They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Back in 1941, with the Second World War still raging, the US army was in desperate need of a small, fast yet rugged and reliable transport to ferry its troops safely across hostile terrain. The solution to this conundrum was not only a success on the battlefield but also evolved into a cult symbol worldwide. We refer of course to the instantly recognisable Willys Jeep. More than 70 years on and the firm that conceived that icon, Jeep, is still going strong as one of biggest hitters in the 4X4 business. The spirit of the original Willys Jeep lives on through its direct descendant the Wrangler, these days accompanied by an extended family of off-road siblings such as the Cherokee and the Compass.
As announced by Jeep on the opening day of the 2014 Geneva Motor Show, the latter of these is set to be phased out in autumn 2014 and replaced by a brand new offering; the 2015 Jeep Renegade.
The Renegade name first surfaced as an options package on the original first generation Wrangler but now Jeep is giving it a new lease of life in the pintsized form of the brand’s first ever compact SUV. With the all-conquering Nissan Juke blazing a trail in this field, competition is bound to be stiff, but the Renegade will be able to call on an extensive list of all-terrain tech which should make it more comfortable off-road than its more highway-orientated counterpart.
To start with, its advanced 4X4 system is transplanted from the new Cherokee and thus benefits from Jeep’s Active Drive system which can channel 100 percent of the engine’s available torque through any wheel, for optimal grip. The Renegade will also be the first small SUV to feature a disconnecting rear axle for on demand all-wheel drive and a nine-speed automatic gearbox. Added to the standard package is the Jeep Selec-Terrain system, with four settings ready to tackle diverse driving conditions from mud and gravel to sand and snow. The even more durable Trailhawk edition adds Rock mode to that list plus several other practical tweaks for those lovers of real hard-core off-roading, including increased ride height, skid plates, front and rear tow hooks, 17-inch all-terrain tyres and hill-descent control.
A plethora of under the bonnet options is available on the Renegade, with 16 different powertrain combinations fully tailored to meet the needs of markets around the world. The range consists of four petrol and two diesel engines, including the 2.4-litre MultiAir2 petrol option.
The design is clearly highly evocative of the Wrangler’s utilitarian style, particularly in terms of its square proportions, front and rear headlamps and trademark Jeep grill.
Another segment-exclusive feature is the Renegade’s removable panoramic roof. Manually or electrically powered, the fibreglass roof panel retracts to instantly convert the cabin in to your own personal sun trap. The rear cargo floor panel is also removable and, much like the fold-forward front-passenger seat, can be reversed or adjusted as and when required. The interior design definitely has that tranquil crossover feel to it and accordingly features a snazzy 5.0 or 6.5-inch touchscreen display, however bold utilitarian additions like the passenger grab handle quickly remind you where the Renegade’s natural environment really is.