including freight and options (Trailhawk model).

On the Road rating: 8.5 (of a possible 10).

Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.