SINGAPORE — Authentic Jeep models are pretty unstoppable in any terrain, but that means little unless you live in the same neighbourhood as Tarzan.
So what does carmaker Jeep do? It flips the scenario around: Since turning a rugged 4×4 into a comfortable, fuel-efficient and refined car for the road is a tough engineering challenge, why not just take a normal car and make it look like a Jeep?
That seems to be the philosophy behind the new Renegade, the first offspring of the 2014 marriage between Fiat and Chrysler Group, which owns the Jeep brand.
Lest you think there may be some Euro dilution in the mix, one glance is enough to tell you that its looks are distinctly from the American side of the family.
The Renegade sports the unmistakable front grille of a Jeep — with the familiar seven slots between two round headlamps — and that recognisable boxy body that sits atop big, wide tyres.
From its Italian parent, it has a 1.4-litre turbo engine with a six-speed, twin-clutch auto.
It has also inherited the compact size of a European crossover: The Renegade is the same length as a Volkswagen Golf and just 6mm wider, with a slightly shorter wheelbase.
That said, it feels remarkably spacious inside. The boxy shape and tall roofline create plenty of headroom, and the boot offers a creditable 351 litres of space. Fold the rear seats, and you can expand it to 1,297 litres.
Although the back seats are fairly upright, the Renegade never really feels cramped inside, so a family of five can make it work for them.
But cars such as the Renegade are bought as much for style as for utility, which is why its designers appear to have worked hard to fill it with playful references to Jeep’s heritage.
Jeep logos have been integrated all around the cabin. Even the instruments have graphics that resemble splashes of mud. More subtly, the rear lamps have an “X” pattern reminiscent of the fuel cans that World War II jeeps used to carry.
While the Renegade looks the part of a Jeep, it is not quite built to tackle terrain like one.
You can buy a “Trailhawk” edition overseas, that comes with plenty of serious off-road capability; but the version in Singapore is more basic.
Its engine drives only the front wheels, so anything other than the lightest off-roading is out of the question. But that makes perfect sense for Singapore. Without the weight and drag of a 4×4 system, the Renegade feels more sprightly than you might expect from a car with such a small engine.
Another plus is that it goes pretty easy on the fuel. The claimed fuel economy average is 5.9L/100km, which surely makes this the least thirsty Jeep ever.
It could well be the best-handling Jeep in history, too — at least on the road. Its steering does not wander aimlessly, and the tyres grip decently well, while the body resists lurching drunkenly through corners.
The suspension is set up firmly, perhaps to create the impression of ruggedness, but the Renegade does not feel uncomfortably bouncy.
It could do with useful features such as having keyless entry and engine starting, auto headlamps or power-adjustable seats; but overall, the Renegade mixes car-like behaviour with rugged 4×4 looks in an attractive way.
That should suit people who want a compact family car that stands out in a crowd, which is just as well, because the car’s launch is part of an initiative to lift Jeep’s sales here tenfold to 100 cars this year.
The price tag of S$138,000, with Certificate Of Entitlement (COE) should help, especially since the more traditional Jeep Wrangler costs more than S$200,000.
The Renegade may not be able to travel as far off-road as that tougher Jeep, but its pricing should propel it into wider sales territory.
Jeep Renegade Limited
Engine: 1,368cc, in-line four, turbocharged, 138bhp, 230Nm Performance: 181kmh, 0-100kmh: 11.0s, 5.9L/100km, 137g/km CO2Price: S$138,000 with COE