- Very capable off-road
- Distinctive styling
- Gear changes erratic at times
- Roomy cabin but some vision issues
The Jeep Renegade Trailhawk, the only four-wheel-drive model in the Renegade range, has crossed the Rubicon but that has nothing to do with invading Italy. The Rubicon trail is a challenging off-road track in California and is used by Jeep as a benchmark for off-road performance. It awards the ‘Trail-Rated’ epithet to those models capable of completing the course.
Trailhawk is fitted with a 129kW/230Nm 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that’s unique to this variant. Putting the power down is a nine-speed automatic transmission driving an on-demand four-wheel-drive system. Unfortunately we found Trailhawk wasn’t totally at ease with this gearbox. From time to time the shift would be a little erratic and on occasions take-off was less than smooth. Although we didn’t take it off-road, the Renegade Trailhawk is clearly very capable in the rough stuff. It has a very respectable 211-millimetre ground clearance and excellent approach and departure angles of 30.5° and 34.3° respectively, which firmly marks it as the real deal.
Unfortunately you pay for this off-road hardware at the bowser. We averaged 9.87L/100km, which is hardly frugal.
Being Trail-Rated is not something Jeep wants you to miss on the Trailhawk, with large badges telling you as much. In fact, the quantity of self-referential logos and branding on this vehicle is breathtaking. Many are a stylised rendition of the iconic Jeep grille plastered over virtually every surface, but a few are more abstract, such as the Jeep silhouette in the windscreen glass, or the hiker in the rear window. Our favourite was the tachometer markings rendered as a splash of mud. Cute.
The Trailhawk is a well-equipped vehicle, but so it should be given the $43,000 pricetag. Even then, it misses autonomous emergency braking which RACV believes should be fitted to every new vehicle. The infotainment system, while chock full of features, was a bit of a chore to use. Pairing phones was much harder than it should be and the loading of the phone directory was slow at times. The same inertia could also be noticed in the sound system when switching from reverse to drive.
Vision in the Renegade is not great, with large pillars and relatively small rear windows being an issue when either parking or overtaking. The reversing camera and blind-spot warning systems that are standard in the Trailhawk are essential in this respect, and fortunately they are both excellent in their performance.
Getting in and out of the car, particularly for front-seat occupants, is tricky at times, more so if you’re very tall. However the cabin is roomy, with particularly good head room both front and rear, although rear legroom is a bit tight. Rear-vision issues aside, the elevated ride height of the Trailhawk gives you that high-up view of the road you normally only expect on big SUVs. The whole feel of the cabin in design and materials is youthful and funky, which may not be to everyone’s taste but I thought it was coherently done.
On the road, the Trailhawk is no sports car. The acceleration is relaxed, the steering is light and the handling is a little wallowy around tight bends, but it’s exactly as you’d expect in a vehicle like this and in some respects a whole lot better in that it’s soft and comfortable to drive. Even though it’s based on an Italian car, the Fiat 500X, the driving experience is best described as ‘American’, which I guess is a mark of success.
ANCAP has not yet rated the 4x4 Trailhawk variant of the Renegade, however the front-wheel-drive version scored five stars when it was rated in 2016.
For all its flaws, this is an easy car to like once you get used to the peccadilloes. It has presence. If you lean towards practicality, something like Mazda CX-5 might be more your cup of tea, but for a bold statement the Renegade Trailhawk is well worth a look.