First Drive: 2016 Jeep Renegade

Published on December 1, 2015 in First Drives by Brad Diamond

As the Jeep Wrangler's popularity continues to soar into the stratosphere, the 2016 Renegade is the anti-Wrangler.

It's small, available in front-wheel drive and, to borrow from Brad's assessment, cute by all accounts—though I would add that there's some rugged handsomeness to be found, too.

Aside from the seven-slot grille, round headlights, and Jerry can-inspired taillights, it hardly looks like a Jeep at all.

Yet somehow it's unmistakably a Jeep.

It almost looks like a Jeep Commander that was put in a vice before a cartoonist had his way with it, exaggerating the lines for effect.

And I like it.

Built in Italy on the same platform as the Fiat 500X and 500L models, the Jeep Renegade's European roots shine through the first time you get in.

Its squeezed exterior proportions don't translate to a cozy cabin, with the Renegade feeling bright and airy inside while offering plenty of passenger and cargo room for its size.

The headroom, too, is otherworldly, feeling more like a fullsize SUV than a compact crossover.

It's available four ways, from the base Sport to the the decked-out Limited, with North and Trailhawk trims thrown in for good measure.

All can be had with four-wheel drive, though the Sport and North versions are powered by the front wheels only, with Jeep's Active Drive available as optional equipment.

Something else only available on those trims is a six-speed manual gearbox, which is the sole transmission offered with the 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder under the hood.

Also found in the Fiat 500 and Dodge Dart, the 1.4-litre MultiAir engine makes 160 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque, though, like the latter, a 2.4-litre unit that makes 180 horsepower and 175 lb.-ft. of torque is also available, and comes mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission.

The Renegade North I drove was a front-wheel drive model with the smaller of the two engines under the hood and the manual shifter between the seats, which proved to be a peppy combination around town.

Shifts were smooth, engine response was impressive, and fuel economy was decent, coming in at a real-world combined average of 9.8 L/100 km over 900 kilometres, which is closer to the claimed city average of 9.9 L/100 km.

Premium fuel is recommended, though not required.

Compared to the Renegade Sport, which is pretty bare bones and doesn't include air conditioning, the North model adds body-colour power mirrors, automatic headlights, foglights and 16-inch aluminum wheels outside—they grow to 17 inches with the larger engine on board—and tinted windows, a Uconnect infotainment system and air conditioning inside.

A few shortcomings that can be made up for at a price include a backup camera, and heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, which make up the so-called Cold Weather Group of options.

With the backup camera going for $450 and the heated options for $695, they're not enough to break the bank, but do seem like a bit of a no-brainer.

The Renegade also does without a spare tire, instead featuring a "tire service kit" under the cargo floor.

A $295 full-size spare is available, bringing the "must-add" options list to $1,440.

The last thing that's left is to decide whether the Jeep Renegade is worth the price of admission compared to the midsize Cherokee.

Considering the relatively low starting price of the Renegade—at $20,495, it comes in at $5,000 less than the base Cherokee—it's reasonable when compared to the likes of the Kia Soul, Scion xB and Honda HR-V.

But with the price of the Renegade Limited, at $32,295, only $400 less than the Cherokee Limited, Jeep fans may have a tough time choosing this quirky little commuter over its larger sibling.

Base price: $20,495

As tested: $29,380 (freight included)

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