The Jeep Wrangler YJ was the first version of the iconic SUV built under Chrysler’s ownership of the brand, but it had been designed – polarizing square headlights and all – under the supervision of the parent company AMC in the mid-1980s. Although the model was a sales success, as the 1990s rolled around, Chrysler was looking for a way to put its own styling stamp on the SUV. At the same time, they also wanted to raise Wrangler’s price point a little higher, before going all-in on a complete reconsideration of the platform.
The answer to both of these wishes was the 1990-1994 Jeep Wrangler Renegade, a model that went “full-90s” in perhaps the strangest way imaginable. Renegade is designed to take advantage of the street truck habit that currently gripped the industry, while satisfying customers looking for the most stylish version of Jeep’s most basic ride. Renegade is still an anomaly more than 30 years after its launch.
Send them out
Renegade may have been a Chrysler initiative, but its production was actually outsourced. Jeep sent loaded versions of the YJ Wrangler to a company called Autostyle, which replaced the vehicle’s standard appearance with high fenders with a unique set of air-influenced front and rear bumpers, made entirely of fiberglass and paired with body-length frames and rocker panel extensions (where the latter has a small integrated step).
Integrated fog lights were inserted into the front flares and the front bumper protruded like a shelf. The colors were initially limited to white, red and black, expanded to include blue and eventually bronze, which further distinguished the model from its brothers.
To say that Renegade looked unusual was an understatement. Despite the kind of chunky body kit more commonly seen on lowered compact pickups such as the GMC Syclone and other, more imaginative concept cars from the era, the Wrangler Renegade delivered the same high ground clearance as the standard version of the YJ. This, plus the digital slenderness of its “RENEGADE” decals, gave its vaguely futuristic first impression a bit of a link from its off-road mission statement.
The name was familiar, even if it did not look like it: Jeep offered a more basic Renegade decal-and-wheels package on the CJ as far back as 1970, which held up to the 1983 CJ-7 version.
Another confusing thing was the lack of any actual street performance equipment included in the Renegade package. The closest the Jeep came was to make a 4.0L inline six-cylinder engine as standard (it was optional elsewhere in the Wrangler range), but its 180 hp and just over 200 lb-ft of torque gave it a 0-60 mph time in the range 12 seconds. This was hardly the range of performance, whether the vehicle was equipped with a 5-speed manual or available 3-speed automatic transmission. Four-wheel drive was of course included in every Renegade model.
The rest of the Renegade Decor Group (as the package was officially known) included 15-inch alloy wheels, the most stylish interior of all TJs (with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and actual carpets), intermittent windshield wipers, exclusive seats, power steering and a soft top. It cost about $ 4,000 for Renegade’s charm, which was close to a third of the price of the Wrangler at the time, and you had to add another $ 900 or so if you wanted a hardtop.
Odd One Out
There is no doubt that the Jeep Wrangler Renegade YJ’s visual personality is an acquired taste. From a modern perspective, it’s a good example of abundance from the early ’90s, but at the time it had trouble capturing Jeep fans who were puzzled by the existence of a Wrangler who was more likely to have their fiberglass panels worn off the track. than dazzling on the street.
Then there was the price. Asking for $ 4,000 for the equivalent of an appearance package was another violation of the sensibilities of YJ fans who are more accustomed to pocketing extra money in exchange for greater terrain capacity rather than style points. These two details obscured the fact that Chrysler had actually built a very comfortable version of the Wrangler that was well-suited for everyday driving tasks (despite the rumor of the slippery-when-wet sideboards that made climbing inside a treacherous task in the rain).
Whatever the reason, Renegade’s rarity today is due to its inability to connect with customers when it was released. YJ has always been despised for its square headlights, and adding Renegade’s square “everything else” to that equation did not give it many champions. The downside is that it represents a unique way to experience a classic Jeep, with garage-held examples that have never seen driving more robust than broken pavement much more common than broken adventure rigs. As a result, prices are slowly starting to rise on the most misunderstood Wrangler model ever built.