Last night, about 30 members of the New England Motor Press Association got an up-close preview of the upcoming 2015 Jeep Renegade, the second completely new-from-the-ground-up product for Jeep since the Fiat purchase. Unlike the Cherokee or really, any product wearing the Jeep badge that came before it, the 2015 Jeep Renegade is going to be a full import, and while I had some serious reservations about it when I first saw pictures, I’m a lot more comfortable with it now, for a few significant reasons.
The 2015 Jeep Renegade isn’t going to be produced by Jeep workers in Toledo, Ohio, where Jeeps — and Willys before them — called home. The new car — and it really is a “car” — is slated for production in Melfi, Italy. It shares a lot of architecture with another vehicle built at that plant, the Fiat 500L, though this version of the Small Wide platform has at least SOME off-road aspirations, unlike the Fiat.
There are a few things to note about the new Jeep Renegade:
SIZE: There’s nothing you can do about how the Renegade looks in photographs, but it’s not as small as it appears. Before the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V ballooned to the size they are now, they were both approximately the same size. It’s .5 inches longer than the original RAV4, in fact, if you don’t include the RAV4’s exterior mounted spare tire.
It’s also 4.3 inches wider than the original RAV4, and an inch and a half taller. It’s also larger in every dimension than the Nissan Juke, which it will compete with head-to-head.
OFF-ROAD ABILITY: I made the point earlier that this is definitely a “car,” whether Jeep wants to officially call it that in its marketing or not. You won’t find Dana 20 axles or rugged transfer cases, and it sits fairly low to the ground depending on which trim you get.
But the Trailhawk version at least has the numbers to back up the fact that if you want to take it fishing, you probably won’t have issues on the back trails. The Rubicon? We’ll see about that, but the Renegade Trailhawk DOES have steeper approach and departure angles than the Cherokee, which DID actually make it over the Rubicon Trail.
Keep in mind, this isn’t the first time Jeep — or more accurately AMC — has built a car with mild off-road ambitions. The AMC Eagle beat the Subaru Outback to the rugged, all-wheel drive wagon punch by more than a decade, and nobody ever expected that to make a Wages of Fear run.
APPEARANCE: I’ll admit my bias – I was not expecting to like the Renegade at all when I made the drive southeast of Boston to look at it. The pictures I saw weren’t just unimpressive, they made me angry. I had a CJ-7, and I’ve always loved the Jeep brand, and it just didn’t seem right to churn out another flaccid econobox like the abysmal Patriot, simply because the brand had to have a cheap car in the lineup.
But after looking at it up close, it’s actually a pretty attractive vehicle. Its size isn’t nearly as small as the photos would suggest, and it has a lot more interesting, engaging look than the “Direct-to-Rental” Patriot and Compass it will hopefully, mercifully replace at some point in the future.
Most importantly, it looks like people actually took some time to design it. Whether you like it or not is completely subjective, but at least somebody within the Jeep organization was paid to put in some effort.
FEATURES: A couple of things give me hope for the Renegade’s future both here and worldwide. I really liked the removable roof panels, which give the Renegade an open-air feel, without the hassle of a soft-top, and without the expense and complexity of glass sunroofs powered by electric motors. You simply unlatch them and store the lightweight panels in the cargo area. I was a huge fan of the California top in the BMW 318ti and in the Jeep Patriot, and this seems like a viable alternative.
Second, I really like the idea that you’ll be able to buy this with a six-speed, manual transmission. It makes the Jeep Renegade completely unique against the cars it competes with, which — at what we’re guessing is the Renegade’s price point — only offer automatic transmissions, and most of those are dreaded continuously variable transmissions.
PRICE: We tried pulling it out of Jeep Product Marketing Director Jim Morrison. All he’d say was that the base price will “probably start with a one, and that’ll probably get me fired.” That means you’re probably looking at somewhere around $24,000 for a Trailhawk, if you can use the price gap between a base Cherokee and its Trailhawk trim as a scale.
Given my reluctance about the Cherokee and the photos of the Renegade going into this preview, I was pleasantly surprised at what I got to see. Now the challenge is to actually drive one. More on that in the coming months.