I’ll state it plainly: I know what a Jeep looks like, I know what a Jeep can do, and why so many people love them. And this 2015 Jeep Renegade isn’t an acceptable substitute for the real thing. There was a World War II military Jeep in our family fleet in the early 1950s, and we sold our last World War II Willys just a few years ago, a collector’s item that brought a substantial return on investment, especially when compared to the original cost in 1943. I’ve seen Jeeps and Jeep derivatives since I was a small boy, and if some of them struck me as inane and unnecessary—Jeepster, anyone?—almost all of them remain true to the ethos of the creators of the GP light military vehicle at American Austin. But, as I said in the blurb, this is not a real Jeep. Oh, I believe that the 2015 Jeep Renegade can negotiate the Rubicon; that it’s not just a suburban signifier intended more to impress at the supermarket than to tackle arduous trails. But the forms are antithetical to the essence of “Jeepness.”
Jeeps were essentially made of sheet stock, cut out and left flat or wrapped in a single curve—see the hood of an original. In no way should a Jeep be made of compound-curved sheetmetal tortured into complex pudginess, as we see around the taillights on this misconceived—for a Jeep—little SUV. I have said in the past that Dick Teague’s 1984 XJ Cherokee is one of the great designs of all time, because it was completely innovative in conception, but also because it looked like a Jeep, respecting the original sense of being a tin box with no affectation. Despite the fact that every square inch of its surface was stamped into subtle compound curves, the XJ’s form expressed the sense of a square-cornered box, not the rounded bar of soap that box might have contained. Flat stock tends to “oil can,” that is, vibrate noisily. So it is usual to give a little crown to flat panels, and the best way to do that is to stamp the metal in a press, joining adjacent sections through flanges at the edge. Fiat did exactly that with the Giugiaro-designed Panda, a hugely successful design that, like the Cherokee, was just a slightly modulated box. That it stayed in production for a third of a century and more than 10 million units shows the validity of the concept.
Looking at this 2015 Jeep Renegade you’d have to say “not bad,” except for the seven-bar inlet that is supposed to make us say “Jeep.” Instead, it looks like some misbegotten Chinese knockoff with too much surface complexity. Change the grille and call the car a Dodge or a Fiat, and no one would object. It’s overstyled, certainly, but it makes a credible “Cute Ute,” one with unsuspected capability off-road. But call it a Jeep and it’s evident that the design team didn’t know what it was doing.
Jeep Renegade Front 3/4 View
1. Remove everything within this vaguely hexagonal perimeter, and there’s nothing really Jeep-like about this exterior. Many do squared-off wheel openings now.
2. Complex-surface stamped “power bump”? What’s Jeep about that?
3. Nice windshield, much too rounded at its corners for a true Jeep feel.
4. A sharp-edged transition from top to side, but sides are too convoluted.
5. Flat roof could be appropriate, but the color band above the side windows is another expression of styling, not functionality.
6. Roof rack rails are intended to imply ruggedness, but are rather delicate in appearance for a Jeep.
7. This general area, with too much complex surfacing, makes the whole seem like a plastic toy.
8. This bulge and the negative volume below further enhance the toylike impression of the overall form.
9. Plastic protection strips at the bottom of the doors is a sound idea, but again the forms are too convoluted—for a Jeep.
10. This flat band around the wheel opening emphasizes the less-than-convincing squared-up wheel openings.
Jeep Renegade Rear 3/4 View
11. Tapering B-pillar is rather nice, but lacks the straightforward matter-of-factness that is the essence of Jeep design.
12. You can see clearly that not much visibility is granted by the rear quarter windows. Why bother?
13. For decades, Jeep Wranglers, CJs and other convincing models used square aftermarket-available add-on rear lamps. These not-quite-parallel piped pieces attempt to evoke them, but they’re about style, not practicality.
14. This sagging hard line separates positive and negative surfaces, leaving a graphic mess above and below.
15. At last, something appropriately Jeep-like: a simple round exhaust pipe intersecting the plastic “skidplate” simulation, necessitating a notch.
16. It’s hard to understand why the gas cap door should intrude into the wheelhouse perimeter band.
17. These flat-faced wheels don’t seem appropriate, but it’s easy for an owner to change to something more rugged-looking.
18. Even the plastic surrounds are slightly puffy.
19. The turn-signal repeaters can be seen from 45 degrees behind, as required by law. If the lamps were simple rectangles, not these handed moldings, it would be more Jeep-like.
Jeep Renegade Interior View
20. Remove the brand name and this quite nice interior could be anything—American, European, Asian, or art school student project.
21. This grab bar is an excellent idea—if you can close your hand around it.
22. The color accents recall the Dodge Dart interior, and liven up the bleak blackness of the whole, as do the color stitches on the seats. Very good.
23. Cloth seats look to be comfortable and able to hold occupants in place in odd-angle off-road drives.