REVIEW: 2017 Jeep Renegade Deserthawk 4X4 – Substantial Off-Road Capability For Around $30K

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The 2017 Jeep Renegade Deserthawk 4X4 is a unique, small, off-road vehicle that has great on-road manners. We found the Deserthawk to be a great value for those who want a vehicle that can tackle some dirt and mud on weekends, and in which they can still commute comfortably all week long.

What is it? 

The Jeep Renegade is a subcompact crossover that uses a lot of the best of the Fiat family’s platform and drivetrain bits. Our Jeep tester was a specialty version with off-road capability built by the company that does it best.

Pricing and trims

The Renegade is the entry-level Jeep in all respects and starts at just $18K. We have driven the base model and we were not that impressed, though we do respect the low entry price. However, the $31,920 Deserthawk is a completely different experience. It feels higher in quality, has a lot of unique content at this price point, and doesn’t have an entry-level feel about it.

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Safety

The Jeep Renegade scored well when tested by the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety. It earned a Good score on the basic crash tests and can come with advanced forward collision with emergency auto braking. Our tester didn’t have this technology, but it did come with a great backup camera, blind spot alert, and rear cross-traffic alert.

Performance

Performance in this vehicle’s class isn’t about 0-60 MPH sprints, but off-road prowess. The 2017 Jeep Renegade Deserthawk delivers. Everywhere one looks Jeep has made the Deserthawk special. Starting with special off-road capable tires on rims that look like they could hit or scrape a rock and not be damaged (except cosmetically).

Jeep also includes a multi-mode 4X4 system with a selector switch for every occasion. There are front and rear recovery hooks, waterproof floor mats and cargo area cover, and best of, a full-size spare tire and a robust toolkit. There are even rock rails to protect the sides of the Deserthawk.

Like all off-road Jeeps, this one is the real deal. We didn’t have a chance to make our tester muddy, so we offer you an owner’s video showing it doing some soft-roading

The Renegade Deserthawk has a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine and a nine-speed auto transmission with manual mode. The engine seems to match the weight and mission of this Jeep well. Jeep says the Deserthawk has a special “Active Drive Low 4×4 with 20:1 Crawl Ratio.” That means it can use the torque of its engine to effectively crawl over rocks and up muddy slopes.

Ride and handling

Around town, the Renegade Deserthawk feels like a smaller version of the Jeep Wrangler. One can sense the suspension flex.  The ground clearance and ride height make themselves known when cornering. This is not a problem, just a sensation that you won’t get in most crossovers like  Subaru Crosstrek or Mazda CX-3. The high-profile tires do a good job of damping out road imperfections, though the ride is not soft. On the highway, the Renegade Deserthawk tracks straight ahead as well as any short wheelbase vehicle can.

Seating

The differences between the base Renegade and the Deserthawk are obvious inside. The seating is comfortable and leather-trimmed seats with the Deserthawk logo look and feel high quality. The seats are heated up front and this is one of the only FCA branded vehicles we have tested in years that had the seat heat controls separate from the infotainment. Great move. The steering wheel is also heated. Rear seating is limited. We would suggest that anyone shopping Jeep who plans to use the rear seat regularly, even for small children, move up to the Compass.

Cargo

The cargo area in our Deserthawk was a small cube. Fine for groceries and daily items, but if you plan to be hauling hockey bags, golf clubs, or serious camping gear the Compas is the better small Jeep choice.

Infotainment and controls

Like every FCA brand vehicle we have tested in the past few years the Jeep Renegade Deserthawk had an outstanding infotainment setup. The touchscreen is easy to use and the menus are simple and intuitive. You won’t need a manual with this vehicle. For example, to sync your phone you hit “Phone,” and the Renegade says back in text on the screen “Do you want to add a phone?” Even setting the door lock choices and lighting preferences is easy. Do you like all the doors to unlock when you click the fob? No problem. We are always shocked by how many automakers restrict that choice at this price point and force you to hit the fob twice. Jeep makes things easy.

Overall

The Jeep Renegade line can be many things to many people. The Deserthawk 4X4 is may not be the best choice of trim for those not planning off-road adventures. However, those that do want to have the ability to go deep into the woods, drive over dunes, or do some rock-hopping, the Deserthawk seems like a great choice for those without the budget for a Wrangler. The Deserthawk’s narrow width by comparison to most other 4X4s also means it can keep going when the trees get thick.

The Renegade Deserthawk has a solid quality feeling we were surprised by. The impression we were left with is this is a tough, rugged vehicle that enthusiasts will know just what to do with off-road.

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John Goreham

John Goreham