It might be three years old now but still the smallest Jeep just keeps on gathering strength. The boxy-chunky-cute styling give the Renegade global appeal, as the growing list of production locations worldwide attests. 

This subcompact/B-segment SUV was revealed to the public at the 2014 Geneva motor show, which was unusual for an American brand vehicle. The European location was fitting though, as the first plant to make the Renegade was FCA Italy’s Melfi factory. The site was prepared for build of both the Jeep and its Fiat 500X brother at a cost of euro 1bn. The first vehicle came off the line in June 2014.

Meanwhile, the Renegade’s US market debut was at April 2014’s New York auto show. It went on sale in North America during December 2014, for the 2015 model year.

Four-wheel drive when some rivals are front-drive only

The body and much else might have been new but the SUSW architecture was already known from the Fiat 500L.

The body and much else might have been new but the Renegade’s SUSW architecture was already known from the Fiat 500L. Unlike this compact minivan, and also setting the Renegade apart from certain rivals such as the Peugeot 2008, four-wheel drive is available. Those for whom a low CO2 average is more of a priority may instead choose a FWD version. 

The Renegade 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.

Seven engines and four gearboxes

There are four petrol engines, some of which are Fiat designs, while others were developed by Chrysler engineers in the pre-FCA days. While the petrols are branded as MultiAir units, each of two diesels is badged as a MultiJet II. In some countries, a flex-fuel capable E.torQ also features. As for gearboxes, there are two manuals, one dual-dry clutch transmission (DDCT) and a nine-speed torque converter automatic. 

Production expands to Brazil, China and India

After production at FCA’s Melfi site began rising, the company’s Brazilian operations activated its plan to build the Renegade at Goiana in the state of Pernambuco. That commenced in April 2015 and the Jeep was this plant’s first vehicle. Goiana has an integrated supplier park, as well as product engineering and testing facilities. Capacity for up to 300,000 engines and 400,000 gearboxes also exists at the site.

Not satisfied with just two major production locations, FCA had also decided that the Renegade might also work well in the Chinese market. There, the little SUV is made in partnership with Guangzhou Auto (GAC). The plant in question turned out to be an existing GAC facility which subsequently became part of the GAC FCA joint venture. 

Capacity set aside for the Renegade is 160,000 vehicles a year at FCA and Guangzhou Auto’s plant.

Renegade production in China commenced in April 2016. The JV plant is located within the manufacturing base of GAC’s passenger vehicles operations in the Panyu District of Guangzhou. Capacity set aside for the Renegade is 160,000 vehicles a year.

Even after Panyu District came on line, still FCA was not satisfied. The company most recently decided that the Renegade would likely find a willing audience if it took the chance to build a variant for the Indian market. This, it will undertake in partnership with Tata Motors. The Compass was the first Jeep to be made at Ranjangaon, with the Renegade set go into production there in 2018.

How well is the Renegade selling?

Let’s take a look at how the Renegade is performing in the world’s main regions. Firstly, the USA, which isn’t a major market for subcompact SUVs. Nonetheless, sales reached 43,846 units over the first five months of 2017 and remember these are all imports. It’s also over 6,000 vehicles ahead of the Honda HR-V, which is manufactured in Mexico. The Nissan Juke hasn’t been a success in North America, Ford is yet to launch the EcoSport and GM dealers delivered 35,768 units of the Buick Encore and 31,044 Chevrolet Trax respectively. The Fiat 500X meanwhile, continues to struggle; its sales numbered only 3,427 between 1 January and 31 May. 

As with the US market, the B-SUV segment isn’t (yet?) a major one in China, so 17,454 deliveries is a good result.

In China, the Jeep Cherokee is FCA’s best seller, with 42,370 registrations over the first five months, followed by the Compass, on 29,249. As with the US market, the B-SUV segment isn’t (yet?) a major one in China, so 17,454 deliveries is a good result. 

At the time of writing, ACEA was yet to reveal Europe-wide sales by brand, but for the year to the end of April, Jeep sales totalled 35,361 which was flat. The bulk of those will obviously be for the Renegade, the only locally built model. 

Nine-speed auto for most powerful 170hp diesel

It had been a while since I tried a Renegade so the chance to try a diesel version for the first time was welcome.

The 2.0-litre engine transforms this little SUV, and even without an automatic gearbox, it’s a great vehicle in-town as well as on motorways. Those cheeky-chunky looks succeed in making you feel you’re the owner of a solid, Tonka-tough little four by four. 

As in the 500X, the seating position is fairly upright and that’s no bad thing. Those in the back have good views, which means kids love it. The boot is deep and a proper, rectangular shape with no wheelarch intrusions. It’s a shame there is no spare tyre, just a puncture repair kit. 

A motif of circular headlights and the seven-bar grille appears in all sorts of places inside the Renegade (as well as in the middle of each tail lamp). It’s there on the insides of the doors and even embossed into a piece of plastic trim trim which you only notice when the tailgate is opened. That’s something which endears the car to you, as does the little cartoon of a Jeep on the inside of the windscreen.

What’s not to love?

On minor thing which can annoy is an especially loud beep every time you blip the car locked. Also, I had to turn off the parking sensors as they were also way too intrusive. Not even on the lowest sound setting were they anything but stress inducing: if you park close to a wall as I have to, you are assailed by an awful siren-like aural attack. The same applies to the blind spot alert – it’s almost dangerous the way it loudly announces vehicles which often aren’t even that close. Let’s hope FCA will have modified these things as part of the next model year update.

Changes ahead

A mid-life facelift is probably coming for the 2019 model year in North America.

Speaking of life cycle improvements and changes, a mid-life facelift is probably coming for the 2019 model year in North America. Given how many rivals are having their infotainment systems updated at the time of a facelift, it seems a certainty that this will also apply to the Renegade, which has what is now a fairly small dash-top screen.

If other OEMs could teach FCA about noisy and too-sensitive parking and lane-change alerts, then many of them in return should study the Renegade’s automatically engaging and disengaging parking brake: though not usually a fan of these, for that reason this one won me over. Even when reverse parking in a tight space on a slope it’s not the hindrance that so many others are.

The overall feel of the interior isn’t too premium but somehow this works for Jeep as it has a kind of hose-out appeal to it. And the cubby box between the front seats is amazingly commodious. 

The Multijet II 2.0-litre engine is laden with dollops of torque at exactly the low engine and road speeds when you most want it. Compared to the 1.4-litre petrol turbo, even the high-power versions, the biggest capacity diesel is a delight to drive. You’re never having to change down just to get the car moving at a decent pace on a motorway or on a B-road, so driving is fun, not taxing. 

The 1,956cc diesel comes in two forms. Outputs are either 103kW (140PS) or 125kW (170PS). Torque is the same 350Nm for both. The other diesel is a 1.6 and the power output of that one is 120PS. 

Of all the engines available in the Renegade, the 2.0 MultiJet II diesel is the best.

Having now sampled pretty much every Renegade aside from the 2.4-litre petrol, I have to say that the 2.0 MultiJet II is the best powertrain.

Land Rover might have made a huge amount of money by leveraging the Range Rover name into the C segment with the Evoque but when it finally decides to offer a B-SUV, the development team will have a hard time matching the Renegade for an authentic feeling baby-4×4. 

Will this remain the only small Jeep?

As noted above, the Renegade is due for a facelift during CY2018. The replacement model should then come in 2021.

FCA is said to be investigating the potential for a sub-Renegade model. If an A segment SUV is given the go-ahead it would likely share a platform and mechanicals with the Trekking version of Project 170, the next Panda. 

Pomigliano d’Arco in Italy or Kragujevac in Serbia could be logical places to build an A segment Jeep in Europe.

The little Fiat is due to reach European markets in 2018 or 2019 so the baby Jeep probably won’t arrive before 2020.

The Panda will be manufactured in Italy at Pomigliano d’Arco so that would be the most logical place to produce a mini-Jeep. However, Kragujevac is presently having troubles producing anywhere near capacity numbers of the 500L and 500L Living MPVs and FCA has spent a lot of money on the Serbian plant. Putting another SUSW architecture model into that low-cost factory could be a clever move.

In Brazil and India, Renault has found big markets for the Kwid, and in China, Geely has just put the 3.7m long Emgrand X1 SUV on sale. If FCA sees and seizes the global opportunity, the littlest Jeep could end up being quite a big deal.