The 2017 Jeep Renegade is the smallest Jeep you can buy, appealing both to commuters and off-roaders, but its design can outshine its performance.
The 2017 Jeep Renegade, the smallest crossover you can buy from Fiat Chrysler's fabled off-road brand, continues for its third model year with only minor changes. It's the smallest Jeep sold since the Willys Jeep launched as a post-war civilian vehicle, but it's a modern utility vehicle with features GIs never dreamed of. Trim levels for the little Renegade run from Sport through Latitude and Limited, and include the tougher off-road Trailhawk version as well.
Changes for 2017 are minor, and we give it a score of 5.3 out of 10 overall. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
U.S. drivers will see the Renegade as a way to get off-road capability worthy of the name in a Jeep that's easier to use in tight city neighborhoods than the larger Compass, Patriot, and Cherokee crossovers above it in the lineup. The new Jeep has been a very successful addition to the range, not only in North America but globally, where the smallest SUVs are snapped up.
The Renegade's shape is tall, slab-sided, and upright, with deliberately oversized details that underline its heritage. The familiar seven-bar grille is flanked by large, round headlights; the rubber-lipped wheel arches are trapezoidal and quite large, to emphasize strength; and taillights have an "X" shape stamped into them that Jeep says is an homage to wartime fuel cans. The interior is a slightly tougher version of what you'd expect in a subcompact car, with large, round knobs and a pair of center air vents in a pod on top of the dash.
The 2017 Renegade continues with a pair of engines, each offered with a single transmission but the choice of front- or all-wheel-drive. The base powertrain is a 160-horsepower turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-4, rated at 184 pound-feet of torque, paired with a 6-speed manual gearbox. Buyers wanting more oomph can upgrade to a 180-hp, 2.4-liter inline-4 that puts out 175 lb-ft of torque and comes only with a 9-speed automatic gearbox, which is the only powertrain offered in the Trailhawk off-road version. Fuel economy is a middling 27 mpg combined for the small engine, 25 combined for the larger.
The littlest Jeep proves to be remarkably capable off-road. We've driven it up steep hills on rutted dirt and gravel tracks, then descended at close to 45 degrees. The Renegade braked itself and controlled the traction on each wheel as it slowly crawled down the hill. It can ford streams, traverse boulders almost as large as its 16-, 17-, or 18-inch wheels, and generally acquit itself well in the kind of dirty, muddy, off-road conditions Jeeps are known for.
It includes drive settings for extreme conditions: Mud, Sand, or Snow, plus a hill-descent braking mode. The top-of-the-line Trailhawk model, with an inch more ground clearance and different front and rear bumpers to allow steeper approach and descent angles, adds a Rock mode and the ability to crawl at very low speeds. The Renegade's no Jeep Wrangler, but it may be the best small utility.
On actual roads, where Renegades will probably spend 95 percent of their time, the car is sufficiently refined. We prefer the base powertrain paired with front-wheel drive for city and suburban use. It drives lighter and more directly, whereas the toughest Trailhawk feels far more ponderous due to its added weight and a simulated low-range transfer case.
Rear seat cramped
The two front-seat riders will enjoy the Renegade's interior; anyone riding in the rear, not so much. The front seats are well bolstered and comfortable, and the cabin width ensures shoulders don't touch. Rear-seat room can be made acceptable if riders up front slide forward, but rear-seat room isn't a strong suit in what remains a subcompact vehicle. The rear seat folds flat, as does the front passenger seat, and there's substantial cargo room in any configuration.
With seven airbags and a rearview camera standard on all but the base model, the Renegade ticks the boxes for safety basics. But its ratings have so far been only mid-pack, with four stars overall from the NHTSA and "Good" scores from the IIHS on most measures, but not on the tough small-overlap front crash test. Optional active-safety systems include forward-collision warnings and automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and blind-spot monitors.
Lots of variety
Of the four Renegade trim levels, the base Sport doesn't include air conditioning or cruise control, keeping its price around the $20,000 level. That pretty much means the mid-level Latitude or top-of-the-line Limited will be the ones most buyers choose. All three can be ordered with either powertrain. The all-wheel drive (AWD) option adds $2,000 with either engine. The Trailhawk off-road version only comes in AWD.
The Renegade comes in four trim levels: the base Sport doesn't come standard with air conditioning or cruise control, which means the mid-level Latitude ($22,290) and the top-of-the-line Limited will be the versions most drivers will seek out. All-wheel drive is a $2,000 option. All can be ordered with either powertrain and with front- or all-wheel drive. Among the wide array of options is a nifty removable sunroof system that opens the Renegade to the sun or stars, though a special wrench and a few minutes will be needed.
Feature changes for 2017 are minor, with standard keyless ignition and available high-intensity discharge headlamps arriving slightly after the start of the model year. The Latitude trim includes a 7.0-inch color instrument cluster as part of the Uconnect package, the top-level Limited adds keyless entry, and automatic high beams are a new option.