As its name implies, the 2021 Jeep Renegade rejects the conventional traits of other subcompact crossovers. Sure, its abbreviated dimensions and adorable design are hallmarks of this segment. But its legitimate off-road capability and available removable sunroof make it the pack mule in a class of mall cruisers. Of course, the absence of an eco-friendly model (at least until the plug-in-hybrid model arrives) and premium-priced trim levels that don’t feel premium at all are areas where the littlest Jeep stands out for the wrong reasons. While the Jeep Compass looks more mature, and the Jeep Cherokee can tow more and tackle tougher trails, the 2021 Renegade will still satisfy fans of the brand with its boxier aesthetic, open-top option, and off-road capable Trailhawk model.
What’s New for 2021?
For 2021, the Renegade receives a slew of newly standard driver assists and additional trim levels. All models now have blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and more. The lineup also adds an 80th Anniversary Edition and an Islander Edition. The former rolls on Granite Crystal 19-inch wheels, wears trim-specific badging, and has distinct interior appointments. The latter has silver 19-inch rims, passive hands-free entry, a panoramic sunroof, and a special island-themed hood decal and embroidered seatbacks. Renegade Sport has a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto that replaces the old 5.0-inch display, and the Limited and Trailhawk get more standard features.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
It’s a good thing that Jeep owners enjoy raw experiences, because there is no polish to the Renegade’s standard four-cylinder engine. Needing 9.0 seconds to reach 60 mph, the optional turbocharged 1.3-liter four-cylinder isn’t much of improvement in either refinement or performance. It makes a few less horsepower than the base 2.4-liter engine, but the turbo engine’s redeeming trait is the extra 25 lb-ft of torque (200 total) it develops low in the rev range to help the Renegade accelerate away from stops. Both engines pair with a nine-speed automatic transmission and either front- or all-wheel drive. While all-wheel-drive models can tow up to 2000 pounds, Jeep doesn’t recommend towing with front-drive versions. The Renegade is not intended to hustle hard, but it holds its own better than one might think. While it can feel stiffly sprung in its most off-road-oriented Trailhawk model, the ride in other versions is generally composed and comfortable. Steering is quick to respond to driver inputs, and there’s less body roll around corners than you might expect from a vehicle shaped like a Christmas ornament. If an engaging driving experience is an important factor, the turbocharged Kia Soul and the Mazda CX-3 both offer better performance and much more fun.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The most fuel-efficient Renegade, a front-wheel-drive model with the optional turbocharged 1.3-liter engine, earns 24 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway by the EPA’s methodology. With all-wheel drive, those figures fall to 23 and 29 mpg, respectively. We matched the EPA’s 29 mpg in our 75-mph highway test, but that still falls short of our findings with competitors such as the Soul, the CX-3, and the parsimonious Nissan Kicks that eked out 37 mpg. The Renegade’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder with front-wheel drive is rated at 22 mpg city and 30 highway; paired with all-wheel drive, it earns 1 mpg less in both metrics. We tested an all-wheel-drive model on our 200-mile highway route and saw 26 mpg.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
As with the exterior design, the Renegade’s interior is made to appeal to the part of our brains that once created full-length dialogues between two dinosaur-shaped erasers. It’s filled with odd shapes, toyish trimmings, and small design surprises—such as maps imprinted into cupholders and the phrase “Since 1941” stamped into the dash plastic. Consider us amused. Too bad its chunky roof pillars make for significant blind spots, by far the most egregious in this class of vehicles. The Renegade’s seats have clearly been doing their yoga stretching exercises, as they have no problem folding flat to create a level load floor. But even then, the space is average at best. Limited storage pockets and the lack of a full-length door cubby up front make storage opportunities scarce compared with other vehicles in the segment.