Trying to find success in what's quickly becoming a crowded field, Jeep has taken a tortuous path — literally.
While a raft of similar new city-size crossovers will be competing to break through this year, Jeep executives believe their new Renegade will stand out as the one in the bunch with true off-road capability.
In fact, only the top-level Trailhawk trim level is "trail rated" — Jeep's code words for its models truly able to take on the worst, rocky, rutted terrain. But officials are counting on the aura of that model's ruggedness to extend to all Renegades.
Jeep officials put on a demonstration this week on steep slopes here to show what the little off-roader can accomplish.
Renegades ran through muddy water to underscore their ability to ford streams up to 19-inches deep. They crawled down an impossibly steep dirt slope. They bounced over basketball-sized boulders.
Jeep is betting a lot on Renegade.
"It provides a lift to the brand," just as the new Cherokee did last year, says Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for LMC Automotive. Renegade and Cherokee are Jeep's "one-two punch," he said.
And Renegade aims to bring in new U.S. buyers to Jeep with an accessible entry price: $18,990 with shipping to start for the base Sport version. It can get more expensive in a hurry, however. The expected volume model, the Latitude, starts at $21,295; the dressiest version, the Limited, starts at $24,795; and the rugged Trailhawk starts at at $25,995. The Trailhawk, however, comes standard with four-wheel drive for the others, it's a $2,000 extra.
The Renegade is a test of whether Jeep can go small but tall — tiny on the outside but efficiently packaged and tall for a roomy inside.
It will be a global product for Jeep, with production eventually extending to Brazil and China. The initial markets, including the U.S., with be supplied from a Fiat Chrysler Automobiles plant in Melfi, Italy, where it will be built alongside its mechanical sibling, the coming Fiat 500X subcompact crossover.
The prospect of an Italian-made Jeep may not thrill Jeep traditionalists. It is, after all, an all-American brand born from the hardy vehicles that helped win World War II.
The new little Jeep, however, was designed in Detroit and carries the traditional wide-eyed, seven-slot Jeep look up front. And attempts were made to make the interior feel like a Wrangler, the Jeep that most embodies the go-anywhere ideals of the brand..
"It is, by all means, a Jeep," says Art Anderson, chief engineer for the Renegade.