With South Africa still in the grip of a recession – some of it a direct result of its own failings and some attributable to world events – the auto market is struggling to find any traction with numbers remaining down and growth for the year estimated at just one percent.
Inside of that, the SUV segment continues to hold strength and, in some months, show real growth and the reasons for this are fairly simple.
With many roads reduced to being just potholes held together by bits of tar, there is a real need for more robust motoring than offered by super low profile speedsters. Additionally, traffic congestion in the major metropolitan areas makes the raised seat height of the SUV – perceptually at least – a better option, especially for the Mom’s Taxi scenario.
Obviously, there are still those who buy 4X4 SUV models to use off the beaten track and fully to explore the capabilities of these as opposed to just doing a bit of kerb crawling in the suburbs.
Naturally, every automaker that can wants to play in this growing segment meaning buyers are exposed new and upgraded product on a regular basis.
The Jeep Renegade – for Jeep, the ‘small’ SUV – made its local debut some two years ago; so how has it stood up to the test of time?
Priced at R501 900 it comes up against the likes of the Audi Q3 1.4TFSi, Mazda CX-5 2.5, Peugeot 3008 1.6 GT-Line, Mercedes-Benz GLA 200 and Ford Everest 2.2 XLT auto, admittedly scoring the plus points of having full low-range off-road capability.
In terms of looks, the cut-from-a-brick shape of the Renegade prompts a yes/no response – yes you like it or no you do not. There is really no middle ground and placed in a lineup against its price opposition it does look positively Neanderthal.
However, it is an extremely practical shape and rear passengers especially do not have compromised headroom as a result of ‘coupé styling’ or other aesthetic tweaks. Equally, from the driver’s seat all corners of the vehicle are clearly visible, which is a necessity when actually going well off the road?
The Jeep Renegade was the first Fiat Chrysler Automobiles vehicle to be jointly developed by Italian and American designers and engineers and the first model in the brand’s history to be built in Italy, at the refurbished SATA plant in Melfi (Basilicata).
It also became the brand’s first entry into the Small SUV segment in more than 100 markets around the globe.
From any angle, it reveals the distinctive design cues of the brand’s stylistic heritage, such as round headlights, signature seven-slot grille and trapezoidal wheel arches.
The interior features a modern, refined look and major surfaces, such as the sculpted soft-touch instrument panel, are intersected with bold functional elements like the passenger grab handle – indispensable for off-road adventures and borrowed from its big brother, the legendary Jeep Wrangler.
The Renegade is designed with an efficient and flexible interior package that includes a fold-forward front-passenger seat and a removable, reversible and height-adjustable cargo load floor.
In addition to its 351-litres of storage or 1 297-litres with rear seats folded flat, the vehicle features as optional equipment a removable and reversible cargo floor panel. Maximising versatility is a fold-forward front seat that enables the new Renegade to accommodate long objects.
Onboard comfort and infotainment includes the UConnect system with 5-inch (a standard feature on all trim levels) or 6,5-inch touchscreen with navigation, Bluetooth with hands-free phone. The Jeep Renegade Limited features a 7-inch colour instrument cluster multiview display.
Safety and security includes six standard air bags, ESC with Electronic Rollover Mitigation (ERM), Parkview rear camera, Forward Collision Warning-Plus, LaneSense Departure Warning-Plus and Adaptive Cruise Control.
Power comes from a 1 368 cc engine producing 125 kW at 5 500 r/min and 250 Nm of torque at 2 500 r/min driving through a nine-speed automatic gearbox. Changing the drive mode is via a rotary dial on the console and shifting to 4H can be done on the fly.
The Renegade can also switch modes automatically as it encounters slippage from the primary driven front wheels.
Renegade features a unibody structure with the upper body and frame engineered as a single unit for a stiff and more mass-efficient structure. Its rigid foundation can be credited to the extensive use of high-strength steel and liberal use of structural adhesives. The new Small SUV utilizes approximately 70 % high-strength steel for maximizing vehicle dynamics and crash performance while optimising weight efficiency – the first Jeep vehicle to use high-strength steel to this extent.
Jeep Renegade is the first Jeep to integrate Koni’s frequency selective damping (FSD) front and rear strut system. In addition, the Koni FSD system actively filters out high-frequency suspension inputs from uneven road surfaces and adjusts for comfort and smoothness while maintaining ride control.
In terms of performance the Renegade averages 6,9 l/100 km, emits 160 g/km of CO2 and will run the 0-100 km/h in 8,8 seconds to a top speed of 196 km/h.
It offers a smooth ride, irons out the smaller potholes and remains mostly unflustered around the bends – an idea long-haul cruiser able happily to move off the tarmac when required.
It is price competitive with full-on 4X4s of a similar size. However, since the majority of buyers will not ever use that capability, one has to look at newcomers to the segment such as the Renault Duster offering all-wheel drive (albeit not low range) along with high levels of specification for a lot less.
The USD/Euro crosses do have a huge influence on the final pricing of imported vehicles but I do believe the Renegade needs to come in quite a lot cheaper to attract more buyers to what is a very capable car.
Does it stand the test of time. Absolutely.