A breeze whispers through the aspens, the rustling of the golden leaves telling furtive tales of changes soon to come. Not far ahead, a faint ripple of a stream chuckles at an old joke. I ease into the throttle, and the crunch of rocks undertire breaks the quiet. We’ve lingered long enough; a trailhead awaits, just a few thousand feet higher. This is what the Renegade is made for.
The subcompact Renegade is Jeep’s entry-level offering, starting at a hair less than $20,000, and the base Sport trim is about as bare-bones as modern vehicles get; even adding air conditioning is a $1,495 upgrade, and you can forget about things like power seats or driver-assist technology, both of which require a step up to the Latitude trim. Given the Renegade’s small size and no-frills nature, it’s easy to envision a target market of millennials and others looking to upgrade on a car they’ve driven for nearly a decade, consumers for whom any new car is nicer than what they already drive. This is a demographic where I happen to reside.
As a result, the Renegade Sport doesn’t offer much in terms of noteworthy features, but in a sense, that’s refreshing. Rather than half-baked budget versions of modern tech to entice consumers, the Sport appeals to those swayed by simplicity—the one significant option on our tester, the MySky roof, required a dedicated wrench and manual labor to remove. Rare were the days when I wished my Renegade weren’t as basic as it was. (That said, many consumers will probably find they’ll be happier with a higher trim and a few more goodies.)
Power is provided by a 180-hp 2.4-liter I-4, standard on the Limited and Trailhawk trims but a $1,330 option here, and it comes paired with a nine-speed automatic. In previous testing, our editors frequently criticized the transmission, finding it clunky and easily confused about the preferable gear. However, short of one failed attempt at a late freeway pass and occasionally frustrating on-ramp acceleration, the transmission never gave me any issues. If you know your car, know yourself, and pay attention to your surroundings, the Renegade’s powertrain should be adequate in all but the most extreme circumstances. “Adequate” barely describes our average fuel economy, though; over the course of the loan, we saw 21.9 mpg, which is barely better than the much bigger and much older Ford Explorer I had been driving before. I would expect a bit better for such a small vehicle, and indeed, many of the Renegade’s subcompact peers, such as our long-term 2016 Mazda CX-3 (28.1 average mpg) and 2016 Honda HR-V (27.8), will beat it handily at the pump.
That mpg average would’ve been even lower without a 2,000-mile road trip to southwest Colorado, where I made a few passing attempts at “Jeep things.” We’re not talking Easter Jeep Safari here, but the Renegade did comfortably tackle trails that I wouldn’t have even considered in my old Explorer (and would’ve given a 2008 CR-V, my other personal daily driver, pause). Most modern SUVs with off-road pretensions would likely handle similar trails with comparable aplomb, but for those in the market for their first new car—or first in a while—the Renegade could be an upgrade in this regard, opening up new options for adventurers who previously stayed on glamping paths.
There’s a limit to how much we can say about the Renegade’s long-term durability. Our goal is 20,000 miles on the odometer after a year. I only got about halfway there. My one long trip resulted in an engagement, and the rest of the year was spent saving for the wedding, not splurging on weekend getaways, so I accumulated the majority of our miles on my short daily commute. As such, I can’t say whether a door handle would’ve fallen off, as happened late in the loan with our last long-term Jeep. I also can’t easily compare maintenance costs to other vehicles we’ve had in our fleet. I spent $67.35 out of pocket for the single required service stop. Had we made it to our 20,000-mile goal, the Renegade’s second service would have required a new cabin air filter, putting maintenance costs in the same ballpark as our 2HR-V ($149.29 for two service stops over 20,348 miles). Our CX-3 racked up $534.34 in routine maintenance, but that was over 35,386 miles and four service stops.
It’s tempting to harp on this entry-level Jeep for what it’s not. It’s not all the modern tech in a budget package. It’s not a roomy people hauler, and it’s not a sporty utility vehicle you can race down winding back roads. Some have even said it’s not a “real” Jeep. It’s more instructive, however, to focus on what the Renegade actually is. My 2017 Renegade Sport 4×4 was refreshingly simple, with ample room for a young family or a small group of friends. You won’t be carving canyons in it, but you can probably explore them. If you’re looking for a vehicle where the drive is the story, the Renegade probably isn’t for you. But if you’re seeking an affordable prologue for a tale you intend to write yourself, you could do much worse.
More on our long-term Jeep Renegade here:
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