2019 Jeep Renegade Review: Small, but Mighty

After updates, the baby Jeep grows up

2019 Jeep Renegade ReviewChristian Wardlaw

Article QuickTakes:

The Renegade is critically important to Jeep.

Since its 2015 introduction, more than half of all Renegade buyers are new to the Jeep brand. The small SUV has endured an onslaught of new competitors in recent years, and during the first four months of 2019, Renegade sales fell in advance of the 2019 model makeover you see here.

Jeep hopes a handful of upgrades will convince consumers to visit showrooms. Chief among the changes to the 2019 Renegade is a new turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 177 hp and 210 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s standard for Limited, Trailhawk, and High Altitude versions of the Renegade, and optional on most other trims. The tiny (1.3L) turbo engine uses a new 9-speed automatic transmission to send power to either the front or all four wheels. Jeep engineers also re-tuned the steering and suspension for improved ride and handling characteristics.

Other updates are comparatively minor: Revised front styling reduces the cute on this ‘ute—for the better—and all Renegades get restyled wheels. A new LED lighting package improves exterior illumination, while the available Advanced Tech Group adds adaptive cruise control and a semi-autonomous parking system that steers the SUV into parallel and perpendicular parking spaces.

Aside from the Subaru Crosstrek, Jeep’s “Trail Rated” Renegade Trailhawk is the only vehicle in its class equipped for serious off-road adventures, making it an obvious contender for people planning unpaved shenanigans. But what about other versions of this little box on wheels? When all you want is a small, affordable, crossover SUV, does the Renegade still hold its own?

At Jeep’s invitation, we headed for Calamigos Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains to spend a day with the updated Renegade. Our mission? Re-confirm the Trailhawk’s off-pavement supremacy, while establishing the merit of other Renegades under daily-driving conditions.

2019 Jeep Renegade ReviewChristian Wardlaw

Trailhawk: Turbocharged and “Trail Rated”

How does a Renegade earn its “Trail Rated” status? With a slew of engineering modifications aimed squarely at off-roading prowess:
  • Active Drive Low all-wheel-drive is exclusive to the Trailhawk, providing the ability to evenly distribute power between the front and rear wheels, and from side to side, in order to maximize traction. A special gear ratio is specifically designed for the painstaking task of crawling over boulders.
  • The traction control system is enhanced with an exclusive “Rock” mode and hill descent control.
  • Four different underbody skid plates protect vital parts from rocks that exceed the Renegade’s 8.7 inches of ground clearance.
  • A sharper approach angle that enables driving up steeper embankments.
  • Extra wheel travel (8.1 inches) helps keep as much rubber on the ground as possible.
  • 19 inches of water-fording capability thanks to electrical and body sealing as well as a high-mounted air intake.

The Trailhawk also includes front and rear tow hooks so that someone can yank you out of the muck and mire, if all this stuff doesn’t keep you out of trouble.

But it (probably) will.

Even on overgrown and washed-out terrain, the Renegade performs beautifully. Through one patch of especially rugged terrain, it took a while for the sophisticated traction control system to sort things out, but otherwise the Trailhawk proved unstoppable. It’s diminutive dimensions and tight turning radius were clear assets on the brush-lined path, allowing the Renegade to skirt deep ruts and drive a smoother path than larger vehicles could take.

That new engine is a gem, too. Peak torque arrives at 1,750 rpm, and is a big improvement over the Renegade’s 2.4L option. With 4WD Low and 4WD Lock engaged (the Renegade’s most off-road-ready setting), the power is so smooth and predictable that you forget all about what’s under the Renegade Trailhawk’s hood.

2019 Jeep Renegade ReviewChristian Wardlaw

Open Air and...Easter Eggs?

Think of a Jeep, and a top-down Wrangler probably comes to mind. Believe it or not, a 2019 Renegade emulates that feeling of freedom with two different sunroof options.

The first is a dual-pane glass sunroof. Power the large section of forward glass back, and the roof is wide open above the front seats. Power all four windows down, crank up the music on the available Beats Audio sound system, and you’re ready for a carefree summertime cruise.

That’s true of the My Sky option, too, which allows you to remove the glass roof panels and store them in the cargo area. That way, rear seat passengers can enjoy a little sun on their faces, too.

Both options bathe the Renegade’s interior in natural light.

While gloss and grain help to elevate an impression of quality, you can’t escape the inexpensive hard plastics. The sound and feel of the turn signal stalk serves as another reminder that the Renegade is the cheapest of Jeeps.

Among the cognoscenti, Jeep’s known for its inclusion of “Easter eggs”—like the headlights and grille stamped into the door panel speaker surrounds and the silhouette of a classic Jeep in the lower right corner of the windshield—which adds lighthearted whimsy. Everywhere you look, from the grab handle on the dashboard to the bulging infotainment surround, the Renegade supplies visual interest.

The 2019 model year styling update does remove one point of visual interest, though: while previous Renegades featured a white X across the red square taillight lens, it’s now gone.

Small Outside, Big Inside

From the driver’s seat, the Renegade feels bigger than it is thanks to good visibility and a tall driving position. A large windshield is framed by thick pillars that appear to bend and twist, presumably to improve outward visibility. The Trailhawk trim also gets a black hood graphic designed to help reduce glare from the sun and improve visibility.

The 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat is comfortable if relatively flat and featureless, and the thick-rimmed, leather-wrapped steering wheel is pleasing to hold.

Jeep says the Renegade holds 18.5 cu.-ft. of cargo behind the rear seat, but factor in underfloor storage space for models without a spare tire, and it feels like more. Fold the rear seats down, and the Renegade supplies 50.8 cu.-ft. of volume. That’s actually more cargo space than the otherwise larger Cherokee.

Now That’s Infotainment

With features like an available 8.4-inch touchscreen display, navigation system, and Beats Audio premium sound system, Jeep’s infotainment (called Uconnect in Jeep-speak) is impressive.

Uconnect is a sophisticated system that doesn’t require regular reference to the owner’s manual. It’s intuitive, quick to load and respond to input, and includes a voice recognition system that changes radio stations and adjusts temperature in addition to finding destinations. Yes, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are present and accounted for.

For 2019, Jeep also upgrades the available Advanced Tech Group with adaptive cruise control and the ability for Renegade to steer itself into parking spaces.

2019 Jeep Renegade ReviewChristian Wardlaw

On the Street: Quieter and More Refined

While the Trailhawk is adept at off-roading, we spent our on-road driving time in a Renegade Limited with 4WD and the optional 19-inch aluminum wheels.

When you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, the engine’s automatic start/stop system causes a momentary delay when accelerating away from a stop. Accelerate with less gusto, and the drivetrain behaves in a refined fashion. The EPA says that a Renegade Limited with 4WD should get 26 mpg in combined driving, but on a loop that included city, freeway, and mountain driving, the test vehicle averaged 23.3 mpg, even with the 9-speed transmission shifting early in an effort to save fuel. Like with most turbocharged engines, it appears that fuel efficiency expectations exceed reality.

Jeep re-tuned the Renegade’s steering and suspension for 2019, resulting in a quieter and more refined ride than you’d expect from a subcompact crossover. Wind noise is evident at speeds over 60 mph, and sharper bumps can reverberate through the Renegade’s structure, but this stiff-riding SUV is anything but sloppy. 

The new turbocharged engine is a winner, and the 2019 Renegade rides and handles better than most of its competitors. Add the Trailhawk’s awesome off-roading capability, and this Jeep should be a dynamic dynamo. The lone major complaint? You need to step harder on the gas in order to coax the Renegade’s 9-speed automatic to downshift while passing slower traffic, or when accelerating after a sharp corner. It feels passive and lethargic, and the transmission dulls the daily driving experience.

Conclusion: Small Premium, Big Personality

Like most Jeeps, the 2019 Renegade Trailhawk excels off-road. And like most Jeeps, compromise is necessary in order to obtain that capability.

While the transmission is disappointing, and our test vehicle didn’t return the EPA-advertised fuel economy, the rest of the Renegade’s driving dynamics are pleasing. It feels like a larger and more substantial vehicle than most of its competitors.

Equip a Renegade the way you’re likely to want it, and it costs more than the competition. That’s partly because of a sky-high $1,495 destination charge. At the same time, this Jeep’s jaunty design, relative quality, and technological sophistication help to justify the premium to be paid.

The revised-for-2019 Renegade is yet to be crash-tested (we’ll update this if and when results are available), but barring major surprises on that front, the baby Jeep is worthy of consideration if you’re willing to pay a small premium for a big personality.

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Christian Wardlaw
My first word was “car.” That’s what I’m told, anyway. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with them. The design. The engineering. The performance. And the purpose. I’m a car enthusiast who loves to drive, but I’m also most interested in the cars, trucks, and SUVs that people actually buy. Anybody can tell you that a sports car is fast. What you need to know is whether or not you should buy that new SUV, and why. My life purpose is to help you make that decision.