On the 2015 Jeep Renegade: Serious Fun

Round headlamps. Check. Seven-slotted grill. Check. Red tow hooks. Check. Off-road capable. Check. Yes, the 2015 Jeep Renegade checks the “Jeep” boxes. One difference: it is built in a plant in Melfi, Italy.

Although the Renegade is fully off-road capable,
this B-segment SUV was designed and engineered with
full knowledge that it is more likely to be found on
highways and city streets. So it has unexpected features
like a nine-speed automatic transmission and is offered
with the latest in infotainment technology.

Three things to note about this interior. (1) The use of bright anodized trim pieces to provide color contrast. (2) The electric parking brake lever in the center console area that opens up space for two cup holders, space that might otherwise be taken up by a lever for a mechanical park brake. (3) The vent pod above the screen in the center of the instrument panel, designed because there was no space on either side of the screen and they wanted to keep the height of the instrument panel low.

Typical tachometer redlines consists of, well, a red line. But note the playful-but-functional approach that is taken in the Renegade.

Mike Manley’s titles takes four lines.  For our purposes here, one is the most important: president and CEO Jeep Brand, FCA, Global.

Yes, Manley runs Jeep all over the world.

And of all vehicle brands, Jeep is probably the one that many executives wish they had.

Manley says that back in 2010, when they were launching the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, the first product fully developed post-bankruptcy, Jeep had annual sales on the order of 333,000.  And five years later, the number is some 1-million.  His goal is to get even more aggressive in sales, reaching some 1.9-million by 2018.

There are “two big elements” that Manley believes will get them there.

One is the “globalization of the industrial footprint.”

While many people in the U.S. may think “Jeep” in the context of, say, Toledo, Ohio, Manley suggests that this is insufficient in terms of having the capacity necessary to reach the larger number.  “We need globalization of our industrial footprint,” he says.  Meaning that they’re going to be building Jeeps in places that aren’t in the U.S. (i.e., in Toledo it produces the Wrangler and Cherokee; in Belvidere, IL, the Patriot and Compass; in Detroit the Grand Cherokee).  There is a CKD plant in Venezuela, which produces a small number of Liberty and Grand Cherokee models.

But Manley says that they’re building in Brazil, at a new facility in Pernambuco.  And, importantly, in China.  Although Jeep was a pioneer in China—Beijing Jeep goes back to 1984—Manley says that they’ve been absent from that market for a decade, they’re going to return by the end of 2015.

And the second is that they’re going to be offering models that have international appeal.

Like the 2015 Jeep Renegade.  It checks both boxes.

For one thing, it is produced in a plant in Melfi, Italy, which has undergone a manufacturing transformation as a result of a >$1-billion investment.

And the Jeep Renegade, which is produced on an all-new architecture—“small-wide, 4x4”—is a B-segment vehicle, which means that it is of a size that is appealing to a global market due to its small footprint (it is 166.6-in. long and 79.6-in. wide with the side mirrors in place; the wheelbase, incidentally, is 101.2 in. and the height 66.5 in.).  Jeep plans to offer the Renegade in more than 100 markets.

That’s how Jeep is going to expand its sales.

And while Jim Morrison, director of Jeep Brand, is reticent to say how much of the Melfi production will be coming to the U.S. market, his grin is sufficient to indicate that there will be a sufficient number of these small SUVs crossing the Atlantic.

CAD & CAE Exported from Auburn Hills
Some Jeep partisans, however, might be thinking that the Renegade can’t possibly be a Jeep, given that it is coming from Italy.

Art Anderson, Engineering vehicle line executive, answers that by explaining that the Renegade was engineered in Auburn Hills, Michigan.  “We had a very specific mission.  Make the most-capable small SUV.  And make it a Jeep.”

Mark Allen, head of Jeep Design, concurs, saying that the design—inside and out—was “100% Auburn Hills.”

According to Anderson, when they set out to develop the Renegade, they looked at the existing portfolio and concluded that there simply wasn’t what they needed to fulfill the mission.

It is interesting to note that the new architecture (which is also the basis for the Fiat 500X), says Anderson, can accommodate 16 different powertrain and driveline setups.  Presumably, as future vehicles are developed and the portfolio is consulted, small-wide 4x4 is going to have more use.

It’s a Jeep Thing
“It starts with the body structure,” says Anderson.  “It needs to be very stiff to take the input loads from roads and other surfaces.”

The small-wide 4x4 architecture results in a unibody structure.  According to Anderson, approximately 70% of the steel in the body is high-strength.  This is the most extensive use of high-strength steels in any Jeep.  Notably, the A- and B-pillar, front header, sill, and rails are made with advanced high-strength steels that are hot stamped.

Not only does the extensive use of high-strength steels mean that the vehicle structure is strong and light, but as they worked to reduce mass on the vehicle, they deployed aluminum for the hood, front-cross beam and hybrid rear crash box.

Depending on the model and powertrain setup (there are four trims: Sport, Latitude, Limited, and Trailhawk; there are two engines: a 1.8-liter turbocharged four and a 2.4-liter four*; two transmissions: a six-speed manual and a nine-speed automatic; and the vehicle is available as a 4x2 or 4x4), the curb weight ranges from 3,044 to 3,573 lb.  While light weight may not seem to be much of an issue when it comes to what is architecturally a small vehicle, Anderson says that the reduced mass (e.g., the larger Jeep Cherokee’s curb weight ranges from 3,655 to 4,108 lb.) results in the ability of the Renegade to perform particularly well in off-road situations, such as sand.  It also helps the road manners for the vehicle when on-highway.

While the aforementioned portfolio didn’t have what they were looking for was regards size and weight, they were able to borrow the 4x4 technology used in the Cherokee.  The Renegade is available with Jeep Active Drive and Active Drive Low (with this one offering a 20:1 crawl ratio; it is available exclusively on the Trailhawk version of the vehicle). 

And as for what might be considered its “Jeep-cred,” the Renegade Trailhawk has “Rock mode” in its Selec-Terrain system (along with auto, snow, sand, and mud, which are the four available in other Renegade packages); it has an increased ride height (up 0.8 in. to 8.7 in.); it has skid plates and functional tow hooks in the front and back; up to 8.1 in. of wheel articulation; up to 19 in. of water fording; and unique fascias that provide 30.5° approach, 25.7° breakover and 34.3° departure angles.

Yeah, it’s a Jeep.

(All of that said, however, this is a vehicle that is certainly at home in urban environments.  There is column-mounted electric power steering; an NVH array that includes laminated acoustic windshield glass; and up to 70 available safety and security features, including forward collision and lane departure warning systems.)

Puppies & Robots
“This is one of the most-fun vehicles we’ve ever worked on,” says Mark Allen.  “We were filling white space, not replacing anything.”

But it presented the people in the studio with a bit of a challenge.

“The design solution we came up with was not clear in the beginning.”
That is, while they were starting with the proverbial and actual blank sheet, what they were going to fill it with wasn’t immediately obvious to them.

Allen explains that when he designs a Jeep, he looks at it from the point of view of having a Wrangler—with “very slow,” upright lines—on one end and the Grand Cherokee—“with much sleeker lines”—on the other.  So as the sketches for the Renegade proceeded, they worked on both ends of that spectrum, yet fundamentally came up with a design that is, as Allen puts it, “very connected to the Wrangler.”

Not only are the lines generally more upright than they are on a Grand Cherokee or Cherokee, in keeping with the Wrangler, there are some evident similarities between the Renegade and the Wrangler, like, Allen points out, the tail lamps, which are not integrated into the body.

“The character of this vehicle is most important,” Allen says.  “I relate it to a puppy dog,” he says, explaining that there is a certain sense of playful exaggeration to the more unwound lines on the vehicle, as well as some of the playful cues, like the “X” forms on the taillights that are also used in the headlamps and molded into the two honeycomb fiberglass polyurethane panels of the My Sky roof system.  (Why an “X”?  Allen explains that they found it on a Willys MB Jeep-era military gas can.)

But they didn’t take this puppy-dog approach too far: “We walked it right up to the edge of cute, but not beyond that.  It still has to have a little bit of toughness to it,” Allen insists.

Klaus Busse, head of Interior Design, FCA North America, and his team did the inside of the Renegade, again with what might be described as a sense of “serious fun.”

That is, for the past few models that have come out of the Auburn Hills interior studios (Jeeps, Chryslers and Dodges), color pallets have been predicated on places, like La Jolla and New York.  “For the Renegade,” Busse says, “we decided to seek color inspiration for sports.”  He pauses, then adds, “Sports you don’t want your kids to do.”  Like BASE jumping (Bark Brown and Ski Gray with Orange accents) and sand surfing (Black and Warm Sand).

The gauge cluster consists of an analogue tachometer on the left, an analogue speedometer on the right and a 3.5-in. monochrome display or a 7-in. full-color TFT display in between.  On the face of the tach is an orange splatter starting at 6,500 rpm.  Busse says the inspiration for that was his face shield from a paint ball excursion that the Renegade interior design team participated in.  And he admits that he didn’t think that it would make it to production. 

Because space was a consideration, Busse notes that it is a real advantage to have the electric park brake in the vehicle across the board, as that opens up space for two cup holders in the center console (which, incidentally, each have an “X” on their bottom surface).

The location of center outlets for the HVAC system presented a challenge.  While on the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee they flank the screen in the center of the instrument panel, Busse says that they didn’t have the space.  “So, we put it on top, but didn’t want to raise the whole instrument panel, so we created a little pod.  We gave it a name—WALL-E.”  As in the 2008 Pixar film.

Across the board: serious fun. 


*The 160-hp, 1.4-liter turbocharged MultiAir engine is built at a plant in Termoli, Italy, which is about 100 miles northwest of the Renegade assembly plant in Melfi.  The 180-hp, 2.4-liter MultiAir engine is built at the Dundee Engine Plant in Michigan, which is about 4,800 miles from the Renegade assembly plant.