ANALYSIS – Renegade 2.0-litre diesel and future small Jeeps

It may be three years old now, but the smallest Jeep just keeps gathering power. The boxy-chunky-sweet styling gives the Renegade global appeal, as evidenced by the growing list of production locations worldwide.

This subcompact/B-segment SUV was revealed to the public at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show, which was unusual for an American vehicle. The European location was fitting, however, as the first factory to produce the Renegade was FCA Italy’s Melfi plant. The site was prepared to build both the Jeep and its Fiat 500X sibling at a cost of €1 billion. The first vehicle rolled off the line in June 2014.

Meanwhile, the Renegade’s US market debut was at the April 2014 New York Auto Show. It went on sale in North America in December 2014, for the 2015 model year.

All-wheel drive when some rivals are front-wheel drive only

The body and much else may have been new but the SUSW architecture was already known from the Fiat 500L.

The body and much else may have been new but the Renegade’s SUSW architecture was already known from the Fiat 500L. Unlike this compact minivan, and which also sets the Renegade apart from some rivals such as the Peugeot 2008, four-wheel drive is available. Those for whom a low CO2 average is more of a priority can instead choose a FWD version.

The Renegade has up to 205 mm (8.1 in) of wheelbase and 220 mm (8.7 in) of ground clearance, while this was the first Jeep to integrate Koni’s Frequency Selective Damping (FSD) front and rear strut systems.

Seven engines and four gearboxes

There are four petrol engines, some of which are Fiat designs, while others were developed by Chrysler engineers in the pre-FCA era. While the petrols are labeled as MultiAir units, each of two diesels is labeled as a MultiJet II. In some countries, there is also an E.torQ with flex fuel. As for transmissions, there are two manuals, a dual-dry clutch transmission (DDCT) and a nine-speed torque converter automatic.

Production expands to Brazil, China and India

After production at FCA’s Melfi plant began ramping up, the company’s Brazilian operation activated its plan to build the Renegade in Goiana in the state of Pernambuco. It started in April 2015 and the Jeep was this factory’s first vehicle. Goiana has an integrated supplier park as well as facilities for product development and testing. Capacity for up to 300,000 engines and 400,000 gearboxes is also available at the site.

FCA was not content with just two major production sites, but had also decided that the Renegade could work well in the Chinese market as well. The small SUV is manufactured there in collaboration with Guangzhou Auto (GAC). The facility in question turned out to be an existing GAC facility that later became part of the GAC FCA joint venture.

The capacity set aside for the Renegade is 160,000 vehicles per year at the FCA and Guangzhou Auto factory.

Renegade production in China started in April 2016. The JV plant is located within the manufacturing base of GAC’s passenger car business in the Panyu District of Guangzhou. The capacity set aside for Renegade is 160,000 vehicles per year.

Even after Panyu District got going, FCA was still not satisfied. The company most recently decided that the Renegade was likely to find a willing audience if it took the chance to build a variant for the Indian market. This it will do in collaboration with Tata Motors. The Compass was the first Jeep to be manufactured at Ranjangaon, with the Renegade kit starting production there in 2018.

How well is the Renegade selling?

Let’s take a look at how the Renegade performs in the main regions of the world. First, the US, which is not a big market for subcompact SUVs. Even so, sales reached 43,846 units in the first five months of 2017, and remember, all of this is imports. It is also over 6,000 vehicles ahead of the Honda HR-V, which is manufactured in Mexico. The Nissan Juke has not been a success in North America, Ford has yet to launch the EcoSport, and GM dealers delivered 35,768 units of the Buick Encore and 31,044 of the Chevrolet Trax, respectively. The Fiat 500X, meanwhile, continues to struggle; its sales totaled only 3,427 between January 1 and May 31.

As in the US market, the B-SUV segment is not that big (yet?) in China, so 17,454 deliveries is a good result.

In China, the Jeep Cherokee is FCA’s best seller, with 42,370 registrations in the first five months, followed by the Compass at 29,249. As in the US market, the B-SUV segment is not (yet?) big in China, so 17,454 deliveries is a good result.

At the time of writing, ACEA had not yet disclosed sales in Europe by brand, but for the year to the end of April, sales of Jeeps totaled 35,361, which was unchanged. The bulk of these will obviously be for the Renegade, the only locally built model.

Nine-speed auto for the most powerful diesel of 170 hp

It’s been a while since I tried a Renegade so the chance to try a diesel version for the first time was welcome.

The 2.0-liter engine transforms this small SUV, and even without an automatic transmission, it’s a great vehicle in town as well as on highways. Those cheeky-chunky looks manage to make you feel like you’re the owner of a solid, Tonka-tough little four-by-four.

As in the 500X, the seating position is quite upright and that’s not a bad thing. The ones at the back have good views, which means the kids love it. The boot is deep and has a proper, rectangular shape without encroaching on the wheel arch. It’s a shame there’s no spare tire, just a puncture kit.

A motif of circular headlights and the seven-bar grille appear in all sorts of places inside the Renegade (as well as in the center of each taillight). It’s there on the inside of the doors and even embossed into a piece of plastic trim that you only notice when the tailgate is opened. It’s something that makes you fall in love with the car, like the little cartoon of a Jeep on the inside of the windshield.

What’s not to love?

A minor thing that can be annoying is a particularly loud beep every time you lock the car. I also had to turn off the parking sensors as they were also way too intrusive. Even at the lowest volume setting, they were anything but stress-inducing: if you park close to a wall like I have to, you’re assaulted by a terrible siren-like sonic assault. The same goes for the blind spot warning – it’s almost dangerous to loudly warn vehicles that are often not even that close. Let’s hope FCA has modified these things as part of the next model year update.

Changes ahead

A mid-life facelift is likely coming for the 2019 model year in North America.

Speaking of lifecycle improvements and changes, a mid-life facelift is likely coming for the 2019 model year in North America. Given how many rivals get their infotainment systems updated at the time of a facelift, it seems a certainty that this will also apply to the Renegade, which has what is now a rather small dash-top display.

If other OEMs could teach FCA about noisy and overly sensitive parking and lane departure warnings, many of them should study the Renegade’s automatically engaged and disengaged parking brake in return: even if they’re not usually a fan of these, for that reason this won a me over. Even when reverse parking in a tight space on a slope, it is not the obstacle that so many others are.

The overall feel of the interior is not too premium but somehow this works for the Jeep as it has a sort of slang-out appeal to it. And the cubby box between the front seats is incredibly spacious.

The Multijet II 2.0 liter engine is loaded with clicks of torque at exactly the low engine and road speeds when you want it most. Compared to the 1.4-litre petrol turbo, even the high-output versions, the biggest diesel is a joy to drive. You never have to downshift just to get the car moving at a decent pace on a freeway or on a B-road, so driving is fun, not taxing.

The 1,956 cc diesel comes in two forms. Outputs are either 103kW (140PS) or 125kW (170PS). The torque is the same 350Nm for both. The second diesel is a 1.6 and it has an output of 120 hp.

Of all the engines available in the Renegade, the 2.0 MultiJet II diesel is the best.

Having now tried pretty much every Renegade apart from the 2.4-litre petrol, I have to say the 2.0 MultiJet II is the best powertrain.

Land Rover may have made a huge amount of money leveraging the Range Rover name into the C-segment with the Evoque, but when it finally decides to offer a B-SUV, the development team will have a hard time matching the Renegade for an authentic feel baby- 4×4.

Will this remain the only small Jeep?

As mentioned above, the Renegade will get a facelift in CY2018. The compensation model should then come in 2021.

FCA is said to be exploring the potential for a sub-Renegade model. If an A-segment SUV gets the go-ahead, it would likely share a platform and mechanics with the Trekking version of the Project 170, the next Panda.

Pomigliano d’Arco in Italy or Kragujevac in Serbia might be logical places to build a Jeep in the A-segment in Europe.

The little Fiat will hit European markets in 2018 or 2019, so the baby Jeep probably won’t arrive until 2020.

The Panda will be manufactured in Italy at Pomigliano d’Arco so that would be the most logical place to manufacture a mini jeep. However, Kragujevac is currently having trouble producing capacity numbers for the 500L and 500L Living MPV and FCA has spent a lot of money on the Serbian factory. Inserting another SUSW architecture model into that low-cost factory could be a smart move.

In Brazil and India, Renault has found large markets for the Kwid, and in China, Geely has just released the 3.7m SUV Emgrand X1. If FCA sees and seizes the global opportunity, the smallest Jeep could become a pretty big deal.

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