Crawling Moab in the 2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk [w/video]
Testing The Baby Jeep's Trail-Rated Cred
Power180 HP / 175 LB-FT
0-60 Time8.6 Seconds (est.)
Curb Weight3,575 LBS
Cargo50.8 CU-FT (max)
MPG21 City / 29 HWY
This is the story of Jeep's modern expansion, growing with new models while the faithful at the brand's center howl at every quest into broader market segments. Thirteen years after it busted out the Liberty and eight years after birthing the Compass and Patriot, you'd think the resistance to new Jeeps would subside. But no. It's 2015, and while nobody makes the slightest tantrum over BMW's new minivan (except for Sniff Petrol), the Renegade still has to fight its way through pitchforks and torches.
Which is a long way of saying that this author is guilty of brand prejudice, too. When the company told us that we'd spend the first day of the Easter Jeep Safari driving seven awesome concepts and the second day driving the Renegade Trailhawk on Dome Point Trail, we could only think, "They giveth excitement, and they taketh it away." Our pessimism was later proven to be incorrect. Sharing the sentiment our colleague Brandon Turkus expressed after his Quick Spin, we found the Renegade to be "in a word, impressive."
Dome Point will not trouble a kitted-out Wrangler, but in a compact SUV with on-road tires the rocky sections were chunky enough to require close attention to your lines or use a spotter. As instructed, we put the little 4x4 into the Selec-Terrain's Rock mode, and with common sense plus one eye on the man directing us with hand signals the Renegade climbed over everything with some wheelspin but little fuss.
At the first rest point, we turned the car off to wait for vehicles behind. Not realizing that this resets the drive mode to Auto, we crawled through the next two rocky jumbles in the default setting. The result was the same: a bit of wheelspin climbing over thick steps, but an altogether drama-free passage. Auto mode can't use the engine throttle maps unique to each Selec-Terrain setting, but it doesn't hamper the Renegade's capability by much. On a steep bit of trail with a crest capped by stacked stone plinths, it took three tries to find the right line, but that's on us – the Renegade did more than expected.
By the time we traversed the most challenging part of the trail and arrived at the lunch spot, the Renegade Trailhawk was at the top of a hill few buyers will ever climb. A marketing exec told us that they consider the Nissan Juke as the baby Jeep's number one competitor, followed by the Chevrolet Trax, the Honda HR-V, the Kia Soul, and the Mini Countryman/Paceman combo. Anyone considering those other SUVs probably can't find Moab on a map, much less considering driving the trail we took.
True, the Trailhawk is the halo model for the lineup – most buyers will get it for the off-road credibility but precious few doers will throw up as much mud and dust as the Renegade can handle. And that's true for the rest of the Jeep lineup. Still, we kept asking every Jeep exec we saw, "Why are we out here doing this?" The little SUV is capable of feats that almost every one of its buyers never, ever attempt.
The Renegade is a true Jeep, to be clear, in the way the Compass and Patriot were not. In one way or another, every executive answer to our question was a variation on wanting to prove that the Renegade "is a real Jeep." Not because it has a Jeep badge, but because it's part of the Jeep myth – the "We Sweat Mud And Olive Drab" fable. The one lit by two round headlights and a seven-bar grille. The one shepherded by the Wrangler and proven by the Rubicon Trail. It's a party that the Compass and Patriot never were invited to, even though both cars put up solid sales figures. Our take on the Renegade is the same thing we've said before, and it echoes the popular consensus: this is a proper Jeep.
Jeep says the key purchase criteria in the segment are value, fun-to-drive, fuel economy, safety, and functionality. The Renegade has fun-to-drive, safety, and functionality in the bag, plus options like the removable roof panels are an ace in the hole you won't get anywhere else. Value and fuel economy are on the fringes, segment-wise; the EPA rated the lighter, non-Trailhawk 4WD Renegade with the nine-speed automatic at 21 city, 29 highway miles per gallon. Compare that to the Juke at 28 city, 32 highway mpg. But the strength of the Jeep name goes a long way to justifying the Renegade's relative thirst and its value proposition. And it can tow 2,000 pounds.
Back to that brand purity issue that we started with. Every automaker has reneged on the promise of, "We will never make one of those!" (ahem, Rolls-Royce). Accepting that there are no boundaries to brand expansion anymore the relevant question is whether any new vehicle combines historic brand values with segment realities, and whether that's done with sincerity or as a cash grab.
Our trip to Moab taught us that the Renegade Trailhawk is not a cynical exercise. The brand faithful might still crow about things like Fiat underpinnings, but the apostate army has money too, and this is their affordable door into the bona fide Willys Club. According to Jeep, the first person in the US to walk through it was a woman who traded in a Chevy Cruze. The Renegade has yet to prove how it will do in the market, but if it fails, it won't be because it's not a proper Jeep.
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