• Spike Ballantine

Jeep Renegade Longitude

Lots of brands will tell you that all their models share a very strong DNA - not just in the way they look or how their interior is put together, but more importantly in the way they drive. In my experience, those cars generally belong to manufacturers who make driver-focused machines that cost a lot of money. But there are definitely more accessible cars that you can tell belong to a particular brand, even if you drove them while blindfolded. Which is not advisable, but you get what I mean.

For me, Mini is the obvious brand. But there is another one with a long heritage and legendary status that also claims strong DNA - and that brand is Jeep. But what happens when you change one of the core attributes of a brand in an effort to make it more broadly appealing?

The Jeep Renegade Longitude has a few elements that, straight off the bat, could upset hardcore fans of the brand. Some of those things, like the fact that it's built outside the US, don't really have much relevance in a globalized world, but there are other more driving-related considerations. Before we go forward with the review of the Renegade, though, we need to take a step back.

Jeep has been around since 1943 when the Willys Overland company first trademarked the brand before going into series production in 1945. That means that they've been around for 75 years - they’ve spent three quarters of a century building tough, capable, 4x4s. But they've also spent far less time building the kinds of SUV that the world seems to favour right now, the kind of SUV that has all the right looks and the right kind of space, but isn't necessarily interested in going off road at any point; a faux-by-four, if you like. These cars are generally front wheel drive and focused on city living, almost the antithesis of Jeep’s “do anything, go anywhere” slogan. Jeep’s foray into crossovers and compact SUVs began in 2007 with the Patriot and the Compass, with the Renegade Longitude is another example.

The Renegade is available as a 4x4; I’ve driven that car and I really enjoyed it. It wasn't the super capable Trailhawk version, but it was still able to get a little bit adventurous and had a lot of character. So when the Longitude version arrived with its front wheel drive and no real promise of adventure, I was interested to see what it felt like to drive a Jeep that had, for want of a better phrase, abandoned a bit of its heritage.

Looking at the Renegade Longitude, there's nothing to suggest that it's not up for a bit of fun in the dirt. It is the standard Renegade look: very boxy, but not in a bad way at all. It kind of suggests that living in the great outdoors is what this thing is about. Even the 16-inch wheels, which look way too small, still managed to seem like they've been bolted on on purpose instead of bigger, less dirt-friendly versions with smaller sidewalls. I like the look of the Renegade. It's got the right balance of attitude and attractiveness and it's recognizable as a Jeep without being a basic redesign of another Jeep.

The interior is really nicely done, too. For a long time, Jeep has been making comfortable, well specced interiors - and that's true even of their hard core off-roader, the Wrangler, which we reviewed in Episode 0057. That car has got a well balanced set up with good comfort and the right spec, and a design that tells you you're driving a machine with an off-road bent.

It's the same with the Renegade: chunky controls, solid build, even a grab handle for the front passenger. Its boxy exterior gives it good interior space all round, and it is generally comfortable. The spec list has the right bits attached: climate control, park distance control, satnav, smartphone mirroring for the infotainment system and an electronic park brake. All in all, it's as good as the Renegade interior has ever been, and there's no real indication here that this is the less adventurous Jeep.

For that, you'll have to hit the road, where you’ll discover that, as mentioned, it is a front wheel drive, but also it doesn't have any quasi off-road controls. There are no drive modes to adjust the steering and the torque for off road conditions. There isn't even any hill descent control. So basically, there's nothing that you wouldn't find in a common or garden variety hatchback.

From a DNA point of view, there are definitely some genes missing in here, but I get that part of any manufacturer's survival strategy is appealing to as broad a market as possible. And there are many people who don't need or don't even care about that kind of off-road stuff, so it shouldn't make the Jeep any less of a car.

But is it less of a Jeep?

The more I drove it, the more I started to believe that, sadly it was. There are a couple of comparisons I'm drawing on here. First, the Mini. Any Mini. It doesn't matter which one you drive, they all feel the same. Admittedly, you have to drive some harder than others to discover the Mini-ness, but it's definitely always there. The second comparison is with the last Renegade I tested, the 4x4.

I said that car has a lot of character, but it almost depends on where you put it. It feels as though the Renegade needs to be chewing on some dirt in order to deliver a sense of fun and show off its DNA. As for the Longitude version, well, it's almost as if as soon as you take the adventure away, it starts to feel like nothing more than an ordinary crossover.

Which is not a bad thing because, again, that's all some people might want. Powering the Renegade Longitude is a 1.4 4-cylinder turbo with 103kW and 230Nm, sent through a six-speed auto gearbox. It delivers some good shove when you need it, and it is a very competent daily driver.

It's also got some up-to-date tech like Lane Keep Assist, which works about as well as any other manufacturers. On the whole, it's OK, although it can get a little bit overenthusiastic sometimes. As for the ride set up, it's fairly straightforward, and able to soak up rougher surfaces while generally feeling quite good.

If there's one complaint about the Renegade, it is with the gearbox, which is sometimes a little slow to respond, either when putting your foot down or when changing gear. It also occasionally likes to hang on to particular gears for longer than feels necessary.

It is all in all a good package, the Renegade Longitude, as long as you keep your expectations in check. It doesn't matter what the advertising or the branding tells you, the Renegade Longitude is not the car for the adventure lifestyle. This is not a Wrangler that's swapped its hiking boots for a hoodie in order to disguise its off-road abilities in a trendy package. This car is a straight-up-and-down crossover, and that means it competes with the likes of the Kia Seltos, the Nissan Qashqai and the Volkswagen T-Cross.

So is the Jeep Renegade Longitude a good car? Yes, it is. Is it a good Jeep? Not so much.

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