With worldwide sales of almost 160,000 vehicles during its first full year of production, the Renegade has to be declared a major success. Not to mention a huge shot in the arm for what had been an ailing SATA-Melfi plant in Italy before FCA decided to manufacture it and the Fiat 500X there.

The Renegade might be setting sales records across Jeep’s EMEA region but you’d expect that, given that it’s the first model ideally sized for Europe and with the right CO2 numbers from its variety of engines. What you might not expect is just how well this little SUV is doing in the US. During the first quarter, deliveries reached 21,951 units and March was a record month for the model, with 8,832 sold. It also overtook the Compass (8,282) last month and is closing on the Patriot (9,837). Who says Americans aren’t much interested in small, fuel efficient SUVs?

The Renegade was revealed to the public at the Geneva motor show in March 2014 with the US market debut at the New York auto show a few weeks later. It went on sale in North America during December 2014, for the 2015 model year.

The Jeep entered production at SATA (Società Automobilistica Tecnologie Avanzate) first, followed by the closely linked Fiat 500X. The plant is able to build up to 1,600 vehicles a day via three shifts and can manufacture up to four different models on the same line. Renegade production commenced in June 2014. Melfi is said to have 280,000 units of annual capacity for the 500X and Renegade, with the Jeep taking up roughly 150,000 units of that.

The car’s architecture is SUSW (‘Small Wide’), as introduced by the Fiat 500L people mover. The Renegade, which can be had in front-wheel drive or AWD form, has up to 205mm (8.1 inches) of wheel articulation and 220mm (8.7 inches) of ground clearance, while this was the first Jeep to integrate Koni’s frequency selective damping (FSD) front and rear strut system. The car’s driveline is supplied by GKN

Production also now takes place in Brazil, this having commenced at FCA’s plant in the state of Pernambuco in April 2015. The initial capacity at Goiana is 250,000 vehicles per year but before the economic collapse, FCA had spoken of 300,000 being possible. The site has an integrated supplier park, as well as product engineering and testing facilities. Engines and gearboxes are also made on-site. The Renegade was the first vehicle to be made at Goiana.

The Renegade will also soon be built in China by GAC FCA. This will be at an existing GAC facility, not a new plant. The JV has one production plant but this is in the city of Changsha and it makes Fiat cars. Tata-Fiat will also commence assembly of the brand’s smallest model at Ranjangaon in India within the next 12 months.

The four-cylinder engine and gearbox options are extensive, though the largest capacity 2.4-litre petrol unit is mainly restricted to North America:

  • 110hp 1.6 Flex-fuel capable E.torQ 
  • 140hp, 160hp & 170hp 1.4 turbo petrol
  • 120hp 1.6 diesel
  • 140hp 2.0 diesel
  • 180hp 2.4 petrol
  • Stop&Start technology 
  • An optional nine-speed automatic transmission 
  • Two manual and one dual-dry clutch transmission (DDCT) options

The car supplied for review came with the lowest power output offered with the 1,368cc turbo petrol engine. Its 140hp was enough for city driving, but with more than one person on board it did struggle at times and you have to give it some revs. The six-speed DCT was OK, not great. The main trouble is, once you’ve sampled the ZF 9-speed auto, the dual clutch system with three fewer speeds seems a lot less smooth than it could be. I haven’t yet tried the diesels but would suspect either could well be the pick of the multiple engine options. 

Credit to FCA for making the Renegade and 500X look and feel so different. The Jeep is heavy on the whole ‘Since 1941’ heritage theme. This not only means seeing that legend carved into the infotainment unit surround but there are lots of little pictograms of the seven-slot grille and circular headlights. You’ll even find one of these set into each of the tail-lamps and also down low on the centre console as well as on the door speakers. There’s a grab rail ahead of the front passenger to complete the rugged 4×4 look. 

Given its side profile, the suspected upright seating position is what you’ll find the moment you open any door but that’s fine – people in this segment tend to want that. It also means that headroom is excellent, and perhaps more surprising, so is space for legs in the rear compartment. The centre passenger doesn’t get nearly as good a deal but how often do any of us travel far, five-up in a small car? I also want to add that in extremely hot and humid conditions, the Renegade’s A/C system was first class, cooling the interior very quickly indeed. Doubly impressive given how generous the glazing is.

I can’t criticise the ride but some rivals have handling with less wallow – the Opel/Vauxhall Mokka and Peugeot 2008 come to mind. The other thing which put me off slightly was an excess of NVH. The doors sound and feel solid but there’s a fair bit of road noise at higher speeds – likely the gaping wheelarches are to blame – plus the noisy engine I mentioned earlier. Still, this is a Jeep, not an Audi Q2, so perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on it. And I did become fond of the Renegade – with its looks, especially at the front end, how could anyone not love its shape?