Remember back in the 80s and 90s when the U.S. Army’s recruitment slogan was “Be All You Can Be?” That line was downright inspirational, in as much as a slogan designed to get you to sign up for an organization whose primary focus is blowing up America’s enemies could be inspirational.

The idea behind the slogan was that you didn’t have to be the smartest or strongest or fastest person in the world to be successful — you just had to be the best version of yourself. That’s a nice goal I think we can all aim for, Army or civilian, right?

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The slogan was on my mind a lot when I drove this 2015 Jeep Renegade. Not just because thinking of the Army when you’re in a Jeep is wildly appropriate, but because this particular Renegade was not all the Renegade it could be.

(Full disclosure: I begged and pleaded Fiat Chrysler U.S. LLC to send me a Renegade for months, and so they sent me this one with a full tank of gas for 10 days. I was bummed when I read the spec sheet.)

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You see, this Renegade wasn’t the mini-offroader everyone makes it out to be. That’s because this particular Renegade was the front-wheel drive version, not the reasonably-capable 4x4 version that’s worthy of the Jeep name. And it was kind of a letdown.

As you probably know by now, the tiny Renegade is built in Italy on the same platform as the also-disappointing Fiat 500X and Fiat 500L. In standard front-drive trim, it has far more in common with those mini-crossovers than it does a Wrangler; it’s well-suited to street duty, but offroading isn’t its forte.

But even then, it’s not all that great of a small crossover. When you take away the Renegade’s killer app, the clever 4x4 system that makes it surprisingly capable away from the pavement, you aren’t left with a whole lot.

We hyped the Renegade endlessly around these parts, as did other automotive sites. After driving the front-wheel drive automatic version, I can’t help but wonder if we oversold it a bit.

Let’s break it down. My tester was a Renegade Limited, the second-best of the trim levels, with front-wheel drive, the 2.4-liter Tigershark engine, a 9-speed automatic and no options beyond one of those flimsy removable cargo area covers so people won’t steal your crap. Total price: $25,865, right at the heart of the burgeoning small crossover segment.

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I think a good majority of buyers are going to be drawn to the Renegade by how it looks. I know a ton of folks who hate it; I, for one, love it. I think it’s funky and cute and just the right amount of Fiat-ish, or even 90s Japanese box-SUV-ish to make it different. It looks better in bright colors than my Mojave Sand tester did, though. But I get its looks aren’t for everyone.

It’s pretty sharp inside, with comfortable seats, a solid, well-built cabin and loads of quirky Easter Eggs like the Jeep logos everywhere and the Yeti logo on the trunk window. It’s roomy without being too large and unwieldy to park.

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But it’s not going to undercut the larger Cherokee in terms of interior room. Cargo area space with the seats down is actually less than what you get on a Ford Focus or Mazda3 hatchback. The rear seats aren’t great, either. I rode with a friend who owns a newer-ish Toyota RAV4, and she said the Renegade’s tight rear seat room would keep her from ever buying one. A valid concern, to be sure.

More than anything, I had issues with the powertrain. The 2.4-liter naturally aspirated Tigershark four is a dog of an engine, and not the loyal, lovable kind you’re happy to see when you’re done with work. Simply put, the Renegade is slow. And kind of lazy. With just 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque tasked with moving more than 3,000 pounds, don’t expect much speed out of the Tigershark. It’s just... an engine. Nothing special about it.

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I haven’t had a chance to sample the 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder optional engine, but I can imagine it’s a bit more fun to wring out with a six-speed manual. That’s not what this tester had. Instead, it came with Chrysler’s endlessly troubled 9-speed ZF automatic.

Honestly, that gearbox wasn’t so bad here, shifting smoothly and seamlessly even though it seldom entered ninth gear. My major beef was that downshifts seemed to take forever — you put your foot down and you wait a while as it hunts for the right gear.

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Out on the road, the Renegade isn’t terribly inspiring. Steering is numb and lifeless. The suspension and tire setup feels distinctly geared for a more offroad-capable vehicle. The ride falls on the firm side of things, but there’s still loads of body roll due to a relatively soft setup. The Kumho Cru-Gen 18 inch tires seem better suited to something that isn’t a front-drive crossover, and I doubt they helped the ride quality much. Why does this Renegade need those tires? Appearances? Who knows.

The Renegade’s rated at 22 MPG in the city and 31 MPG on the highway. In 10 days of mixed driving, I averaged about 24 MPG. Not too bad overall.

Truthfully, the Renegade isn’t all bad. I did love the way it looked, and I found few faults with the interior. It’s just that I always felt something was missing, most notably the 4x4 option. Why get a Jeep that can’t handle itself offroad? I don’t expect the Renegade to climb rocks the way a Wrangler can, and it most definitely won’t, but I was just sort of bummed that this one wouldn’t even try.

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The most I really got to “offroad” the Renegade was when I took it to shoot these photos, in a field off FM 150 near Driftwood, Texas and a rocky hill that I think might have been private property but the sign had fallen down so whatever, I do what I want, because freedom. (No one shot at me, which in Texas is an indicator of success.)

The Renegade did do fine in both settings. I tried to back it up the rocky hill to get some photos and it wouldn’t do that, but it begrudgingly drove up forwards just fine. It never did so with the confidence you get in a 4x4 Jeep, or even a decent Subaru. It’s got ground clearance going for it, but not much else.

Like I said — something was always missing.

Granted, this Renegade, the front-wheel drive automatic version, will probably be the volume seller in the family. It will appeal to people who love its looks and were never going to take it off pavement anyway.

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To play devil’s advocate for a second, how often do you really need four-wheel drive, anyway? Unless you live in a snow state, probably not that much. Then again, being in a car that’s missing some critical feature — like a hot hatch you can’t take to the track if you wanted — is a real bummer.

As it is here it’s a decent crossover for small families and #active #urban #Millennials, ideal for cruising to the mall or friendly neighborhood Molly dealer or rainbow parties, or whatever it is kids do these days. It’s also worlds better than the Fiat 500L and the Chevrolet Trax, but then again, so is taking a ride from an Uber driver with a one-star rating whose sister just posted his bail for the thousandth time.

For those who truly enjoy driving on and off-road, the 4x4 version is clearly the way to go. Ideally with the manual and the turbo engine as well, that sounds like a more fun setup.

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I won’t dispute that $25,865 is a decent price for this vehicle. But here’s the thing: going with 4x4 won’t cost that much more. A Latitude model with very similar equipment (including the 2.4-liter engine and 9-speed gearbox) came out to $26,980. If you want a manual and the smaller turbo engine you’re stuck at the lower trim levels, but one of those can be had in the low-$20,000 range once you include air conditioning.

My point is you can, and should, get a Renegade that does actual Jeep stuff without spending a ton of money. You might as well. This crossover feels like it has tremendous potential, but only in 4x4 form, where it can truly be all it can be.


Contact the author at patrick@jalopnik.com.