Motormouth – Gordon Hall
Rebelliously unconventional: We drive Jeep’s Italo-American Renegade MultiAir 4×2
City Jeep with Latin flair
Warning: The following material will prove offensive to certain readers; those to whom olive green is not just a colour but the only colour; whose daily footwear is combat boots; who wear Leatherman multi-tools in custom made pouches on their belts and whose favourite Tees all carry Jeep® branding.
Mortally afraid of backlash, we plunge in courageously anyway: The aptly named Jeep Renegade is not all-American. It’s about three-quarters Italian. You heard us – Italian.
Introduced at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show and manufactured in Melfi, Italy, it’s built on the same platform as Fiat’s 500X. Design took place at Auburn Hills, just as it should, but motors and gearboxes come from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ collective parts bin.
Engine choices consist of Fiat’s naturally aspirated 1600, two versions of its 1400cc MultiAir turbo, the company’s 1.6 diesel and Fiat-Chrysler’s 2.4-litre Tigershark unit. Gearboxes are a five-speed manual, the stick shift version of Fiat’s C635 six-speed and Chrysler’s nine-gear automatic. There are five models – three 4×2 versions, a 1400cc all-wheel drive and a 2.4 Trailrated rock crawler.
Suspension is by Koni. It’s a four-wheel fully independent setup with McPherson struts front and rear. Its frequency selective damping enables superior road holding and handling characteristics. Further, it filters out high-frequency vibes from rough roads and adjusts for comfort and smoothness, while maintaining good ride control. In plain English, it soaks up bumps, provides excellent ride comfort and imparts an almost Alfa Romeo-like level of handling ability.
For off-street cred, it gives 175 mm of ground clearance and up to 205 mm of articulation. That’s good for scrambling over washaways, rocks and kerbs.
At Auburn Hills, senior FCA creatives turned over styling to its youngest members with the instruction: “Design a car just for you.” Jeremy Glover and Ian Hedge, recent graduates of Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, duly penned the new Jeep just as they dreamed it.
To keep it looking familiar, and fans faithful, they took inspiration from the Wrangler, fitted a passenger grab bar, used WW ll-themed graphics like the original grille and side panels from jerry cans, then added humorous elements like brown “mud splatter,” rather than the usual boring red line, on the revolution counter. Other touches include an open Jeep driving around the perimeter of the front screen and Bigfoot hiking across the back window.
Keeping the accent youthful, interior kit features a six-speaker Uconnect music system with 5” touch screen, Bluetooth and voice control, steering wheel buttons, powered windows and mirrors, an electric parking brake that sets itself, a 12-volt socket for recharging necessities and dual-zone automatic air conditioning. The entertainment kit is, naturally, upgradeable via option packs.
Safety equipment includes six airbags, ISOfix mountings, tyre pressure monitoring, electrical centralised locking, cruise control with speed limiter, panic braking assistance, lane departure warning, front collision- and roll mitigation and rear parking sensors. Adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection, rain-sensing wipers, electrochromic rearview mirror and HID lights are included in options packages.
Our test car was a second level 1.4 Limited with the 103 kW version of Fiat’s MultiAir engine and the C635 transmission mentioned earlier. Even though this is only the medium-powered version of the little turbomotor, its power, acceleration and lugging ability are all good. We loafed along at 2400 rpm at 120 km/h in top, held 100 km/h easily in that gear up the long hills between Howick and Nottingham Road and always had power in hand for overtaking.
The six-speed manual gearbox works smoothly and precisely, pedals are nicely spaced and the internal ambience, practical and functional in keeping with the spirit of the car, is chunky but pleasing. Visibility to the sides is generally good thanks to big square windows, but the effect is spoiled by a too-wide C pillar that’s alleviated only slightly by a small inset pane.
Still being practical, the hatch opens down to upper thigh level to reveal a lipless loading floor with a fully sized alloy spare underneath, four lashing rings, two lights and a 12-volt socket. The rear seatback is split 2/3:1/3 and each side folds almost flat, as does the front passenger chair, to accommodate longer loads. Being a small SUV, knee room in the back seat is rather tight but head space is perfectly adequate.
Although there are a couple of small concerns, this almost-entry-level Renegade is a pleasantly brisk and sweet-handling little city Jeep with Latin flair. It’s so good that we’re looking forward to getting an off-roader to try.
Test car from FCASA press fleet
Price: R375 990
Engine: 1368 cc, belt driven SOHC, 16-valve, four-cylinder turbopetrol
Power: 103 kW at 5500 rpm
Torque: 230 Nm at 1750 rpm
Zero to 100 km/h: 9.3 seconds
Maximum speed: 194 km/h
Real life fuel consumption: About 7.9 l/100 km
Tank: 48 litres
Luggage: 351 – 1297 litres
Warranty: 3 years / 100 000 km
Maintenance plan: 6 years / 100 000 km