Top 12 Things to Know Before You Buy a 2015 Jeep Renegade

1. What’s new for 2015?

Jeep is one of the hottest automotive commodities in the world right now and this all-new subcompact crossover is the new entry point to the brand.

Though it has some traditional Jeep styling cues, much of Renegade’s engineering is shared with the equally new but sleeker Fiat 500X from Jeep’s parent company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Both are in fact built in a Fiat plant in Italy. It’s designed with more urban tastes in mind, but the 500X is nonetheless among Renegade’s competitors, along with the Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, and Mazda CX-3. Production of Jeep’s other small crossovers, the Compass and Patriot, is scheduled to end sometime in calendar 2016.

2. How much does it cost and what sort of deal can I expect?

Around $19,000 to near $33,000, depending on model, but discounts and incentives should help you knock a few thousand off the sticker price.

The four-model lineup consists of base Sport, volume Latitude, luxury-themed Limited, and off-road-ready Trailhawk. With front-wheel drive, the Sport begins at just $18,990. Latitude starts at $22,290 and Limited at $25,790. All these base prices include Jeep’s $995 destination fee. All-wheel drive (AWD) costs $2,000. Trailhawk is AWD only and is priced from $26,990.

As appealing as they are, Sport and Latitude starting prices are for vehicles equipped a manual transmission — and in Sport’s case, no air conditioning. You’ll spend an additional $1,200-$1,400 to get automatic transmission on these models – though it includes a more powerful engine.

A Latitude with AWD; automatic transmission; a full complement of active and passive safety features (blind-spot and forward-collision alerts, among others); heated front seats; and more will sticker for about $29,000. Adding the $1,245 navigation system will push you over $30,000. Load up a Limited or Trailhawk and your sticker price pushes $33,000.

Those prices are high for the class, but you should have some room to negotiate. Pricing service reports average transaction prices for ’15 Renegades running about than 7 percent below base prices. And as of early summer, Jeep was offering cut-rate financing at .09-6.9 percent.

3. When will the next big change be?

It hit showrooms in Spring 2015, so big changes are a at least a couple years away. Fiat Chrysler is, however, working to correct what it describes as “software” issues in thousands of early production Renegades and presumably won’t release them for sale until the undisclosed problem is corrected. It’ll also probably tinker with feature availability for the next year or two, but don’t plan on seeing any substantive design updates until at least model-year 2018.

4. What options or trim level is best for me?

Most buyers will find plenty to like in the mid-of-the-line Latitude. Most extras come in packages, but the features they contain are quite useful. Unfortunately, some packages require that additional extra-cost features be bundled with them.

For example, the $795 Popular Equipment Group would add to the Latitude an auxiliary power outlet, 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, an upgraded audio system, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a power driver seat. To order this package, you must also spend an additional $495 on keyless access with pushbutton and remote engine starting. In addition, you must order the Popular Equipment Group before you’re eligible to purchase the $595 Safety and Security Group I, which has blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alerts, plus an alarm system. Ordering the safety group in turn allows you to add the $995 Advanced Technology Group, comprising forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, and rear-obstacle detection.

Note that all the above option packages are available only on models with automatic transmission, which is another $1,400 on the Latitude. Manual-transmission models are available with just two packages: the $545 Cold Weather Group, which includes floor mats, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, and windshield wiper de-icer; or the $1,245 Navigation package, which includes a navigation system, real-time traffic data, HD Radio receiver, and Chrysler’s Uconnect Access infotainment suite. These options can be ordered on automatic-transmission models as well.

Buyers with true wanderlust — but who want something a more civilized than Jeep’s iconic Wrangler — will find the Trailhawk right up their rock wall. It’s available with most of the same options as the Latitude, along with the $1,495 Premium Leather Group, which basically includes everything in the Popular Equipment and Cold Weather groups plus leather upholstery.

Available on all but the Sport is the unique “My Sky” roof, which is essentially a panoramic sunroof with removable panels that can completely expose the cabin. This feature is $1,095; for an extra $300, you can add a power operation. It’s an interesting novelty, but we don’t think the cost is justified.

5. What engine do you recommend?

For the overwhelming majority of buyers, there’s only one choice: a Fiat-designed 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. It pairs with a nine-speed automatic transmission. It’s standard on the Limited and Trailhawk and optional on the Sport and Latitude.

This is essentially the same drivetrain that’s standard on the larger Cherokee, but with less mass to move, it provides Renegade with fairly sprightly acceleration. It’s not what you’d call quick, but it’s more than able to cope with daily commuting and highway merging.

Standard on Sport and Latitude is a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Also designed by Fiat, this engine is mated exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission. Despite having more torque at a lower engine speed (2,500 rpm versus the 2.4-liter’s 3,900), turbocharging can’t overcome the much smaller displacement. Indeed, Renegades with the 1.4 can move briskly from a stop, but power runs out quickly as engine speeds climb. Fortunately, the manual transmission shifts very smoothly with light clutch action, making for a surprisingly entertaining drive. And good on Jeep for making it available with AWD.

6. How is the fuel economy?

Not bad for a boxy vehicle that isn’t especially aerodynamic and is also available with some fairly serious off-road hardware. The EPA rates the 1.4-liter/manual transmission combo at 27 mpg city/highway combined, regardless of whether it is front- or AWD. With the 2.4-liter engine, which is automatic only, ratings are 25 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and 24 with AWD.

The 2.4-liter engine uses regular-octane gasoline; 91-octane premium is recommended, but not required, for the 1.4-liter turbo.

7. How does it handle?

Surprisingly well on-road and, when properly equipped, downright fantastic off-road. This is not a sporty urban wagon in the vein of the Mini Cooper Countryman or Nissan Juke; the Fiat 500X takes on that role. Rather, it’s for buyers who crave Jeep styling and image and off-road capability without breaking the bank.

Still, if you deal with the city/suburban grind you’ll find this little crossover more than suitable for daily commuting. It darts in and out of traffic as well as most subcompact cars. Its tall design leads to body lean in fast turns. But handling is otherwise stable and predictable. The steering is accurate and does a decent helping you feel connected to the road.

The Trailhawk boasts some impressive rock-crawling hardware, including low-range gearing, Jeep’s “Selec-Terrain” system with exclusive “Rock” mode, hill-descent control, functional underbody skid plates, and the ability to wade through water up to 19 inches deep. It has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, too, versus the other Renegades’ 6.7 inches with front-drive and 7.9 with AWD.

8. Are the controls easy to use?

Generally, and any shortfalls are softened by their presence in an interior that’s fresh, modern, and functional. The instrumentation is easy to read and includes a configurable display between the speedometer and tachometer. The tachometer uses a splattered-mud motif to signify the engine’s redline, which is a cool design touch. Climate controls consist of pushbuttons and chunky rotary knobs. They’re easy to operate, but on automatic-transmission models, the shift lever partially blocks one of the knobs.

Infotainment offerings are the usual Chrysler fare. Both the standard and optional navigation interfaces are easy to negotiate. The latter’s graphics are crisp, if a bit cartoon-like. The multi-function steering wheel can be a bit too multi-function, as it has buttons on either side of the horn/airbag as well as behind the left and right spokes. It won’t take long for you to master its operation, however.

9. Is it comfortable?

Mostly. Renegade’s tall, squarish design makes for ample headroom front and rear, even beneath the housing of the optional My Sky roof. Legroom stays with the subcompact-crossover pack, so basically fine up front, cramped in the back. Seat padding is a bit on the firm side, but your backside shouldn’t get uncomfortable over an extended period of time.

Ride quality is surprisingly good on non-Trailhawk models. They absorb bumps well without any side-to-side or other unwanted secondary motions. The Trailhawk’s on/off-road tires make the ride a bit more bouncy, but it’s not drastic enough to be uncomfortable.

Noise suppression is not a Renegade strong suit. Both engines sound coarse and buzzy, wind noise is problematic due to the vehicle’s squared-off shape, and the tires drone on coarse pavement, particularly in the Trailhawk.

Interior materials consist mainly of hard plastic, but their feel and texture are not cut-rate, designed to be durable than dapper. The Wrangler-style handlebar above the glovebox is a design cue that’s standard on all 2015 Jeep vehicles. Maximum cargo volume of 50.8 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded is second only to the Honda HR-V, but in-cabin storage is disappointingly stingy.

10. What about safety?

At time of this article’s publication, the Renegade had not yet been evaluated for crashworthiness under the government’s 5-Star Safety Ratings system or by the insurance-industry-supported Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

In addition to the usual complement of front-side airbags and head-protecting curtain-side airbags, all models except the Sport are available with the following: blind-spot alert, rear cross-traffic alert, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, and rear-obstacle detection.

11. How’s the reliability and resale value?

While there’s no data yet for the Renegade, overall, neither Jeep vehicles nor the brand itself fare especially well in either reliability or resale value. Looking specifically at the Compass and Patriot, the two models Renegade is replacing, consumers report them as having average to below-average quality and reliability, according to research house J.D. Power. The firm further reports that buyers are generally dissatisfied with their dealership service experiences, giving Jeep a below average rating across the board.

Resale value is another Renegade question mark. Jeep’s Wrangler is outstanding in this regard. Residual tracking company ALG says Jeep’s most iconic vehicle will retain 45 percent or more of its value after five years of ownership. The Compass and Patriot aren’t so lucky, each checking in at 32-34 percent, depending on model and trim level. If consumers report more positive experiences with their Renegades, expect it to have stronger resale values. Time will tell.

12. Is it better than the competition?

It’s not the quietest, most refined, best riding, or most versatile entry in the burgeoning subcompact-crossover-SUV segment. But taken as a whole, the 2015 Renegade is greater than the sum of its parts. Its maneuverability, unique looks, and fuel economy earn it a place on the shopping lists of city and suburban dwellers who want a small, versatile wagon. And more adventurous types will appreciate availability of some pretty serious off-road hardware. Given its origins, Jeep purists may blanch, but Renegade has the potential to be a rousing success for Fiat Chrysler.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]