I’ve been obsessed with cars since I can remember, and during my recent visit to LA I was like a young boy again, turning my head this why and that, spotting numerous cars of my dreams. That affection for the likes of the Aston Martin Vanquish, Dodge Viper, 918 Spyder or the 1958 Mercedes-Benz 200SL convertible, cars I saw on the Coast road in Malibu, will never falter, however there’s no doubt something has changed this year regarding my own taste in motor vehicles, and that relates to practicality.
While it’s impossible to miss the hoards of fantastic supercars on the streets of LA, it’s also impossible to miss the plethora of lifestyle orientated vehicles in the city. There’s a sense of adventure and free spiritedness in LA, as F-Series trucks, SUVs and 4x4s, zip along the coast loaded with surfboards, bicycles and eager faces. Don’t get me wrong, I love driving supercars, but I can’t shake this feeling that I’d have just as much fun, or more, on a rocky bush road with four mates in the car, searching for an uncrowded wave, on a deserted beach.
This new preference for practicality has derived from time spent in various SUVs and 4×4’s over the course of the year, most recently the new Jeep Renegade. Jeep isn’t a brand I’m overly familiar with. I’ve spent time in various models over the years, but only driven a couple, neither experiences providing me with a suitable assessment of the manufacturer. It took a trip to North Queensland, a chopper flight, a lunch aboard Frank Lowy’s first yacht and a couple of days in the new Renegade to get me talking about Jeep, not just as an exuberant brand, but as a brand I would consider buying from.
The Renegade is Jeep’s first all new model release in a decade, and the first Jeep to be produced outside the United States, in Italy. It’s a compact crossover SUV ready for adventure, but how extreme an adventure it’s able to undertake, depends entirely on how much you’re willing to pay for it.
There are four models on offer, Sport, Latitude, Limited and Trailhawk, priced in that order from $29,500 plus on roads. The Sport, Latitude and Limited models are all powered by a 103kW 1.4L turbo in a front wheel drive 4×2 configuration. The top of the range Trailhawk priced at $41,500, features a larger 129kW 2.4L engine and a 4×4 drivetrain with features including Jeep Active Drive Low and Selec-Terrain dial with five driving modes. As the models progress in price they gain more standard features, including leather, larger wheels and better entertainment units. There is also the existence of additional options, like the My Sky dual-panel open roof which you can have fitted to any model.
After dining on a locally sourced feast at QT’s Bazaar restaurant we headed outside to a rainbow of Renegades patiently waiting, a mix of Sport, Latitude and Limited models. The moment you lay eyes on the Renegade, it’s hard to deny the cars sheer amount of character, inside or out. From both the driver’s seat and the rear bench, it’s noticeably spacious, and comfortable, with a host of fun design quirks (eastereggs as Jeep call them) inspired by past models, and the brand’s 4×4 heritage.
The driving position is great, the DCT gearbox and ride are very pleasant, the entertainment unit and sound system (featuring Beats By Dre speakers) is solid across the board, and the My Sky roof, with panels packed under the floor in the boot, is impossible not to enjoy. The exterior, in any of the exciting colours on offer, carries elements of the Wrangler, Cherokee and the classic willys, with the famous army Jerry can inspiring many of the Renegade’s finer details. The bonnet flattening the top of the headlights is inspired by lip of modern army helmets and adds a contemporary edge to the Renegade’s front end.
What got me really excited about the Jeep Renegade was the Trailhawk, specifically its off road ability, but also its appearance, with a raised ride height, hood decal and Trailhawk trimmings. I’m by no means a seasoned 4×4 expert but we attacked a couple of sketchy trails, climbing high above the Daintree Rainforest. After engaging the 4WD lock and low-range the Renegade mastered the climbs with ease, finding traction and propelling us up steep inclines, over large rocks and loose surfaces and then guiding us down via the use of the Active Low Drive system.
Unfortunately we spent no time on the road in the Trailhawk, which was frustrating because I wanted to love it, and I wanted to tell you how much I loved it. It was excellent to experience the Trailhawk’s off-road prowess but that’s all I can comment on. When you spend 99% of you time on bitumen and 1% ascending craggy mountains, a car’s on road performance will make or break your decision to buy it regardless.
Jeep have created a seriously enjoyable, capable and approachable lifestyle vehicle with the Renegade. I’m convinced the Trailhawk has a lot to offer and I think the entry level models are an exciting alternative to a hatch, offering more space, versatility and practicality from a vehicle with far more character than your standard VW Golf or Mazda 3. The pricing however may hinder its ability to really make an impact.
For more info check out the Renegade at Jeep’s website.