Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Justifying the all-new Jeep Renegade's existence


They may as well have named it Divide, Split, or "Haters Gonna Hate," because it seems like with the all-new Renegade, Jeep has sparked the most well-defined love/hate reaction ever seen in the automotive world.  When the dust settled from the previous day's botched embargo, the biggest and most important reveal of the 2014 Geneva Motor Show took form as a small CUV with heavy traditional Jeep design influences, a Fiat platform, and the automotive world's most heated response ever over a new vehicle.  The haters, those shouting things like, "this isn't a Jeep at all" or "why is Jeep making something so small?" are entirely understood in their opinions - everybody is entitled to think as they want, after all, and Jeep fans are among the most loyal out there.  However, I'm here to justify why the new "baby Jeep," a geeky little truck that has more countries working on it than the number of streams it'll ever cross once in the owners' hands, is not only the best vehicle in its class, but why I love it and why you should love it too.  Haters, taken note: this is going to be an all enCompassing justification of the most Patriotic of cute-utes.  See what I did there?  No?  We'll get to it later.  Now, on to the justifications, of which there are seven - seven reasons for the seven slots in the grille - get that one?



POINT ONE  To understand the Renegade first we must have a basic understanding of the American auto industry and realize that at the end of the day, the manufacturing and selling of automobiles is a business and, like all other industries, it is overseen by the federal government.  And, not unlike other industries, there are mandates on the products the car-makers create.  For example, the governmental agencies protecting the environment are equally as omnipresent in dealing with the big three automakers as they are in cleaning up a river after a major company has been dumping waste into it for years (GE on the Hudson, anyone?).  Back to how this affects Jeep: the administrating NHTSA and EPA and subsequent CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] standards mean that Jeep must meet company-wide gas mileage requirements.
Now, if you're at all familiar with the Jeep brand and how its vehicles do on gas, let's recall that the Wrangler isn't exactly fuel efficient...nor is the Grand Cherokee.  Things are certainly better than they used to be (a big thank you to the 8-speed auto and diesel engine in the GC as well as the Pentstar V6 and pair of new transmissions in the Wrangler), but the current Jeeps are nowhere near good enough to satisfy our governing bodies.  Likewise, the new Cherokee is a step in the right direction but cannot solely put Jeep where it needs to be to abide by the government's standards.

Enter the all-new Renegade.  Riding on a front-wheel-drive platform and utilizing technology like a segment-first nine-speed transmission, the baby Jeep is sure to do much better than anything you can buy at your Jeep dealership today (aside from the aforementioned diesel Grand Cherokee, depending on official EPA estimates when the Renegade goes on sale).  And being that it rides on the Fiat Panda 4x4's platform, it shouldn't be any more than 2,750 pounds - light weight being a positive influence on fuel economy, handling, and off-road prowess.  Additionally, automakers typically sell many more of their smaller, lower-ticket vehicles than those in the higher price bracket, which means the Renegade should sell well on principle.  All of this means one thing: Jeep will meet or beat the feds' mandated standards and the company will live to see another day.

POINT TWO  Although it's front-drive and smaller than every other model in its lineup today, the Renegade truly is a Jeep at heart; even the Renegade name itself carries quite a bit of history.  Yet, people are saying that "Jeep has no business being in the small car market" (as is counter-argued in Point One), but is this thing really that small?  Maybe by today's standards, but if the real "Jeep" is the original MA/MB Willys, consider this: that vehicle rode on an 80" wheelbase and checked in at 130" long while the new Renegade has a 101" wheelbase and an overall length of 166."  So after reviewing those facts, let's not call this a small vehicle, okay?  You'd be making grandpa feel bad.


Now, let's look at some of the other aspects of the Renegade that make it a Jeep.  First of all, it has a seven-slot grille, as do all Jeeps, and round headlights - that's more than you can say for any Cherokee, Grand Cherokee, Wagoneer, the second-generation Compass, etc.  So if having round headlights is what makes a Jeep a Jeep (as it is for many of the Wrangler fanatics out there), we're in good shape so far.  Next, it has a super-low 20:1 crawl ratio and a real transfer case, sacred and delightful words to the off-roading cult.  There will also be multiple all-wheel drive systems available, a terrain management system, hill-descent control, and the all-coveted Trail Rated badge.  Even better: according to an article from Allpar, it has the approach/breakover/departure angles to match its stout list of off-road parts and will handily show up the Compass, Patriot, and even Trailhawk Cherokee that just hit the streets.  Take that, big bro.  Add in multiple engine choices and a *gasp* manual transmission and things are looking pretty sweet.

Two other features that help it fit in with the Jeep family: a removable roof that you can slide back like a sun-roof or stow in the trunk.  Let's pause for a second: a removable roof on an entry-level vehicle that isn't a traditional convertible.  How cool is that?  This is a detail that just screams baby-Wrangler.  Oh, and from the pictures at least, they gave it interior that is as functional as it is good looking.  All-in-all, the haters who are clamoring about how this isn't a "Jeep" in the traditional sense may be right - it doesn't have solid axles or removable doors (with the right tools...) or look ready to tackle the full Rubicon Trail - but it does have more "Jeep" elements most any other vehicle out there, and undoubtedly more so than anything else in its class.




POINT THREE  It has a look that's all-Jeep.  First of all, it has the mandatory seven-slot grille, obviously.  Next, it has elements inspired by off-road paraphernalia.  Those seemingly goofy taillights with the "X" through them?  No, that's not to signify this is a Renegade X (X being a trim available on the Wrangler) - they're supposed to subtly mimic the design of the ever-important jerry cans that off-roaders strap to the back of their rigs in case they run out of fuel far from civilization.  Additionally, there's a topo map of Moab, Utah - a location equally as famous for being an off-road mecca as the Rubicon Trail - on the interior.  And on the outside, they've done a great job utilizing the Fiat's proportions to make the Renegade come off not as a restyled Fiat but as a miniature Wrangler with cartoonish influences from the concepts they regularly tease at the annual Moab Easeter Jeep Safari.  That grille/headlight combo that looks enclosed in its own casing?  Cues from the Mighty FC Concept, which in turn draws heritage from the forward-control Jeeps of the '50s and '60s.






The bottom line is that while it looks "cutesy," the design is wholly aggressive for its size and especially so for its class.  No, it doesn't appear to want to go rock-crawling until the sun sets like the Wrangler does, but it also doesn't look like its competition in trying to come off as a canyon-carver.  In staying more off-road ready, or at least looking the part, it fits right in as a Jeep.

POINT FOUR  Continuing from the aforementioned style points, let's talk about the Renegade's heart.  This isn't the Nissan Juke, Kia Soul, or Subaru Crosstrek XV - the vehicles I'm guessing will be most commonly cross-shopped with the Renegade.  The all-new Jeep is completely unapologetic about its heritage and won't let you forget it is the most off-road worthy cute-ute out there.  Unfortunately this may have some drawbacks - those aerodynamics aren't going to help with wind noise (or fuel economy, for that matter) - but if it didn't have some compromises for the sake of being a Jeep, it wouldn't be a Jeep.  This style and theme will undoubtedly garner it some buyers.




POINT FIVE  It's American.  I acknowledge that using this as a leverage point as to "why you should love the Renegade" is entirely, completely, 100% subjective, but it's nice to know that the profits ultimately go to an American company.  It would be nicer if it were to be built here in the good 'ol US of A, but being that it has to be manufactured alongside its brethren, the Fiat Panda, it's being built in Italy.  Reliability and fire jokes aside, this could make it quite enjoyable to drive and, as I mentioned, profits for Jeep does mean that Jeep will stick around instead going the way of the dodo and, coincidentally, the same fateful direction of that other American off-road company - Hummer.  "But," you say, "Fiat is Italian and that means the profits technically go to Italy!"  Yeah, well the USA is massively indebted to China, so *technically* our profits go to China anyways - but now we're just being overly technical.  Oh, and Italy gave us the beauties known as Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Alfa Romeo; they can get a pass on principle for doing such great deeds.

POINT SIX  Continuing on with the prayer of Jeep sticking around to see the light of day after having narrowly escaped the bailouts, the Renegade is the best way to enter new markets for real this time.  Those jokes I made in the introduction were about the now-dead Jeep Compass and Patriot - vehicles destined to fail from the day they were introduced.  Riding on a hopeless platform borrowed from the Dodge Caliber, the Compass/Patriot were, in a word, underwhelming.  The idea of a front-drive Jeep shocked and appalled the masses, so perhaps the second time around it will be a little easier for people to digest.  In reality, the Compass and Patriot were under-designed, under-engineered, and, in all honesty, not great vehicles (if you've ever been behind the wheel of one you will understand why).  As such, they now reside in the great metaphorical car crusher in the sky - and now it makes sense why Jeep's ad agency has been running advertisements for the pair like crazy, trying to sell them off before the new model hits the press/showrooms and steals all of the potential profits from the now-defunct leftovers.  The Renegade, which replaces the pair, was what Jeep needed in 2007 when the Compass was introduced - it could have been the do-all, save-all vehicle for Chrysler.  Maybe that's a stretch as the economy was in the tank, but it would have done worlds more for the company that the Compass did.  Anyways, increased sales will hopefully do wonders for Jeep, just as the Cayenne did for Porsche upon its introduction in 2002 (and, if you remember, people were up in arms back then about Porsche making an SUV...it kind of puts the insanity over Jeep making a "small car" in perspectives).


Back to Pt. 6: the Renegade will allow Jeep to enter new markets and new countries, to capture buyers they never had the chance to grab before, to expand its consumer base, to "go places where no Jeep has gone before."  They intend to use this vehicle to test the waters in other countries, many of which have even higher gas prices and in which larger vehicles are utterly useless (or frowned upon); thus, the Renegade "fits."

POINT SEVEN  It'll allow the hardcore off-roaders to get into another Jeep on a tight budget.  Let's say you have a dedicated trail rig that's not fit for the streets and as such you need a daily driver to get you to work so you can pay for the toy that only gets used on weekends.  And let's say you either spent most of your money on said wheeling toy, you simply don't have that much to spend on a commuter car, or you want the most fuel-efficient vehicle with a seven-slot grille.  All of these scenarios fall into place with the 2015 Renegade.  It's rugged enough to feel like a Jeep yet civilized and fuel-efficient enough to allow you to continue spending money on your "real" Jeep.  Instead of Jeep owners buying other companies' vehicles for the sake of simply getting from point A to point B, they can now do it in a Jeep that gets good gas mileage and and holds all of the heritage of the Jeep name wholly at heart.  If that isn't the spirit of Jeep, I don't know what is.

One further leverage point: Jeep as a brand is all about going and being outside.  Hopefully with the Renegade it will give the younger crowd and the non Jeep-owners the urge to expand their boundaries.  My point here is that maybe, just maybe, with the Renegade, Jeep will inspire people to get outside, to go on adventures, to see the wilderness, to do what Jeeps were meant to do.  It's a stretch, but a guy can hope.




HAVE I CONVINCED YOU YET?   Ten years ago my dad's friend showed me the wonder of the internet.  No, not that other wonder of the internet you're thinking of, I'm talking about the marvel of instantaneous automotive news rather than having to wait for your favorite magazine to arrive at the beginning of each month.  Over these ten years I've been a die-hard auto-news follower and as such I'm familiar with the internet's reaction to a new release (as is projected by paid writers, auto-blog responders, forum members, etc), and never in those ten years has a vehicle caused a stir like this.  In addition to the main points of this article, there are many, many other reasons out there on why the Renegade really is perfect to fill the role of "the Jeep for the masses," but for now let's let the subject rest.  At the end of the day, Jeep could have done far worse in designing its new high-volume seller, the car to take the company out of the Compass/Patriot era and into the modern automotive times of small-car manufacturing.  This new baby Jeep will look right at home next to the Cherokee, Wrangler, and Grand Cherokee.  Jeep fans can pray all day that the next-generation Wrangler retains its solid axles, removable roof, and the likes; that the Renegade has some of the characteristics of what one thinks of as a "real Jeep" is in itself a feat worth being happy about.  Consider that the company will no longer have to make excuses for the Compass and Patriot, and we're heading in the right direction.

BONUS POINT  Speaking of that "direction," the world of automotive journalism seems to agree with me, at least initially - this quirky, off-beat, awkward-looking baby Jeep has all of the elements that could make it a great addition to a lineup of vehicles all tied together by one of the richest histories in cars.  People are saying that they expect the Renegade to boost sales by quite a bit assuming it's a fairly well-made vehicle, and I wholeheartedly agree.  Jeep's baby has everything it needs to succeed, and now all it has to do is deliver on the promises it has made in its exciting first days of life.  Hey, Jeep, let's see if you've learned from the Compass and the Patriot; now is the time to do right upon your heritage.





Our loooooong-gone YJ
I'd like to give my dad a shout-out real quick, for without his adamant "that thing is fugly and I cannot comprehend why they would build it" attitude I would not have written this article.  He's one of those with an old-school Jeep mentality, having owned an old Jeep pickup (he always talks about the three-on-the-tree shifter that was nearly impossible to use), a 1989 Wrangler YJ that we had until I was 14 (coincidentally 10 years ago, around the same time I started down the path of auto-news addiction), and an assortment of XJ Cherokees and ZJ Grand Cherokees.  He's a lifetime American car-guy who's dead-set on permanently hating the Renegade and would only budge when I said, "wouldn't you rather see baby Jeeps than Toyotas and Hondas?"  So, dad, here's to hoping my persuasion is as strong as your love for old-school Jeeps.

Cheers,
Ross

3/5/14



6 comments:

  1. this was highly amusing. i'm in the camp of FUGLY! but your review makes me wanna give it another chance in under the "So ugly it's cute" clause. good work.
    I've seen these things around and i've been wondering what in the world possessed jeep to create such a hideous body design.. alas.. i may never know. thanks for the review

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  4. Ugliest tail lights I've ever seen. They look even worse at night. At best they look like the eyes of a dead cartoon character.

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