The Renegade is the smallest model in the Jeep lineup, sitting two rungs below the Cherokee, but since its debut in 2015 it’s been a strong seller for the brand, helped by the fact that the aging Compass wasn’t replaced until late 2017. Along with its Fiat 500X sibling, the Renegade arrived during a boom for small SUVs and crossovers, and it set its sights upon the lower end of the price spectrum, even though higher-spec models like the Trailhawk and its Desert Hawk variant overlap with larger Jeep models.
Designed from the ground up as the entry-level Jeep model — the Renegade is not a direct replacement for any other vehicles in the range — this wee SUV offers the Jeep formula in a compact, urban-friendly package that features a spacious interior, good ergonomics, plenty of storage space and a well-designed cabin. Sporting a very cab-forward design and a tall ceiling, the Renegade makes the most of its boxy shape, maximizing passenger space that in other pocket-sized SUVs and crossovers would likely be wasted by a stylish, sloping windshield and back hatch. The Renegade delivers a tall, square box of an interior that offers plenty of cargo space for everyday items.
Powered by a 2.4-liter inline-four engine coupled with a nine-speed automatic transmission, the Renegade has 180 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque to play with, which is enough for something this size. The Renegade Desert Hawk combines the hardware of the trail-rated Trailhawk model with a number of special bits of equipment including off-road rock rails, Active Drive Low gearing for a 20:1 ratio crawling speed, 17-inch gloss black aluminum wheels, special Moroccan Sun interior trim color, leather-trimmed seats with cloth inserts and emboroidered seat stitching, all-weather floormats and cargo liner, and a unique exterior color with a map decal on the hood and D-pillar star decals. This model also features other goodies from the Trailhawk model including tow hooks, skid plates, hill descent control, 8.7 inches of ground clearance and the Selec-Terrain system with Rock mode.
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On the highway the Renegade is on the loud side, and it requires a good amount of engine revs for it to really hustle up on-ramps and merge into traffic at high speeds. The noise settles down a bit when it’s cruising along at highway speeds, but getting there is a bit more dramatic than it should be. Then again, this is an offroad-optimized model so a dash of the Wrangler experience is nothing out of the ordinary.
In town, the Renegade offers great maneuverability and visibility, the latter thanks to the position of the very upright A-pillars all the way at the front of the box-like cabin. The turning radius is great for cities, in addition to the flexibility of being able to climb on curbs easily and without wheel damage, and the modest wheelbase makes the Renegade very easy to park in spots that might otherwise challenge midsize sedans. For something geared to off-roading in some picturesque locale — pictured on the hood of the Desert Hawk, as a matter of fact — the Renegade is a surprisingly comfortable and maneuverable urban vehicle, ready for the busted road infrastructure of our cities.
When it comes to versatility the Renegade offers enough room for a family with kids, but just barely. There are other vehicles at this price point just a size larger that can haul more stuff — think Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5 or even Jeep’s own Cherokee. It’s fine for daily tasks and just a little bit more, but it’s not for shuttling a quarter of a youth hockey team.
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Since the Desert Hawk is a variant of the loaded Trailhawk, it rests toward the top of the Renegade price range, with a starting price of $27,990. Granted, this yields plenty of off-road goodies as well as leather-trimmed seats, but it’s best to budget another $3,000 to $4,000 in options for some upgrades.
The Renegade Desert Hawk that I drove and the one you see in the photos above, was optioned up to $31,920, leading to overlap with the larger Compass and Cherokee models; still, if you want off-road style in an urban-sized people mover, smaller is better and the Renegade delivers in a unique package.
On Sale: Now
Base Price: $27,990
As Tested Price: $31,920
Powertrain: 2.4-liter DOHC I4; 4WD, nine-speed automatic
Output: 180 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 175 lb-ft @ 3,900 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,573 lb
Fuel Economy: 21/29/24 mpg(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Observed Fuel Economy: 23 mpg
Pros: Maneuverable, good visibility, well-equipped
Cons: Stiff suspension, loud engine, nine-speed still a little clunky