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2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk Review: The "Realest" Little Jeep

I recently spent a week driving the 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk and after previously testing the Renegade at an ORV park in California, I believe that this new compact Jeep in its premium form is the “realest” of the little Jeeps offered in the past decade.

Before getting into all of the things that I believe make the 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk the realest little Jeep, let’s talk about “real Jeeps”. It seems that a great many people who dislike one or more vehicles in the modern Jeep lineup will say that “it isn’t a real Jeep”. I have heard this comment from both reviewers and readers alike about almost every vehicle in the lineup, shy of the Wrangler. It seems that to Wrangler fans and Jeep CJ fans, the only “real Jeeps” are like these original SUVs. If you ask a group of old school Cherokee (XJ) owners, only Cherokees and Wranglers and if you expand your search to Grand Cherokee owners, you will find that they include their vehicles as “real Jeeps”, along with the Wrangler and the Cherokee.

It seems that to be a “real Jeep”, it needs to be excellent off-road and very rugged. A decade back, a “real Jeep” would have also had a relatively barebones interior, but the advancements in the Wrangler interior have forced that group – which is the strictest of the Jeep community – to finally accept some modern technology in their “real Jeeps”. Wrangler or CJ fans will also look like features like the removable roof, removable doors and a boxy design as being qualifications for “real Jeeps” and based on the aspects that make the Wrangler, Cherokee and (to a lesser extent) the Grand Cherokee “real Jeeps”, it easy to see why the crowd shunned vehicles like the Compass and the Patriot.

While they both had trimlines that boasted greater off-roading abilities than others, both of these small SUVs were hard-pressed to do any offroading in stock form. Sure, while they both could handle rough roads as well as any small SUV in America, they were both very low to the ground so any real off-road efforts were likely to tear up the undercarriage. Mind you, far fewer buyers of the Patriot or Compass need offroading ability than do Wrangler owners, but it is a matter of brand perception. Also, both of those small Jeeps lacked the boxy styling or the open-air freedom of the Wrangler, so with the new Renegade, the Jeep team wanted to design an SUV that would check more boxes on the “real Jeep” checklist.

I believe that they succeeded, as I found the 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk to be the most rugged and the most off-road capable of the modern small Jeeps while also bringing an open air experience rivaled only by the Wrangler.

Exterior Design
Opinions on exterior design are always subject to person opinion, but it is hard to say that the 2016 Renegade is not the most-alike the Wrangler in terms of exterior design. Of course the company cannot build every vehicle to look like the Wrangler, but the Renegade has the best scaled-down interpretation of CJ-styling that we have seen. Yes, the Renegade isn’t as slab-sided as the Wrangler, but it does feature the same basic boxy design that Jeep fans love, along with a flatish front and rear end. The Renegade also has the basic round headlight design and the traditional 7-slot grille like you see on the Wrangler, as well as some square taillights.

Again, the Renegade obviously isn’t an exact interpretation of the Wrangler/CJ design, but especially in Trailhawk form, the new Renegade has a more “real Jeep-like design” than the older small Jeeps.

16 renegade side

Most importantly, the Renegade Trailhawk is one of the trimlines which features the MySky dual roof panel system. This doesn’t take quite as much roof away as the removable roof on the modern Wrangler, but when you pop out the front and rear roof panels of the Renegade, you get more open air freedom than you do with any other non-Wrangler Jeep. Also, unlike the Wrangler, when you remove both components of the roof system, you can tuck them both into the rear cargo area whereas the rear portion of the Wrangler has to be left somewhere when removed.

The Interior
The Trailhawk package is the premium trimline for the 2016 Jeep Renegade, and that is evidently as soon as you get in. The Trailhawk package adds leather bucket seats up front and a leather bench out back, along with an infotainment screen mounted high on the dash. While the interior is a bit smaller than the Wrangler, the seating position, the seating style and the infotainment package are all fairly similar in their layout and feel to the “real Jeep” – complete with a grab handle mounted in the passenger’s side of the dash. Although the Renegade doesn’t have you sitting as high from the ground, the overall feel of this new small Jeep is more like the Wrangler than the Compass or Patriot – both of which have a very car-like feel.

16 renegade dash

Realness aside, the 2016 Jeep Renegade offers a good amount of passenger space in both the front and rear seats. With the front seats adjust to comfortably seat two adults of roughly 6 feet tall, there is enough leg room for the rear outboard seating positions to comfortably accommodate adults for lengthy rides. Adults won’t be able to stretch out much in the rear seats, but they won’t be sitting with their knees jammed in their chest. Also, while the doors aren’t removable, they all allow plenty of space for easy access to cargo and child seats.

16 renegade fr seats

The rear cargo area is big enough to store the removable tops, and when those panels aren’t in the back, there is plenty of cargo space for groceries or 400lbs of bagged horse feed. If you need a whole lot more cargo space, the back seats quickly and easily flip down to create a cargo area big enough to move big boxes.

16 renegade cargo

Finally, while many “real Jeeps” don’t have any modern interior technology, the Renegade Trailhawk comes with a similar infotainment system to that of the new Wrangler, with navigation, satellite radio, USB access and Bluetooth connectivity – which opens up a variety of other applications. There is also a dual zone climate control system which is adjusted via three simple knobs just below the infotainment screen and below that is the 4WD knob, right in front of the shifter. Like the Wrangler, everything is well within the driver’s reach.

The Jeep Renegade Trailhawk has heated leather seats, a modern infotainment system and all of the basic niceties that are must-have items in the modern auto industry, but the simple layout, the roomy cabin and the seating position provides more of a “real Jeep feel” than the past small Jeeps.

Offroading with the Real Jeeps
During my time driving the 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk around the Metro Detroit area, I didn’t do any offroading, but I did take the same basic vehicle through an ORV park in Southern California when it was first introduced. While the Renegade doesn’t look like a particularly high-riding vehicle, even in Trailhawk form, it did a remarkable job of pushing through water up to the doors and climbing over rock piles serious enough to destroy the undercarriage of many small SUVs. Also, with the help of the 4WD mode selector, the Renegade Trailhawk was able to climb the steep sandy hills and come back down without any problem.

16 renegade front

While driving the Renegade Trailhawk in my area, I didn’t take it off-road, but I my area is riddled with brutal unpaved roads around a local park which can prove to be punishing for many vehicles. We are talking about mud covered dirt roads that are unpassable at times to small cars and locals know not to go down these roads unless they have trucks or rugged SUVs. These are public roads, but they are often poorly manicured so they can provide an off-roading situation in the course of normal daily driving. I have driven these roads with every new truck and SUV, including a variety of different Wrangler trimlines, and I believe that the Renegade handled these rough roads better than any small SUV, most large SUVs and even some trucks. Even with the 4WD mode system set to auto, the Renegade Trailhawk made short work of the muddiest stretches of road and on the worst roads, simply pushing the button to lock this little Jeep into 4WD allowed it to conquer the deepest mud on these rough roads.

In other words, if you are looking for a small Jeep to take offroading, the Renegade Trailhawk will outperform anything in the history of the little Jeeps, but even if you don’t ever plan to go offroading, I found that the Renegade Trailhawk handled the roughest public roads just as well as the Wrangler.

So, while the Renegade Trailhawk might not go everywhere that the Wrangler will, this new small Jeep will afford owners greater freedom to tackle questionable paths both on and off-road than anything from the competition or the past small Jeeps.

Driving the Renegade On-Road
Let’s be honest – the vast majority of people who buy a small SUV never go offroading and, depending on where they live, they might not ever drive on a muddy, unpaved road. If that is the case with your driving habits, you probably won’t ever need the capabilities of the Renegade Trailhawk, but it is important to note that this small Jeep handles on-road driving just as well as it handles the mud. The suspension of the Trailhawk package is a touch stiffer than the lower priced models and many of the less-capable competitors, but it is still far smoother and quieter inside than a more rugged SUV like the Wrangler. The boxy form of the Renegade does create some wind noise when traveling at highway speeds, especially with the removable roof panels but it isn’t excessive and the cabin is quiet enough for the driver to have a conversation with some in the back. It is definitely louder than a comparable vehicle with a fixed metal roof, but the trade-off for the open air driving is worth the extra wind noise.

Also, even on Detroit’s rough roads, very little of the road noise makes it into the cabin of the Renegade. When you hit bigger bumps, the stiff Trailhawk suspension does transfer more of that force through the chassis than the far less capable SUVs, but you still get an acceptably smooth ride. Really, if you aren’t willing to trade the off-road capabilities and open-air freedom for a slightly stiffer ride on the highway and a bit of wind noise – the Renegade Trailhawk isn’t for you. However, for those who are eager to have a small SUV that will handle rough offroading with a clear view of the sky – the ride quality on paved roads is sure to please.

16 renegade rear

The 2016 Renegade Trailhawk is powered by a 2.4L Tigershark 4-cylinder engine that sends 180 horsepower and 175lb-ft of torque through the 9-speed automatic transmission to the advanced all-wheel drive system. This gearbox affords the Renegade a great combination of acceleration and fuel economy, making the loaded Trailhawk impressively quick from a stop and when looking to hurry around slower moving traffic on the highway. In terms of fuel economy, the 2.4L engine is the least fuel-friend of the Renegade engines, but with a rating of 29mpg on the highway and 24mpg combined, this little Jeep is more efficient than many of the other 4WD Jeeps – especially those with the capabilities of the Trailhawk.

The Final Word
The 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk has an advanced all-wheel drive system that gives it the best offroading capabilities of any small SUV I have driven while also serving as a great daily driver on paved roads. Like the Wrangler, the Renegade offers an open-air driving experience, a roomy interior with a proper high-riding seating position and a design that applies the tradition “Jeep look” on a compact SUV. When you look at the design and capabilities of the new Renegade Trailhawk, you have a small SUV that is most like the “real Jeeps” that have been so popular with the brand’s hardcore fans.

16 renegade road

Not everyone wants the size, cost and fuel efficiency of the Jeep Wrangler and with the Renegade Trailhawk that I drove having a loaded price of just $32,645, the newest small Jeep offers the closest thing to Wrangler capabilities that we have seen in a small SUV – for far less money than the Wrangler. This might not be a “real Jeep” to the diehard fans, but the company is clearly making a serious effort to make sure that all of their vehicles have similar go-anywhere capabilities.

If you want a small SUV that can off-road with the best of them, the 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk should be on your short list of vehicles to check out while shopping for a new vehicle. It is unrivaled in both its capabilities and its amenities within the segment, while keeping the price in the low $30k range.


Larry Selna (not verified)    March 30, 2016 - 7:55PM

This thing seem capable off road and much better than the Wrangler on road. I had a Wrangler for a day as a loaner, that was enough, on the street poor mileage, steering viability, ride, noise levels, etc. Best off road though!

Craig Lassen (not verified)    March 31, 2016 - 3:25AM

I purchased my Jeep Renegade Trailhawk a few months back - late fall 2015.
I agree with most of this article and for the most part I am satisfied and would recommend it.
The one thing worth noting is the cars ability to handle snow. If you intend to use it in the snow, this is important. For snow up to about 6 inches deep, this vehicle is amazing as long as you have good snow tires and are driving in "snow mode". However, in snow deeper than 6 inches, where most jeep owners resort to putting on chains, the Renegade Trailhawk falls woefully short of it's bigger jeep counterparts. If you decide to put chains on the Trailhawk, you will face all kinds of contradictions and potential problems. The owners/operators manual is divided on if this is even possible. One place in the manual says you can only put snows on the front, and only if they are original stock tires. Another place strongly recommends against putting any kind of chains on the Trailhalk.
Being a jeep owner through four jeeps over 30 years, it was so inconceivable to me that a trail rated vehicle could not use chains, that I never even bothered to ask about it when I bought it. After talking to several service departments, and calling the jeep customer service line, I was told that there is not enough room between the tires and wheel wells to have chains. They recommend against it in order to avoid damage to the wheel wells that they say can be damaged fairly easily. I have been told that if I downsize the tire size, I can probably make it work; but this reduced the clearance under the car meaning that it is more likely to bottom out going through a deep snow drift. I have reluctantly accepted this limitation and keep a cable type chain in the vehicle in the winter time for emergencies when hitting the back trails to my cabin. I hope that Jeep solves this problem in future versions. A jeep should be able to use chains, especially a vehicle that touts having a full trail rating.
Hope this helps some of you out there.

Jud Porter (not verified)    May 31, 2016 - 10:34AM

In reply to by Craig Lassen (not verified)

Chains? The reader is using a solution that was never intended for any speed over about 10 mph and only on snow and ice. Once you get up to higher speeds centrifugal force spins the chains outward. Since they are generally not that tight and/or are secured with rubber "Bungee Type" cords the chain spins out several inches above the tire. They also slip sideways on turns. All in all they are not a good idea for any terrain beyond their intended purpose. A better solution is a good set of all terrain tires. A little noisier on pavement but way better off-road in snow etc.. My Renegade has never had an issue with snow (I'm Canadian). I've motored happily through 3' drifts and constant depths as much as 8". I'm running 215 /70 R16 BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO's. I down sized from the 17" wheels my Trailhawk came with. The KO's are a taller tire so I lost no precious ground clearance and have no speedometer variance.
Happy Trails from a retired automotive engineer.

nick brooks (not verified)    February 2, 2021 - 6:10PM

we have a renegade trailhawk and a renegade longitude we have had a decent amount of snow lately and it gives me great pleasure to pass all those so called german brands on a hill,
great cars