I never thought I’d say this in 2019, but I’ve discovered a crossover whose sales are not growing.
I know, I can hardly believe it either. But it’s true.
Allow me to present the 2019 Jeep Renegade, a subcompact SUV whose sales in Canada are, despite a recent facelift, down precipitously over 2018, a year in which sales were down 60 percent over 2017. Ouch.
Through June 30, the most recent month for which figures are available, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Canada has sold just 338 Renegades, which represents a 60 percent decline from the same point in 2018. These numbers are shocking for a couple of reasons. Number one is the voracious appetite for small and mid-size crossovers in Canada currently, and second is the Renegade is actually a pretty good little SUV, as I’ll explain.
A brief history of the Renegade
The Jeep Renegade made its world debut at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2014 and went on sale later that year as a 2015 model. Unlike all other Jeeps sold in North America, the Renegade is not built in either the U.S. or Mexico, but instead is sourced from a Fiat plant located in Melfi, Italy.
The Renegade is built there for a couple of primary reasons. Number one, is it shares a basic architecture and powertrains with the Fiat 500X crossover
, and secondly, the Renegade is one of the most global Jeeps FCA sells with availability in more than 100 countries. While it may be a niche player in North America, it has a much larger role in Jeep’s lineup in Europe, Central and South America, and China.
This year marks the first significant updating the Renegade has received since launch and there’s a lot to cover. The biggest change is under the hood, where the optional engine is now a 1.3-litre direct-injected turbocharged four-cylinder which replaces the 1.4-litre MultiAir turbocharged four.
The 1.3L produces 177 horsepower and 200 lb-ft. of torque. It’s standard on Limited and Trailhawk models, and optional on Sport and North. Reason for the change is the 1.3 is more powerful, more fuel efficient, and produces lower emissions than the outgoing 1.4.
Elsewhere, the 2019 Renegade sports a new front fascia, grille surround, and new available LED headlights and daytime running lights. New aluminum wheel designs are available across the range, including a 19-inch Granite Crystal set that are available only for North and Limited models.
Rounding out the update are new features for the Advanced Tech group which include adaptive cruise control, parallel / perpendicular park assist and front park sensors. New instrument cluster graphics and new exterior colours – Bikini (aqua blue), Slate Blue, Sting Grey – are also available.
For the purposes of this review, FCA Canada loaned me a range topping Jetset Blue Limited tester that is loaded with almost $5,000 worth of options. Included in this large batch of extras are an LED Lighting Group ($895), Uconnect Navi Group with 8.4-inch touchscreen ($995), Safety & Security Group ($890) which includes a security system, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-path detection, Beats Audio premium sound system ($995), full-size spare tire ($295), and 19-inch aluminum wheels ($750).
Boxy then, boxy now
While the Renegade isn’t the sexiest Jeep on the road, its boxy proportions carry with them a certain charm and they certainly pay dividends when it comes to outward visibility and interior space. The cosmetic updates enhance the Renegade’s looks but they’re so subtle that one has to compare the ’19 model to the pre-facelift car to really see much of a difference.
The LED lighting really stood out on my tester, but that was about all that really felt different. Bottom line, if you were a fan of the Renegade before, these changes should reinforce that feeling, but if you weren’t a fan before the facelift it is unlikely to change your mind.
Same on the inside
It’s a similar feeling on the inside. The leather seating is nice and provides decent articulation and comfort, but they don’t feel worlds apart from the cloth seats I experienced when I drove a Renegade Trailhawk in 2017. Looking at photos of the two interiors as I did while preparing to write this review reveals that, apart from colour and trim options, not much else has changed.
Like the ’17 I drove, this Renegade is loaded with lots of content and the way in which everything is laid out gets high marks. Lots of hard keys, buttons and switches bring a smile to my face, as do the Jeep grille Easter eggs which are still embossed into speaker grille surrounds throughout the cabin as they were in 2017. The cabin still has lots of hard plastic, but the execution feels like it has improved.
One thing that rankles, however, is seat and steering wheel climate functions that are buried in touchscreen menus which makes their adjustment needlessly fussy. Jeep’s ergonomics folks would do well to put them on hard keys in the centre console, as is the case with many other vehicles. With that said, the 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen works beautifully and is well worth an extra $995.
As mentioned, if you’re a taller person, you will love the acres of room in the Renegade. A boxy profile is great for headroom and there is a ton of it in the Renegade, particularly up front. The Renegade also offers 1,438 litres of cargo space with rear seatbacks folded, which is generous for a vehicle of its size.
On the road
A caveat here before I continue: I didn’t take this tester off-road. I did, however, do so with the Trailhawk in 2017 and it performed impressively on a trail that offered a mix of sandy, rocky, and muddy terrain that also included several large water crossings. Given the Renegade’s chassis spec hasn’t changed since, I feel confident this 2019 tester would perform just as well.
As for the on-road, the Renegade is adequate as a daily driver. The 1.3-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is hardly a tire-shredder, but it offers decent acceleration from rest and at speed. I had to stomp on the accelerator a few times to get the 9-speed to gear down for passing maneuvers, but acceleration is generally adequate. The saving grace here, I think, is a flat torque curve where peak twist starts at just 1,750 rpm. Performance isn’t stellar, but I think most buyers know what they’re getting.
The Renegade’s ride quality is generally good. It doesn’t feel too stiffly sprung, but its short wheelbase will transmit bumps from rougher pavement into the cabin. Other small vehicles with short wheelbases have similar ride compromises, so the Renegade is far from alone in that respect. Steering and general handling feels reasonably tight and responsive for a small SUV, however.
In terms of noise, the 1.3 is a bit buzzy under acceleration and some noise leaks into the cabin as a result but at cruising speeds the Renegade is relatively quiet for a vehicle of its type.
As I said off the top, the Renegade’s sales struggles in Canada and the U.S., where sales are also down significantly in 2019, is a bit hard to figure given the current popularity of small and mid-size SUVs in North America.
True, FCA doesn’t put much marketing muscle behind the Renegade these days and it does take time for units to arrive in dealerships from Italy, but it’s priced right, is smartly packaged and has Jeep capability and versatility.
I wasn’t wowed by its performance and observed fuel efficiency, but I still think prospective buyers should give this niche Jeep a look. It may not have the star power of its better-known siblings, but the Renegade has a Jeep charm that’s all its own.