Renegade, Jeep’s little big man

Sceptics on the US side of the Atlantic may not have been ready to believe it, but the Italian-American development of a new, small Jeep appears to have not been the peril-filled lark that it once seemed.

The 2015 Jeep Renegade met with wide approval on 4 March, not only here in Switzerland, where such small cars are common, but even among Americans at the show.

Asked about his favourite cars at the Palexpo centre, Ford marking boss Jim Farley pointed to the Renegade, along with the new Maserati Alfieri Concept, as his top cars not wearing a blue oval badge.

While the Renegade is built on Fiat's compact car underpinnings, Jeep aimed to give it more than just the off-road brand's familiar boxy looks. All-wheel drive is standard, and even though it is a closed-cabin vehicle, the Renegade's My Sky removable sunroof panels let the sun and air in more completely than a typical sunroof would allow.

The new small Jeep is offered with four efficient gasoline and two diesel engines in Europe (a gasoline-burning 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder and 2-liter turbodiesel are bound for the US) that may seem better suited to highway cruising than rock crawling. But true to the Jeep name, the Renegade has an available Trailhawk package that fortifies its chassis with skid plates, tow hooks, higher ground clearance and hill descent control technology.

The two available all-wheel-drive systems can both mete out power to just one or all four wheels, depending on traction needs. The Renegade also features driver-selectable Automatic, Snow, Sand and Mud driving modes to optimise suspension and traction response; Trailhawk models add to these a Rock mode – presumably for drivers aspiring to visit the slick slopes of Moab, Utah, site of the annual Jeep Jamboree.

The all-wheel-drive systems also automatically stop power to the rear wheels when it is not needed, making the Renegade 4x4 nearly as efficient as a purely front-drive vehicle down the road, Jeep claims.

Make no mistake, the Renegade is a global vehicle, with production spread among the US, Italy and Brazil. Depending on market, buyers will be able to choose between a nine-speed automatic transmission, a dual-clutch automatic transmission or one of two different manuals.

Pricing for the Renegade in all its guises will be announced later in the year.