2020 Jeep Renegade Review

Liz Kim | Mar 23, 2020

Introduction

Jeep may claim to be the king of unpaved trails, but underlying the serious off-roading capability of each of its models is a fun, carefree, and lighthearted personality. The 2020 Jeep Renegade is one of three small SUVs that the company offers, and it has the most youthful vibe of the trio thanks to its funky styling and Wrangler-derived clues.

Priced slightly higher than the Compass and thousands lower than the Cherokee, the 2020 Renegade is offered in four trim levels: Sport, Latitude, Limited and Trailhawk. It also comes with a choice between two powertrains and front-wheel or 4-wheel drive.

This year, Jeep expands availability of the Renegade’s advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS), LED lighting, and 19-inch wheels, and offers a new Kenwood-branded premium sound system.

2020 Jeep Renegade High Altitude Gray Front View

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Renegade High Altitude equipped with 4-wheel drive, metallic paint, a premium sound system, a dual-pane panoramic power sunroof, the Safety and Security Group, and the Advanced Technology Group. The price came to $36,110, including the $1,495 destination charge.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 Renegade, it is helpful to understand who buys small SUVs, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

Small SUV owners are primarily women (58%) with a median age of 56 years. Their median annual household income is $78,727, and the majority of them identify as Practical Buyers (31%) or Price Buyers (30%). Nearly half (49%) say they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company.

According to J.D. Power data, 66% of small SUV owners strongly agree that they avoid vehicles with high maintenance costs, 63% strongly agree that a first consideration in choosing a new vehicle is reliability, and 43% agree that a first consideration in choosing a new vehicle is quality of workmanship.

At the same time, 22% of small SUVs owners strongly disagree that to them a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place, 21% strongly disagree that friends and family think of them as someone who knows a great deal about autos, and 20% strongly disagree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company.

Owners say their favorite things about small SUVs are (in descending order) the exterior styling, driving dynamics, interior design, visibility and safety, and seats. Owners indicate their least favorite things about small SUVs are (in descending order) the infotainment system, engine/transmission, climate control system, storage and space, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says…

In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own perceptions about how the 2020 Jeep Renegade measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.

Exterior

Turn the dial back about a decade, check out vehicles like the Honda Element and Nissan Cube, and you’ll see stylistic similarities with the Renegade. Of course, the Jeep’s comically chunky proportions are decorated with a seven-slot grille, round headlights, and trapezoidal wheel arches, but it doesn’t look like any other vehicle in the company’s lineup except, maybe, in places, the Wrangler and Gladiator.

The test vehicle wore 19-inch gray aluminum wheels that matched the exterior accents, and a silver paint job that helped tone down the substantial side cladding. Unique the Renegade is, and it should appeal to small SUV buyers who cite exterior styling as their favorite aspect of their vehicles.

Interior

Everywhere within the Renegade’s cabin, you’ll find plastic covering the interior, with a few bright trim pieces and some durable rubber to break the monotony. This means the Renegade is easy to clean, but it also imparts an inexpensive look and feel.

The test vehicle had a huge panoramic sunroof to let the sunshine in, and you can get dual removable roof panels for a Renegade. The front passenger benefits from a big dashboard grab handle, which is a useful anchor during extreme off-roading adventures.

Seats

Thanks to 8-way power adjustment, the tested Renegade offered a good driving position. Unfortunately, the front passenger’s seat was not as accommodating, in part because it lacked height adjustment. The seat cushions were overly firm, too, causing discomfort after a short while.

In the back, the Renegade’s seating is tight, a typical characteristic of a compact SUV. Shoulder and knee space are in short supply, but the front seatbacks are softly padded and foot room is generous. The test vehicle had a USB port and a three-prong power outlet, but rear air conditioning vents were nowhere to be found.

Also, be wary of the high doorsills when entering and exiting a Jeep Renegade. It’s easy to trip over them, especially when wearing dressy shoes.

Climate Control System

The Renegade had an automatic climate control system, and though weather was seasonably cool in Southern California, the air conditioning had some trouble battling he solar heating that seeped in past the fabric sunroof cover.

Also, in order to change the Renegade’s interior temperature, you have to push the buttons on either side of the central knob that controls fan speed. It requires a little more attention away from the road than should be necessary. Knobs would be preferable.

Infotainment System

My test vehicle included a Uconnect infotainment system with an 8.4-inch touchscreen display. For years, this system has been among the best as far as graphics and user experience are concerned, and that remains true now. In part, that’s because the separate power/volume and tuning knobs limit interaction with the screen.

This version of Uconnect includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa integration, as well as a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot. SiriusXM Guardian connected services provides remote access to vehicle features and a Family Drive Alerts feature that allows parents to monitor speed, set geographic driving boundaries, and locate the Renegade at any time.

The test vehicle also had the new Kenwood premium sound system, and it provided all the volume and clarity you should expect in an entry-level SUV.

Storage and Space

If the top-shelf infotainment system is generous with features, the interior was stingy with cubbies and bins around the cabin. The door panel trays are tiny, the center console bin is miniscule, and the glove box is unimpressive.

It doesn’t get much better when you pop the rear hatch. Behind the back seat, you’ll find 18.5 cu.-ft. of space, which is barely more than what the trunk of a sedan provides. Fold the rear seat to find 50.8 cu.-ft., which is more typical of the segment.

Visibility and Safety

Chubby roof pillars somewhat limit visibility, forcing the driver to peer around those for the windshield and making it essential to depend on the blind spot warning system. However, the large windows, stubby flat hood, and reversing camera all help a driver to place the Renegade when parking and backing up.

The test vehicle had the pricey Advanced Tech Group that includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assistance, and parallel and perpendicular parking assistance. Another less expensive package, the new-for-2020 Safety and Security Group, added blind-spot warning with rear cross-path warning.

This sounds impressive (and it is given this vehicle segment) but the technology isn’t the most refined in the industry. Plus, the forward collision warning system is loud enough to spark a heart attack.

Last year, the Renegade met Top Safety Pick requirements with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). For 2020, because the IIHS strengthened standards, it does not. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Renegade a 4-star overall rating, one level down from a 5-star rating. In part, this is due to 3-star ratings for rear occupant protection in a side-impact collision.

Engine/Transmission

Jeep installs a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine as standard equipment in most Renegades. It makes 180 horsepower and 175 lb.-ft. of torque. The test vehicle came with a 1.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that makes 177 hp and 210 lb.-ft. of torque.

Both engines use a 9-speed automatic transmission, and most Renegades have front-wheel drive. Two different all-wheel-drive systems are available, the most capable the Active Drive Low system with a 21:1 crawl ratio, which is included with the Trailhawk trim level. Equipped with High Altitude trim, the test vehicle had the optional Active Drive setup with a driveline disconnect feature that helps improve fuel economy.

The point of the turbocharged engine is torque made across a broad rev band, which helps the Renegade to feel spry. Unfortunately, the 9-speed automatic is more concerned about preserving fuel than delivering acceleration. It upshifts too early, it downshifts too late, and is generally a source of aggravation. This, in turn, causes a driver to push harder on the accelerator pedal. And that, evidently, burns more fuel.

Fuel Economy

According to the EPA, my test vehicle should have returned 26 mpg (23 city/29 highway) in combined driving. I got a disappointing 23.6 mpg on my test loop. Worse, after a week, the Renegade had gone 21 miles for every gallon of recommended premium fuel. And with a small, 12.7-gallon gas tank, that means frequent trips to the gas station.

Small SUV owners cite fuel economy as their least favorite aspect of ownership, and nothing about the Renegade’s performance on this front will change that.

Driving Dynamics

With its tall center of gravity, you would think the Renegade might be a burden to drive on a twisty canyon road, but you’d be wrong. My High Altitude test vehicle, with 19-inch wheels, 235/45 all-season tires, and a tightly tuned suspension, allowed me to carry a good amount of speed into corners. And yet it still cushioned sharp bumps and rutted roads.

Steering is heavy and a bit slow, but the Renegade’s turning circle is small, allowing the little SUV – its length of 166.6 inches is shorter than that of a Mini Countryman – to easily maneuver tight parking lots and narrow city streets. On the highway, thanks in part to its relatively upright windshield, wind noise was inevitable, but a vehicle of this sort isn’t meant to deliver a serene ride.

Though it did not have the Trailhawk trim level’s more robust AWD system, all-terrain tires, and maximum 8.7 inches of ground clearance, it nevertheless traveled a trail that might befuddle the competition. In fact, I may have gotten overeager. In spite of a good 8 inches of clearance, I still scraped the front air dam.

Final Impressions

With its small cargo volume, laggardly transmission response, unimpressive real-world fuel economy numbers, and 3-star rear side impact protection rating, it’s difficult to recommend the 2020 Jeep Renegade to a typical small SUV buyer. However, when it comes to sheer personality and the promise of adventure well beyond the asphalt, the 2020 Renegade is among the best in its class.

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