New York Auto Show: 2015 Jeep Renegade

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Jeep-Renegade-2What is it?

The Jeep Renegade replaces the off-road brand’s two other compact SUVs, the Patriot and Compass, with one single entry-level model. While the name is taken from the CJ Wrangler Renegade from the 1970s and 1980s, it’s anything but hardcore. This Jeep, the first under the new Fiat Chrysler banner, is “crafted in Italy” and based off the Fiat 500L, the Mini Cooper-like version of the subcompact 500 hatch. Since the platform is so versatile, Jeep beefed it up for trail duty, and in top Trailhawk trim, it claims to do the medium lifting most city crossovers would break a nail over.

Why should you care?

If you’re in the market for a Subaru Forester, the Renegade and its promised 30-plus highway mpg should grab your attention. This is a small, light SUV with the boxy, utilitarian style and details that only Jeep could cast — witness the X-pattern block taillamps, the pop-out roof panels (again with a huge X), and an all-wheel drive system that can disconnect the rear axle for greater fuel economy yet optimize the 9-speed automatic for steep grades. A six-speed manual is available with Fiat’s 160-hp 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder, while the bigger 2.4-liter 184-hp four-cylinder that makes the heavier Cherokee feel like a panting dog is paired with the automatic. There’s 8.7 inches of ground clearance (the same as a Forester) and a best-in-class 2,000-pound tow rating. The Trailhawk model gets red tow hooks and skid plates to toughen up this cute ute’s character. The interior looks upscale even if its materials aren’t.

Jeep-Renegade-1What’s not to like?

It’s a front-wheel drive Jeep without a low-range transfer case, and that won’t make it any friends on the next Jeep Jamboree. The Renegade’s bold, slatted grille might not win over conservative buyers comparing it to the Toyota RAV4 and other popular small crossovers, but to be honest, we’re pretty excited that a vehicle in this segment can look so entertaining. Whether or not it drives above and beyond the Patriot and Compass — two models that weren’t lauded for their high quality — remains to be seen.

When is it on sale?

The Renegade goes on sale in a few months and likely will start near the Patriot’s rock-bottom prices, or around $16,000.

Clifford Atiyeh

Clifford Atiyeh

Clifford Atiyeh has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own. Based in Connecticut, he writes for BestRide, Car and Driver, The Boston Globe and other publications.