Something that bridges the gap between SUV and hatch back. Until now.
This, called the Renegade, is just that; a crossover in the very true sense of the word. Underneath it shares a lot with the Fiat 500X including being built in Italy, but it's been to America first for some proper off-road training. So while front-drive is standard, the AWD options are proper.
On the outside
Safe to say the Renegade is a bit of a Marmite car; and I fall on the love it side. It has a proper dose of Jeep-ness about it which really sets it apart from the crowd, so if you're a bit dull then this probably isn't the crossover for you (you'd be welcome at VW no doubt). Accordingly there are some loud colour choices, all of which have black bumpers and trim for that contrast look that seems to be coming back. There's a good deal of ground clearance too, making this a very practical small car.
On the inside
If you love the outside then you'll like what's inside too. Quirky touches abound, like a mud splat in place of the redline and the passenger grab handle (otherwise known around the Jeep offices as the 'oh s**t' grab handle'). There are also little 'easter eggs' splattered all around the car which are quite fun as you uncover them.
It feels well screwed together, which may surprise some, and there's a smart touchscreen system as standard that has the works in terms of features. Fiat 500X roots mean it's spacious and practical just like your average hatchback.
Behind the wheel
Under the dinky bonnet sits a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol unit courtesy of Fiat. It's got a punchy 103kW and 230 torques and a six speed manual gearbox. Nice enough combo, although the 125kW version will be better. If you want a 4x4 Renegade you'll have to get a 2.4-litre petrol unit though, which is low-range capable.
On tarmac the Renegade feels very much like a hatchback, just a little higher off the ground obviously. The electric steering is largely devoid of any feel, but it grips well enough and the ride is nice and comfy.
What can be said though is that even this front wheel drive Renegade handles the rough stuff very well. I spent a weekend with it in a game lodge near Hoedspruit and drove some roads that most crossovers would be stranded along. No such issues in the Jeep.
A few driver assist features are on offer too; a lot of which used to only be available on fancy German vehicles. Forward collision warning, lane departure assist, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and parking camera. Nice.
At nearly R400,000 I think Jeep is perhaps pricing itself out of the market. The car is very capable, more so than a lot of its competitors if you're in any way outdoorsy. But when you can buy Renault Dusters much nearer the R250,000 mark (albeit without the driver assist programs) it's almost a no-brainer.
Safe to say I really like the Renegade. It's capable and that's exactly what you want from a crossover. If only it didn't cost the price of real SUVs that are much larger on the inside.