The 2018 Jeep Renegade mounts a spirited defense of its brand bona fides, but delivers a less convincing impression of a great economy car.
The 2018 Jeep Renegade poses an interesting question: Is it possible to marry a great economy car and a great off-roader in one vehicle?
Four years after we first asked that, we’re still wowed by the amount of real Jeep tucked into this tiny trucklet. It’s the smallest Jeep sold by the brand since the last world war, but the Renegade tucks in turbo-4 engines, manual and automatic transmissions, touchscreen navigation, and in-car data while it still outpaces direct rivals when the road crumbles and turns to dirt.
We’re not fans of its rear-seat space or its thrummy, underperforming engines, but we like it enough in any of its trim levels—Sport, Latitude, Limited, or Trailhawk—to give a 5.5 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
With its slab-sided, upright style, the Renegade weaves Jeep heritage into every body panel. The seven-slot grille and round headlights look more Jeep than does anything on the next-class-bigger Cherokee, and the details bring the look home. The “X” shape in the taillights? It’s a throwback to stampings on WWII-era fuel cans. Inside, the Renegade toughens up the usual economy-car shapes, puts big round knobs where they’re useful, and brightens things up with lovely textures and color choices.
We prefer the base powertrain in the Renegade—a 160-horsepower turbo-4 with a 6-speed manual, and either front- or all-wheel drive—but know full well that the 180-hp inline-4 with its 9-speed automatic is far more common. The base engine’s smoother and quieter, if more sluggish. The bigger engine kicks in more cabin noise to go with gutsier acceleration, but its transmission dithers and sometimes gets lost in all those gears. Fuel economy isn’t great, for all the complexity.
On the road, the Renegade handles with the usual tall-wagon lean and with steering that’s no better than decent for on-road feel and response. Ride quality suffers with the biggest 18-inch wheels, but for a small car on a short wheelbase, the Renegade does well enough to consider as a daily commuter. Where it excels is in Trailhawk trim, where its all-wheel-drive system combines with a simulated low-speed crawl ratio, knobbier tires, and increased ground clearance, to cut its way through rutty mud paths and gravel passes, and can be spun into traction modes that anticipate mud, snow, sand, or downhill descents.
Driver and front passenger will be comfortable, but the Renegade’s rear seat can’t carry more than two adults across. If they’re tall, those adults will press their knees against the front seats and their heads against the headliner or the large, optional twin-pane glass roof. Cargo space is fine, and the front passenger seat folds flat so the Renegade can carry longer objects.
Crash-test scores have been below par, but the 2018 Renegade now has a standard rearview camera. Forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking are available.
All Renegades come with power features and a rearview camera, but air conditioning is an option on the Sport. Latitude models have a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with power features, cruise control, air conditioning, and Bluetooth with audio streaming. The Limited and Trailhawk come with keyless ignition, power heated front seats, and leather.