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Jeep Renegade & Grand Cherokee - Are these Jeeps? - Review & Long-Term

Since 1941 Jeep has been America’s off-road vehicle of choice. You can trace the lineage of the Wrangler all the way back to the originally Willys MB and Ford GPW. The origin of the term “jeep” is still up for debate but the most common version came from WWII soldiers referring to their Willy’s general purpose vehicle, or GP, as a “jeep”. Post-war, the company dabbled with other models, but never saw the same success as the CJs. In the following decades the company changed names and ownership several times until becoming part of Chrysler in 1987.

No matter their parent company, Jeep has maintained its reputation for durable off-road vehicles and been an unlikely trend setter for the rest of the automotive industry. In 1963 they released the Wagoneer, a four-door five-seat SUV long before the idea took over the market. The Wagoner eventually became the Cherokee, which spun-off its own luxury version called the Grand Cherokee in 1993. Then in 2014 Chrysler officially merged with Fiat, becoming Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, meaning Jeep once again changed hands. Out of this merger comes the Jeep Renegade, a new model from the iconic American brand, sharing the platform of the Italian Fiat 500X. With this new influence, we grabbed the Renegade and Paul’s 2015 Grand Cherokee to see what makes a modern Jeep.

At the time of the test there were still several inches of snow on the ground in Utah and the weather was bitter cold. I found the Renegade’s heated steering wheel to be very useful and surprising to find in a car that starts at just $17,995 for the base model. But this is a press fleet car, a fully-loaded Trailhawk version with a price tag of $30k. While we roamed around on the highway, I notice the Renegade doesn’t feel as cheap as I expected it to. It isn’t as nice as Paul’s Overland Package Grand Cherokee but it isn’t a cave either.

The Renegade utilizes the same 180 hp 2.4L 4 cylinder that is used in the Dodge Dart and other things in the FCA lineup. The 9 speed transmission shifted smoothly but often, making me question why it has so many gears in the first place. Making a pass on the highway brings on multiple gear selections and more change in noise than increase in speed. Smaller engines are offered with a six-speed manual, and we found ourselves wishing for it.

The Trailhawk package includes your usual tech goodies (navigation, touch screen, heated everything) but also adds off-road friendly equipment such as heavy-duty suspension, skid plates, tow hooks and the like. But does this rugged little Jeep need all this off-road gear? Probably not. Despite being “Trail Rated,” we imagine the most off-roading one of these will ever see is the accidental backing over the flower garden along the driveway. We eventually found a slushy, muddy dirt road to test the trail-ratedness of the Italian Jeep.

The Grand Cherokee is on the opposite end of the Jeep lineup from the Renegade. The base price starts near the Renegade at $29,995 but Paul’s is equipped with the Overland package and many extras bringing the price up to $50k. Paul’s GC is a quite luxurious mid-sized SUV, with a 360 hp 5.7L Hemi and the incredibly smooth 8 speed ZF gearbox. The leather seats and interior quality feel like something out of a Mercedes, which makes sense considering this generation Grand Cherokee was built on a Mercedes platform and is the last to come from the Daimler-Chrysler era. Compared to the Renegade, the ride quality is monumentally better. This is largely because of the longer wheelbase and adjustable air suspension which lifts for off road or lowers for better fuel economy on the highway. It also makes for a great camera car keeping vibration and bumps to a minimum, even in this slush.

The Overland trim comes with pretty much everything you can have in a Grand Cherokee. There are two trim levels higher but they only come with more chrome, something Paul gags about every time he mentions them, while adding that those trim levels delete the tow hooks.

Unlike our typical reviews, we sought out difficult road conditions for these Jeeps. While far from a rock crawling jeep-showcase, we did find a winding road of deep slush and mud. This seemed appropriate.

As someone who grew up around lifted, rock crawling Jeeps I don’t have high expectations for the off-road capabilities of modern SUVs and crossovers but these Jeeps hold their own, at least on a slushy trail. The heavy duty springs and ground clearance help the Renegade get over medium-sized rocks and dips in the road. Although it’s small, it has a go anywhere attitude. We liked that about this lil guy. Paul even called it a loveable lump. Meanwhile, the Grand Cherokee insulates you from the proceedings far more than the Renegade, while feeling planted and unstoppable. In conditions like this they are equally capable, but the Grand Cherokee isn’t working as hard.

Besides maintaining their off-road capability, another way modern Jeeps try to differentiate themselves is by Easter Eggs in their styling. The Grand Cherokee only has a few with the most interesting found in the headlights; one has an imbedded Jeep silhouette inside, and the other says, “Since 1941.” The Renegade has a plethora of Jeep details. The tail lights are probably my favorite with their jerry can look. Another is the topography cloth pattern on the seats. But it continues on speaker surrounds, body panels, dash inserts and nearly everywhere you look. We counted 11 Jeep grill logos across the car. Eleven! It made the Renegade feel like Jeep was trying too hard to let people know that this was a Jeep and not a Fiat. We admit we wondered about its Jeep credibility, but keeping up with the Grand Cherokee says more than anything.

At the end of the day, with both Jeeps covered in mud and dripping snow, we concluded they offer something unique in their market segments. The Grand Cherokee is full of the utility and luxury found in a Range Rover, at a fraction of the cost. The Renegade enters the very popular small 5 seat CUV market offering unique styling and off-road capability that sets it apart. While we know most owners won’t even take these trucks as far as we did, they could, and both carry on the tradition of Jeep while offering the things most buyers require. Like me, you might think of lifted rock-crawlers, but these two offer an excellent present and future for Jeep.

Photos: Todd Deeken and Paul Schmucker

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