Actually, a quick spin in Jeep Renegade wasn’t very quick at all, Jeep eager to remind us the Trailhawk version of its small SUV is still a Jeep, even if some wee tires and a 21:1 low-range means it won’t follow a Wrangler or Gladiator through nastier stuff.
The Renegade got updated this year with a new look highlighted by sharper chiseling to the front end, optional LED head and tail lights, wheels, paints, dash graphics and so on. More noteworthy, it adds active grille shutters except on Trailhawk, and optional adaptive cruise control, front proximity sensors and parallel/perpendicular park assist plus. Seriously, with diminutive dimensions and squared edges, if you need park assist you should not take one off the pavement.
The biggest change is under the hood, where the 2.4-liter four is now standard on Sport and Latitude trims, a new 1.3 turbo optional there and standard on Limited and Trailhawk. The undersquare Multi Air II 1.3 (2.76 x 3.41 inches) can deliver nearly 40 psi boost, making 200 to 210 lb-ft of torque at 1750 rpm and 177 hp at 5750 revs, more power at lower revs than the 2.4 with better efficiency and far more refinement. It comes with auto start/stop and a nine-speed automatic, the six-speed manual gone with the old 1.4 turbo.
If you can swing the extra cash go for the 1.3. It is smoother, quieter, much easier to drive and far more complementary to the nine-speed automatic that seems geared for a diesel. You still have to be moving at a good clip to use top gear, maybe 75 mph without a tailwind—even Motor Trend got caught out in a Chrysler 200 top gear revs at 60 mph with this gearbox—but the 1.3’s eager torque curve provides plenty of punch with little drama. You’re as likely to hear the auto start/stop function as feel it and altitude performance mimics a modern diesel.
On a two-track in a Trailhawk our first thought was “low-range” is a bit of a stretch and electronic controls can do only so much to overcome modest suspension travel and tires, though the Renegade will do more than most think it will. Subsequent thoughts, while climbing a slippery hill, turned to what code-writers and powertrain integration must have gone through: Getting throttle response (and Multi Air uses no throttle plate), torque converter slip, traction control and turbocharger boost all sorted out without going a bit too far to tire spin took considerable effort, requiring me only to ensure my gas-pedal heel was planted on the floor to minimize pedal fluctuation on bumpy surfaces. Yes, it was more work than a Wrangler manual, made more interesting noises and had I not been busy I might have scrolled thumb buttons looking for calculated ATF temperature, though I had to back up only twice for line adjustment.
Whether it’s appearance, buttoned-down but little road feel or mentioning EPA city numbers in the mid-20s, the Renegade is everything I don’t expect a Jeep to be, and I’ll take a good hatchback car over a cute-ute crossover nearly every time, but the updated, pricier Renegade should keep selling as well as, or better than, its predecessor.