Motoring / Motoring News
Amid ever-growing reports that a merger with the PSA Group is getting closer, the initial unification with Fiat signalled a huge turn in fortune for Chrysler as the smallest of the United States’ big three automaker emerged from the global economic meltdown with a new lease on life.
Spearheaded by late former CEO Sergio Marchionne, the newly named Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) soon went from strength to strength, but while business flourished, the automaker’s standout division among its mix of US and Italian marques came as no surprise as a report in 2017 revealed that the Jeep brand was worth $33.5-billion on its own compared to the rest of FCA being valued at $32-billion.
From the iconic Willys Jeep to the modern day Wrangler, the Jeep brand has amassed an extremely loyal following, not only based on the respective models’ heritage, but inherent off-road ability and luxury while traversing the daunting Rubicon trail.
For many fans then, it no doubt came as a shock when FCA revealed the Renegade four years ago as the urban dweller’s Jeep that shared not only its engine and platform with the Fiat 500X, but featured a less than chunky boxy exterior and without long standing model traits such as four-wheel-drive and a low range gearbox on some models.
While its existence drew the wrath from hardcore Jeep fans, the Renegade has remained. Following a mid-life revision in June last year, it quietly slipped onto local shores earlier this year vying for attention in a segment that is seemingly becoming more congested with each passing day.
Outwardly, the changes have been small but not nondescript in that the headlight surrounds have given a blacked-out look and the trademark Jeep seven-slot grille revised, while the lights themselves are new and the bumper redesigned. Along with the now clear lens side indicators, Jeep has spruced up the rear where the bumper has been tweaked and the taillights given a blacked-out look together with an X-motif for the clusters.
While by no means a dramatic refresh with the somewhat bland Glacier Metallic paint option not helping much, the Renegade has stayed true to its urban roots by retaining the usual Jeep cache, but with an element of funkiness that is sure to irk traditional fans even more.
Open the door, you are greeted by a decidedly un-Jeep like interior that places functionality and tech above out-and-out luxury and off-roading. While appearing sturdy, traditional American vehicle traits, even though the Renegade is made in Italy, soon emerge as cheap feeling materials adorn most surfaces, while the use of grey plastics made for a dark feel that could have been broken up by coloured detailing.
That being said, the cabin is spacious and the various switches and dials logically laid out, with a welcome new addition being the 8.4-inch UConnect touchscreen infotainment system that is relatively easy to use and comes with Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and satellite navigation.
Despite our tester being the mid-range Longitude model, it comes decently equipped with items such as electric windows all around, comfortable cloth trimmed seats, climate control, a multi-function steering wheel, dual USB ports, cruise control, heated electric mirrors, a reverse camera with parking sensors, Hill Start Assist, six airbags, traction and stability control, a tyre pressure monitor and Lane Keep Assist.
Riding as standard on 16- inch alloy wheels, the Renegade flaunts its compact dimensions by not only being spacious at the rear, but thanks to its boxy looks, practical with a boot measuring 351-litres that expands to an impressive 1 297 litres with the 60/40 split rear seat folded forward.
There was however bound to be a point of contempt and in the case of the Renegade, the culprit resides up front where FCA has kept the 1.4-litre turbocharged MultiAir petrol engine for South Africa instead of introducing the all-new 1.0-litre and 1.3-litre motors offered in Europe.
Delivering its 103kW/230Nm to the front wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox, the engine is simply outgunned by way too much turbo-lag and a transmission that harks back to the early days of double clutch boxes by being hesitant and easily confused when you dial in a boot fool.
It is a setup the Renegade badly needs to rid itself of as the ride is compliant on the open road thanks to those wheels and a 175 mm ground clearance, while the steering is nicely weighted with good levels of feedback. As for fuel consumption, the weeklong rendezvous saw the baby Jeep record a best of 8.1l/100km, well off of the optimistic 5.9l/100km claim.
It is perhaps the least likeable model in the Jeep line-up for being an affront to core model virtues, but the Renegade still has a place for buyers more intent on exploring the confines of an urban setting rather than the outdoors behind the wheel of a Jeep. At R400 000, the Longitude also makes for a well devised package that should carry wide scale appeal with urbanities who have their heart set on a Jeep, but one which is still in need of a better drivetrain.
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