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Cute and Capable? We Test the Updated 2019 Jeep Renegade and Its New Engine

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 11/4/2019 Motor Trend Staff

Pros

  1. More power, torque, mpg
  2. Real off-road chops
  3. Now with smart cruise control

Cons

  1. Sloppy road manners
  2. Wimpy A/C system
  3. Easter egg overload

Midcycle vehicle freshenings usually entail a few new paint colors and a nose job for the sheetmetal. But for the 2019 model year, the Jeep Renegade received much more than just a new grille and headlights. Along with Advanced Technology package updates, including adaptive cruise control and a suite of parking assistance features, the biggest news was a new 1.3-liter turbocharged inline-four engine—smaller than the 1.4-liter turbo it replaced but more powerful (up 17 hp), torquier (up 16 lb-ft), and slightly less efficient on the highway (down 1 mpg in the city and 2 on the highway).

Read about other SUV of the Year contenders—including models from Ford, Cadillac, and BMWHERE.

For the 2020 model year, four models of Renegade are on offer: Sport (with or without an Upland appearance package), Latitude, Limited, and Trailhawk. Renegade Sport and Latitude models come standard with a 2.4-liter naturally aspirated inline-four that makes 180 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque but can step up to the optional 177-hp, 210-lb-ft turbocharged 1.3-liter.

Research the Jeep Renegade on MSN Autos | Find a Jeep Renegade near you

All models come with the same nine-speed automatic transmission but can be equipped with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. For more serious off-roaders, the Trailhawk gets Jeep's Active Drive Low 4x4 system, which is geared such that first is a 21.5:1 crawl ratio, along with electronic hill descent control, a special selectable Rock drive mode, 8.7 inches of ground clearance, and underbody skidplates. Jeep claims the Trailhawk is the most capable Renegade, able to ford 19 inches of water and tow up to 2,000 pounds.

a close up of a toy car on a track near a beach: 2019 Jeep Renegade 4x4 Limited front three quarter in motion 1 © Motor Trend Staff 2019 Jeep Renegade 4x4 Limited front three quarter in motion 1

The updated Renegade wasn't available in time for SUV of the Year 2019, so we invited a Trailhawk this year to see how the updates stack up for 2020; instead, Jeep sent the 4x4 Limited trim. Initial observations of the made-in-Italy crossover sound familiar from our 2016 SUV of the Year program, when we called out the Renegade's cute details but odd packaging.

"The cuteness of it is starting to wear a little thin," features editor Scott Evans said. "The number of 'hidden' Jeep logos and grilles, and even a Yeti, is really trying too hard to distract you from the packaging. I'm a mile from the windshield, and the rear passengers and cargo area are paying for it, big time."

In terms of performance, we knew what we were getting into, as we had already tested the Trailhawk. Its new turbo engine is just a touch quicker than the base engine (0-60 mph in 8.9 seconds versus 9.0 seconds). At the test track, shifts were acceptably quick and smooth even under wide-open throttle. But under normal driving conditions, editors called out the turbo engine's "on/off" character and the nine-speed gearbox's "sluggish" response.

Excess body movement—lots of pitching and diving—were noted by both our test team and editors. Executive editor Mark Rechtin singled out "very sloppy handling," and Detroit editor Alisa Priddle said, "It feels like it's wallowing all over the place."

One thing is clear, though: The Renegade is a real Jeep off-road. "You can't say it doesn't do Jeep stuff," Evans said. "It bashed through the sand and over the frame twister with glee."

Just make sure it's not terribly hot outside when you decide to play in the dirt, as our Renegade's air conditioning repeatedly picked the worst time to fail. "You can tell that the Renegade is Italian, based on its weak A/C," features editor Christian Seabaugh said. "It got so hot in the car that I had to drop the windows—the 110-degree ambient temp was cooler than the hot air blowing at me."

Research the Jeep Renegade on MSN Autos | Find a Jeep Renegade near you

Despite its flaws, cooler heads generally admittedly to liking the Trailhawk from previous drives, even if they had doubts about the other, less feature-laden, less capable Renegade models in the lineup. "Want a small, efficient Jeep?" Seabaugh asked. "The Compass is a far better buy."

2019 Jeep Renegade 4x4 Limited
Base Price/As Tested $29,390/$33,265
Power (SAE net) 177 hp @ 5,750 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 200 lb-ft @ 1,750 rpm
Accel, 0-60 mph 9.3 sec
Quarter Mile 17.3 sec @ 78.1 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 133 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.76 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 28.6 sec @ 0.59 g (avg)
EPA City/Hwy/Comb 23/29/26 mpg
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