Much has been made about the Jeep Renegade shown at Geneva this week. Some — especially hardcore Jeep off-roaders here in the States — have trashed the baby Jeep as not befitting of the Jeep name. That’s a criticism I remember hearing about the Jeep Patriot and Compass when they were introduced, as well. To those critics, I say get over yourselves. The Jeep Renegade has lots of tech — off-road and otherwise — that make it something to which we here at In-Car Tech are looking forward.
Let’s nod at the criticisms: Too small. Front-wheel drive based. Unlikely to cut the mustard off-road.
Balderdash, says I.
First, compare the size of the original U.S. Army Willys Jeep tub to the gargantuan great-great-grandson of that vehicle, the modern-day Wrangler. It’s staggering. The Willys-Overland MB – that’s the formal name of what became known colloquially as the Jeep — was 131 inches long and just 62 inches wide, riding on an 80-inch wheelbase and standing a perfect six feet tall when equipped with a canvas top. The modern day Jeep Wrangler (codename JK) is riding on a wheelbase that is at a minimum 15.4 inches longer than the MB — and if you opt for the four-door “Unlimited” trim as many in my neck of the woods do, it’s riding on 116 inches of wheelbase. Overall length of a two-door Wrangler JK is 152.8 inches — 21.8 inches longer than the MB. It’s 73.7 inches wide — 11.7 inches wider than the MB. Perhaps most striking: The two-door JK is more than 1,400 lbs heavier than the MB.
I go through all that number regurgitation to point out how our concept of vehicle size is all kinds of messed up in America nowadays. Small size is sometimes a huge asset, whether you’re fighting for a parking space in the urban jungle or navigating an overgrown two-track trail on your back 40. The original architects of the Jeep knew it.
To the other two criticisms, I’ll say this: How many rear-wheel drive based late-model Grand Cherokees do you actually see busting the trails? That’s what I thought.
Now, on to the three things we’re anxious to experience in the Jeep Renegade when it comes to market:
1. In Jeep’s own nod to the naysayers, the Renegade will be Trail-Rated. Don’t believe us? Read Jeep’s own press release on the new baby. As part of that Trail-Rated cred, Jeep will bestow the tiniest member of the family with a version of the off-road system I experienced in the Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland last summer. Newly dubbed Jeep Active Drive, the automaker calls it a full-time 4×4 system, though it sounds more like an all-wheel drive system that kicks in whenever traction is needed at the rear wheels, based on Jeep’s own wording. Jeep Active Drive Low adds a 20:1 crawl ratio. Like the Grand Cherokee I tested, the Jeep Renegade gets Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system that allows the driver to select from up to five modes for different terrain, including sand, snow, mud, and rocks.
2. The Jeep Renegade will get the nine-speed automatic transmission our Brett Solomon recently experienced in the Jeep Cherokee. Coupled with the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine expected in U.S.-bound Renegades, this should prove a worthy companion willing to keep the engine in its sweet spot. Of course, much will depend on the way Jeep chooses to tune the transmission and the way it selects gears. Also available — and desirable to stick-loving yours truly — will be a six-speed manual transmission. If the engine works as well in the Renegade as it did in the Fiat 500 I tested last year, it should be lots of fun with a manual transmission. There are doubters out there saying the 1.4-liter MultiAir turbo is not fit for a vehicle of the Jeep Renegade’s size and shape. Many of those doubters last experienced the engine in the Dodge Dart. A lot depends on engine calibration and transmission tuning. I look forward to experiencing a Renegade with either transmission choice just to see how Jeep handles tuning the combination of small turbo engine and modern transmission.
3. Remember how tons of commenters on automotive sites clamored for small cars that weren’t afraid to offer premium options? The Jeep Renegade will answer that desire and give those commenters a chance to put their money where their mouth is. Among other things, it’ll get the latest version of Chrysler’s Uconnect Access infotainment system and a full-color gauge cluster screen Jeep says will be the segment’s largest. I’m a pretty big fan of Uconnect, having enjoyed every iteration of the system I’ve had the opportunity to test. It’s got a ton of features, and it’s easy to navigate the menus and sub-menus to get everything set up exactly the way I want. Plus, the voice command functions work nearly flawlessly and can be summoned with phrases you’d expect, not some crazy code phrases or stilted command structure.
When — not if — the Jeep Renegade makes it to our shores, I hope we get to test one. In a lot of ways, it combines some characteristics of my previous favorite Jeep model, the Jeep Patriot, with the design sensibilities and size of my family’s beloved Nissan cube. That’s a combination I can get behind.