Hardly a soft-roader, the Renegade has real chops and a Jeep-sized price.
The Jeep Renegade is not like most subcompact crossovers. Whereas most soft-roaders of this size look like hatchbacks with a little extra lift, the Renegade looks rugged and ready for adventure. Whereas most offer a basic all-wheel-drive system, if any at all, the Renegade has a sophisticated Selec-Terrain system with an Auto mode and specialized modes for snow, sand, mud, and rock. And whereas most of these so-called “SUVs” are developed by automakers with almost no reputation for off-road prowess, the Renegade is a Jeep, which means it has a big muddy pair of boots to fill.
All of this makes the Renegade a tiny SUV with more bravado than any vehicle in its class. Its off-the-beaten-path aptitude, though, comes with a high price tag. While some may not find the Renegade’s premium price palatable, those who do are in for a surprisingly capable subcompact crossover SUV that revels in its Jeep family ties.
Gallery: 2019 Jeep Renegade Limited 4x4: Review
The Renegade’s exterior is boxy and upright, unapologetically masculine, and a bit over-the-top in its Jeepness. The grille, made of seven vertical bars, and the round headlights are Jeep staples, while the Renegade’s sheer verticality communicates its intentions. Its height of 66.5 inches is higher than any we could find in the class. Likewise, its 8.0 inches of ground clearance – for all-wheel-drive models – is among the best in the class (the Trailhawk trim increases ground clearance up to 8.7 inches). This is no aerodynamic jellybean; it’s a canvas safari tent on wheels.
The interior is even more evocative of adventure. The front seat passenger has a grab bar directly in front of them, as if they’ve just sat down in a roller coaster and are being advised to keep their hands and feet inside at all times (this is actually good advice when riding with Jeep people). Our tester also has the optional dual-pane panoramic power sunroof, which, for an extra $1,595, turns your roof into a high-def TV that plays only one channel: Nature. And then there are the easter eggs, little bits of Jeepness hidden around the Renegade that remind you it’s as much a toy to have fun with as it is a means of transportation. These include the famous Jeep grille embossed in the speaker surrounds, and the profile of a little army Jeep about to climb up the side of your windshield.
While the interior design is heavily influenced by other Jeeps, it’s not of the hose-it-down variety. There are nice materials here, like soft-touch plastics on the dash and door panels, and our particular tester has the Polar Plunge white leather trim that really brightens up the cabin.
Inside and out, the Renegade stands apart from the pack compared to other subcompact crossovers. Whereas most try to be hip, cool, and contemporary, the Renegade looks like an honest-to-goodness Jeep on a smaller scale.
The best place to sit in the Renegade is up front. Here you have the most room for your legs and head, and the extra high roof allows for tall seats with high seat cushions. The upright seating position itself makes longer hauls more comfortable, while the seats do a fair job with both cushioning and support. Rear seat passengers enjoy the same headroom and upright position, but lack the generous legroom. The Renegade’s particularly lacking in this metric, ranking among the worst in the segment.
Because of the Renegade’s boxy design, its windows are far away from your head and shoulders when seated inside. The upright and afar greenhouse lends an airy quality to the Renegade’s cabin that’s particularly welcome in these times when the square footage of glass in passenger vehicles seems to be shrinking.
One would think such a utilitarian exterior would create an expansive cargo hold, but the opposite is true. The Renegade can hold 18.5 cubic feet of cargo with its rear seats upright and a maximum of 50.8 cubic feet when folded. That max is well below some of the segment’s best, including the Kia Soul at 62.1 cubes and Honda HR-V at 55.9 cubic feet. Also, the Renegade’s rear seats don’t fold flat, but instead create an inconvenient rearward grade when folded forward. That said, we like the Renegade’s innovative three-way rear cargo floor that can be configured high, low, or at a rearward angle.
The Renegade receives an average score in this category because it neither excels nor fails in any key area of performance. Lower trim levels make do with a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, but a new turbocharged 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine producing 177 horsepower and a commendable 210 pound-feet of torque is available on higher trims.
Acceleration was leisurely with our tester’s turbo 1.3-liter, but not worryingly so. If you mash the throttle, the nine-speed automatic transmission will find the max power you’re looking for. Speaking of the transmission, this particular one has been criticized in other FCA vehicles, but engineers seem to have finally tuned the software to keep gear-hunting and hard shifts to a minimum.
Our main gripe with this powertrain, though, is some hesitation it exhibits in certain situations. On occasion, we caught it unprepared when the engine’s turbo hadn’t spooled up and the transmission was in the wrong gear. The turbo lag plus the time it takes to shift gears feels like forever when it happens while you’re in a turn lane with the light changing from yellow to red.
That experience was rare, though. By and large the Renegade drove just fine with predictable handling and a decent ride. The extra height doesn’t create more body roll in turns than what we’ve experienced in other subcompact crossovers, and the higher ground clearance helps make our country’s crumbling infrastructure feel more like a fun obstacle course.
FCA vehicles generally score well in this category thanks to the automaker’s popular UConnect infotainment system, which this Renegade has as part of a $1,245 option package. There’s nothing special about UConnect, really; it combines a big screen (8.4 inches) with good graphics, an easy-to-navigate menu structure, and lightning-quick speed. On the Limited model, a companion 7.0-inch information display between the analogue gauges also comes standard.
As good as its factory infotainment system is, the Renegade also comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility (wired, though; not wireless). Our tester also features an upgraded Beats audio system that sports nine speakers, a 12-channel amplifier, and separate subwoofer for an extra $695. The Limited trim also comes standard with heated seats and a heated steering wheel, dual-zone automatic temperature control, a 115-volt outlet, and Jeep’s aforementioned Selec-Terrain traction control system. Lastly, the Renegade can be used as a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot with the purchase of a cellular data plan.
The 2019 Jeep Renegade has not been crash-tested by either the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or private Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). NHTSA tested the 2018 model, though, and it received four out of five stars overall. IIHS hasn’t tested the Renegade since this current generation was launched in 2015, so its ratings are out of date.
Jeep does not outfit the Renegade with any advanced active safety features as standard equipment. Even on this up-level Limited trim, things like blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are part of the $645 Safety and Security Group package. Other advanced safety features like automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, and automatic parking assist are available as well, but our tester was not fitted with the $1,295 Advanced Technology Group that includes them.
More and more automakers are making these features, at least some of them, standard equipment, which leaves Jeep behind the curve in this regard.
We do, however, like the Renegade’s upgraded LED lighting package. The $695 LED Lighting Group package includes LED headlights that make the Renegade’s front-end look high-tech, as well as LED cornering fog lamps, daytime running lamps, and taillights. The kit looks great lit up at night, and the technology creates safer conditions than the old bulb-based lighting it replaces.
The Jeep Renegade with all-wheel drive is officially rated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 23 miles per gallon in the city, 29 mpg on the highway, and 26 mpg combined. Those numbers aren’t great compared to the rest of the field, but they’re dragged down by the extra weight and mechanical drag of the all-wheel-drive system. That’s not a great excuse, though, because the also-all-wheel-drive Subaru Crosstrek manages 27 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg combined.
Front-wheel-drive Renegades achieve more respectable numbers: 24 mpg in the city, 32 on the highway, and 27 combined. Fortunately, regular grade gasoline is all that’s required.
FCA has baked a premium into the Renegade’s price for being a Jeep, which it hopes people are willing to pay to live the brand’s lifestyle. While the Renegade’s base price is a seemingly reasonable $22,275 for a front-wheel-drive Sport model, our Limited tester has a starting price of $26,645, which increases to $28,145 with all-wheel drive. Our tester went for $34,860 out the door. That sum also includes a remarkably high $1,495 destination charge for such a small vehicle. Its as-tested price is remarkable considering there are two more trim levels above the Limited – the Trailhawk and the High Altitude – with even higher starting prices.
Jeep’s pricing structure for the Renegade is out of whack, though. We discovered a fully loaded Renegade High Altitude, which is the most expensive trim level, costs $36,410, while a fully loaded version of our tester’s less expensive Limited trim comes to $37,050. Huh? Even the highly off-road-capable Trackhawk model maxes out at only $36,195.
For comparison’s sake, let’s look again at the Crosstrek from Subaru, one of the only other brands with a well-earned reputation for off-road prowess. A fully loaded 2019 Subaru Crosstrek, including destination charges, comes to just $30,520, or more than six grand less than the Renegade. And in case you think the little Subaru isn’t as capable off-road as the Renegade, its ground clearance of 8.7 inches matches the Renegade Trailhawk and bests our Limited tester’s 8.0 inches.
- Buick Encore
- Chevy Trax
- Fiat 500X
- Ford EcoSport
- Honda HR-V
- Hyundai Kona
- Kia Soul
- Mazda CX-3
- Nissan Kicks
- Subaru Crosstrek
- Toyota C-HR
Editor’s Note: This review was updated in December 2019 and the ratings changed to reflect Motor1.com’s revised vehicle rating system. Changes to this vehicle’s scores were made primarily to the Safety, Fuel Economy, and Pricing ratings. For more on how Motor1.com rates cars, click here.