The Sell: An entry-level off-roader that sips fuel.
The Test: Outfitted with a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and the six-speed manual shifter from a Fiat 500, the base-model Jeep Renegade Sport ($19,995) was, incredibly, a fun vehicle to throw into corners on Stunt Road, which snakes 2,000 vertical feet up the Santa Monica mountains west of Los Angeles. That’s an experience we’ve never had in a $20,000 Jeep on pavement.
But then no Jeep has ever looked or been engineered like the all-new, four-door Renegade. The car-based chassis is borrowed from Fiat, (this compact SUV is even made in Italy), which explains the nimble, car-like handling. The Renegade is made for Europe’s tight alpine roads—and pricey gas. Hence its 30-plus mpg highway rating.
But Jeeps are expected to shine off-road, and despite its boxy cuteness, the $25,995 Trailhawk edition of the Renegade punches above its class. It’s outfitted with the Renegade’s 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine, a nine-speed transmission, and Jeep’s terrain-response system that lets you adjust the gearing and allocate power between the front and rear wheels for snow, mud, sand and rock-crawling.
On a dirt track in the mountains, the Trailhawk, with 8.7 inches of ground clearance, danced over boulders and sand, and easily climbed up and over steep pitches of loose dirt. In other words, it was almost as capable off-road as its older brother, the Wrangler. In fact, thanks to the Renegade’s svelte size, it can squeeze through spaces where the bigger Wrangler can’t, which gives new meaning to the term “canyon carver.”
What’s Missing: A more powerful engine option for serious rock-crawling and towing.
The Verdict: Good luck finding a 4WD SUV for less than $20,000 that seats four adults and feels at home in terrain where few other SUVs dare to venture.