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Jeep Renegade: rugged-cute design, legit off-road chops

2017 Jeep® Renegade Latitude

The sub-compact class of SUVs often gets a bad rap for being too cute and more wanna-be than actual off-road capable. In general, that is the norm — but not when it comes to the 2017 Jeep Renegade.

The Renegade really looks like it could dive off the pavement and make easy work of a dusty trail or off-road whim. Perhaps being in a Jeep makes you think you can — but getting the off-road equipment package on the Renegade really does deliver the goods. No other subcompact SUV comes close to matching the Renegade’s off-road abilities.

I recently tested the base Sport model, starting at $17,995, though there are additional trim levels that will take the price north of $28,400. The base model doesn’t come with many standard features. The base 2017 Renegade Sport starts with front-wheel drive, cloth upholstery, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, a four-speaker audio system, a USB port and push-button start. Some of the nice add-ons include heated mirrors, a heated steering wheel and unique “My Sky” dual removable sunroofs (the forward one being available with a power-sliding feature).

The Renegade exterior style is Jeep-ish, with the signature vertical-slat grille and round headlamps set wide out at the edges. There’s plenty of wheel well clearance for off-road activity, but that’s the extent of off-road attitude my tester featured. Higher trims can add skid plates and other features to provide more of an aggressive vibe.

Inside the quirky cabin, you will find a surprisingly upscale level of materials and build quality. Sight lines are excellent for the driver, and firm seating is comfortable and easily adjustable.

Seating in the Renegade provides easy headroom in both rows of seats, with leg room in front very good and slightly tighter in the rear. The back is wide enough to fit three people, though it’s probably better to stick with two for comfort.

The Renegade embraces its Jeep DNA with highly functional treatments for audio and climate controls; large knobs are appreciated, and the 6.5-inch Uconnect infotainment system is very easy to use.

The Renegade offers 50.8 cubic feet of space. The 60/40 split-folding rear seat provides versatility; step up to higher trims, and a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat offers more flexibility. The seat back sits flat, making it easy to load materials. A folding front-passenger seat gives you a nice accommodation for long objects.

The base engine is a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder producing 160 horsepower. It is mated to a six-speed manual transmission. If you want an automatic, you will get a 180-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder with a nine-speed automatic.

My tester performed admirably with quick acceleration and adequate shifts to step up to highway speeds. Look for 24 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway when equipped with the base engine and manual transmission.

The Renegade stands out in the fast-growing category of tiny SUVs by offering Jeep styling and potential off-road capabilities. Understanding that the base model doesn’t even come with air conditioning or cruise control should temper expectations for excessive comfort, but it will help keep prices down.