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Wholesale change is afoot at SUV specialist Jeep and this is the first step in the American company’s push towards a future where electrification should not only help it appease traditionalist, but appeal to new customers. Our first glimpse of this new direction of travel took us to north Wales.

WHAT IS IT?

“A massive step for Jeep”, is how the Renegade 4xe (pronounced 4-by-E) is being pitched. After years spent lagging behind rivals, the 4×4 brand has reached a point where its engines harm the ozone less than before, but that alone isn’t enough. In the case of the Renegade – the firm’s best-seller in Europe – the compact SUV range is being expanded with a timely plug-in hybrid. It marries a 1.3-litre petrol to an 11.4kWh battery that feeds a 59bhp electric motor mounted to the rear axle. This configuration should ensure this chunky Jeep has the go-anywhere ability and all the pulling power it will ever need.

HOW DOES IT WORK?   

On start-up the Renegade defaults to ‘Hybrid’ to optimise what power is available. Select this and the engine cuts in and out as and when it is needed, while a two-level regenerative braking system mops up energy as you coast. ‘Electric’ promises a theoretical range of 26-miles up to 81mph, although this does require delicate throttle inputs otherwise the four-cylinder engine chimes in to do the heavy lifting. When it does you will know about it as the eerie whirr is displaced by a wearisome drone. ‘E-Save’ preserves the battery’s energy if part of your journey involves urban driving. Of course, being a Jeep, there is a raft of off-road modes from snow, sand and mud, to rock for ‘Trailhawk’ models.

TAKE ME THROUGH THE LINE-UP

Sold in three trim levels, prices start at £32,600 for ‘Longitude’ and rise to £36,500 for ‘Trailhawk’ versions. Sitting in the middle is ‘Limited’ and it commands £34,500. Irrespective of trim, a new – but occasionally dim-witted – 6-speed automatic transmission marshals the power. In ‘Trailhawk’ versions this is pushed up from 188bhp to a meatier 237bhp. Only subtle details mark out the 4xe over diesel and petrol Renegades; these amount to blue badge highlights and a cap on the passenger’s nearside, opposite the fuel cap, that hides a charging port which accepts 7.4kW for an 80% charge in 60 minutes. On top of 18 body colours, there are four specific alloy wheel designs that measure 17- and 18-inches.

WHAT COMES AS STANDARD?  

For one, bold styling that has a cheeky and likeable character to it. ‘Longitude’ ride on 17-inch wheels and get a 7-inch digital driver cluster, an 8.4-inch central touchscreen, dual zone climate control, Hill Descent Control and Forward Collision Warning tech. ‘Limited’ introduces LED headlights, larger 18-inch rims, sat-nav, heated front leather seats and a heated steering wheel. Go all out and ‘Trailhawk’ adds steel skid plates front and back, rear privacy glass, a reversing camera and parking aids. There are also some coloured trim pieces for the gearlever housing, air vents and speakers, and embroidery work on the seats, but the overriding colour is black which is at odds with the Renegade’s fun nature.

CAN YOU GO GREEN LANING?  

Not only is this more efficient and comfortable, the Renegade 4xe is also more capable, says Jeep. On everyday rubber we had no trouble threading it between forest trees, through deep muddy tracks and up gooey grassy slopes. Granted, not everyone will explore the countryside in this way but those who do will have a lot of fun. You can either leave the all-wheel-drive system in ‘Auto’ meaning it chooses which mode is best for a given time and place, or you can toggle through the off-road drive modes. The SUV’s rough credentials are further backed up with ‘4WD Low’ to find extra traction on unforgiving surfaces and ‘4WD Lock’ that maintains permanent four-wheel-drive at speeds up to 9mph. And in the case of the ‘Trailhawk’, you can take on high water because it has a 400mm fording capability.

DOES IT POSSESS GOOD ROAD MANNERS?

The PHEV gubbins add another 100kg to the Renegade’s total weight, yet this doesn’t hurt the low-speed ride. Quicken the pace and the softly sprung suspension absorbs energy created by the harshest jolts and bumps for an all-round comfortable experience. Our route through the Brecon Beacons was stitched together with fast, sweeping A- and B-roads; perfect in some SUVs but not this one. The body tends to lean and roll through switches and the overly-assisted steering offers little in the way of feel, either. Still, as a mode of family transport, the 4xe executes its daily driver brief pretty well. There is some wind and road noise but the gruff petrol engine is the worst offender, particularly in ‘Sport’ as the automatic has a horrible tendency to hang on to gears. Switching to manual solves this problem.

PROS & CONS

+ Genuine off-road ability
+ Rugged, eye-catching looks     
+ Generous equipment tally
Lacks polish and refinement    
EV tech hurts practicality
Costlier than its PHEV peers 

CHARGING: When the battery is not being topped up on the move courtesy of the Multiair Fiat engine, a 7.4kW home wallbox guarantees a charge time of under two hours; a Type 2 cable that relies on a 3-pin plug pushes this up to five hours. Owners can schedule home charging via the ‘My Remote’ app or use the navigation’s built-in ‘eCharge’ function to identify those public charging stations near hand.

CHARGING

STYLING: The Renegade 4xe’s chunky, boxy looks contain traditional Jeep styling cues, including the seven-slot grille at the front and squared-off wheel-arches. All models have cube tail-lights that sport a unique X-shaped LED design, alloy wheels, roof rails and protective mouldings that cover the lower third of the SUV. Our test car’s ‘Omaha Orange’ metallic paint (£600) is one of 18 body colour choices.

STYLING

INTERIOR: The chunky theme applied to the exterior is carried across to the Renegade 4xe’s cabin, with the grab handle on the passenger side of the dash hinting at the small SUV’s off-roading heritage. All versions have a 7-inch digital display that owners can toggle through to access vehicle information, and a clear 8.4-inch touchscreen. Drive modes are selected via dial on the lower centre console. 

CHARGING

PRACTICALITY: The rear is only suitable for two, six-foot adults, or three children of early secondary school age as the Renegade is not a particularly wide SUV. Access to the back bench is made easy by the high ride height and wide opening doors, although storage space is lacking. Introducing PHEV tech sees the boot lose 20-litres, reducing it to 331-litres. Still, there is no load lip and the shape is sensible.

PRACTICALITY

SPECIFICATION 

Price: £39,200 (as tested)     
Engine: 1.3-litre, 4cyl turbo petrol, two electric motors
Power/torque: 237bhp/258lb ft   
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive       
0-62mph: 7.1 seconds    
Top speed: 124mph       
Economy: 128.4mpg        
CO2: 53g/Km

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