The 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk Is the Only Jeep You Need

Wait, what's this bit of heresy?

Jeep Renegade
Jonathan Schultz/TheDrive.com

Prolechariot is a series about vehicular value. It's about slapping your needs and wants on a wall, grabbing a fistfull of darts, cocking your arm back and trying to strike most, if not all, of your targets. It’s about making the second-largest purchase decision most Americans face, and making it right. Prolechariots are cars for the rest of us, for the 99 percent, and Jonathan Schultz is driving them.

Check your wallet, America. Is there $33,781 in there? Hey, congrats! That’ll net 34,122 Cadbury Crème Eggs from your drugstore’s Easter clearance bin, 179 Best Made American Felling Axes (unpainted), three Michelin Pilots for a Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport, or a new car at the nationwide average price. You’re also just a few nickels shy of a rugged and roomy 2016 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4x4The Drive’s very first Prolechariot test subject. We’re here to tell you of a better way to get dirty in town and country—and you won’t have to sacrifice that burly Jeep codpiece.

The 2016 Renegade Trailhawk 4x4 may be the most versatile Jeep on sale today, thereby making it the most versatile 4x4 on the planet. Heresy! the fan boys shout, flannel rending beneath their fingernails. The Renegade is a rebadged, piss-ant Fiat that couldn’t rock-crawl its way out of a Wrangler’s jockstrap.

The Renegade indeed shares its platform with the Fiat 500X, a crossover with a clever Super Bowl ad to its credit and little else. But last The Drive checked, Fiat didn’t spec the X with anodized red tow hooks: two in front and one in the rear. Nor did they fit it with skid plates for the transmission, transfer case or fuel tank. And they don’t seem to offer a Rock mode, hill-descent control or a 20:1 crawl ratio. The Renegade Trailhawk 4x4 bundles a heretofore unfathomable amount of off-road kit into a compact, compellingly priced—and it must be said, cute—package.

A laundry list of Moab-friendly features means little if the parts don’t harmonize, though. That’s where a Renegade Trailhawk transcends its segment (bog-bombing urban runabout? Rock-crawling child-schlepper?) to become something of a Prolechariot spirit animal. And this was proven within the confines of The Drive’s home borough of Brooklyn, New York. You know Brooklyn, right?

Jonathan Schultz/TheDrive.com

Another look? OK:

Jonathan Schultz/TheDrive.com

Here are the five things you need to know about the 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk 4x4.

1. You Must Choose, But Choose Wisely

Facing the bottomless list of Renegade styling options is like confronting a trove of would-be holy grails. Precious few colors look right on this car. A Renegade is drawn like a Tonka toy: high wheel arches, cartoonishly contoured front and rear fascias, headlamps that light a path to your kindergarten sandbox. Its tachometer's redline is patterned after splattered Cheetos dust:

Jeep

Little “Easter eggs” abound: the World War II-era Jeep silhouetted on the windshield, the grille cut-out on the rearview mirror housing, gas-can patterns in the cup holders, more grille motifs stamped on the inboard hatch panel. This Jeep is adorable in the way a plush-toy black bear is, and as an adult, you might feel compelled to downplay this quality. One of the few avenues open to you is color selection.

Our Renegade’s Granite Crystal Metallic, offset by a black roof and red “Trailhawk” badges, shows how it’s done. The car suggests it belongs to a tax-paying, adventure-seeking, contributing member of society, not a Katy Perry-idolizing beach habitué prone to being spoiled by Mommy and Daddy.

2. The Side-view Mirrors Are Big for a Reason

Merging onto highways or changing lanes, a Renegade driver is swiftly disabused of looking over his or her shoulder. Such quaint habits die hard in a car whose roof pillars intrude so wantonly into the side window glass. Blame the Renegade’s racy beltline up-kick, which starts two feet ahead of the rear hatch. You suffer for fashion.

Forward and lateral visibility, however, are exceptional—even commanding. The bluff, upright stance of the Renegade leaves no question where the front tires or bumper are at any time, which is critical when the going gets muddy.

3. A Renegade Trailhawk 4x4 Loves the Muck

With The Drive’s favorite Depression-era, criminally underutilized municipal airport complex lying a scant eight miles south on Flatbush Avenue, the Renegade set coordinates for Floyd Bennett Field. We rationalize our legally suspect use of the airfield because its namesake, a naval aviator who co-piloted the first recognized flight over the North Pole, was an intrepid guy. So, we turn from the pocked runway tarmac onto a trail of matted sea grass and mud, and disappear among the spectrally naked winter trees.

The Renegade’s Selec-Terrain terrain control knob, stowed like an afterthought below the HVAC controls, is set to “Mud,” which engages the low-range four-wheel drive. We’re negotiating the same paths traveled by the Cherokee Latitude 4x4 just a few weeks earlier, but we’re moving quicker. The velocities flummox Selec-Terrain, whose “Sand” and “Mud” settings all but shackle the Renegade to second gear. A leftward flick of the gear selector to manual mode, and we grab third. Carrying more speed into corners than we dared to in the Cherokee, the Renegade bounds smartly over berms and roots, its suspension articulations controlled and tight; no pogo-sticking here. Where the Cherokee felt assured, the Renegade feels eager, even cheeky. Circling around to bomb a mud bog for the third or maybe fifth time, protozoa spraying ever higher into the shock blue sky, the Renegade Trailhawk 4x4 is the soul of mischief.

Off-road credentials proven, it’s time to eat some curried goat roti.

4. A Renegade Trailhawk 4x4 Loves the City

Leaving Floyd Bennett to rejoin Flatbush Avenue, the Renegade is once again the city car it began the day as. Crimped rearward visibility aside, it’s hard to fault the thing. The nine-speed automatic shifts a little brusquely down low, but a BMW 7 Series, the Renegade is not. Torque is at the ready from the 2.4-liter MultiAir turbo engine, delivered with a bit of bratty whine. A Renegade doesn’t exhibit a Land Rover’s aura of unflappability, but at $27,490 delivered, it shouldn’t be expected to. Think of the Renegade Trailhawk 4x4 as the little Jeep that could, and as equipped, it does.

Bundled with the $1,545 Premium Trailhawk Group were leather-trimmed seats (the forward pair heated), dual-zone climate control and a heated wheel, among other bits. Kick in another $1,245 for the razzle-dazzle 6.5-inch multimedia display and HD Radio system. Loud, low frequencies set a few plastic pieces abuzz; keep it mellow in there. Cheetos cheese-besmirched odometer notwithstanding, the interior is every bit as cleanly drawn and comfortable as the Cherokee’s. Plus there’s leather. Plus, at $31,175 as tested, it was $3,500 less dear than its bigger sibling.

5. One Is All You Need

The Renegade Trailhawk 4x4 is your city car. It’s your get-out-of-Dodge car. It’s your mud-boggin’ car. And it fits in tight parallel-parking spaces. Each hat is worn so convincingly that “crossover” and “SUV” become quaint—and woefully inadequate—descriptors. The car is better than it should be, and cheaper than it has to be. Is there a truer measure of a Prolechariot?

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2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk 4x4
PRICE (as tested): $31,175
POWERTRAIN: 2.4-liter MultiAir turbo four-cylinder engine, 180 hp, 175 lb-ft torque; nine-speed automatic transmission; four-wheel drive
MPG: 21 city / 29 highway
RELATION TO THE FIAT 500X: Imperceptible