Underwhelming off-road performance.” That’s what we said about the Jeep Renegadetwo years ago when it failed to make the finalist cut for SUV of the Year. And with Colorado fourteeners in my sights, that’s what I was hoping to test for myself.
Leading up to the trip, I was worried about the Renegade’s ability to reach trailheads 12,000 feet above sea level, my concern only surpassed by the doubt I had in my own ability to climb the final 2,000 feet to the summit. Features editor Christian Seabaugh, who wrote the above criticism, assured me it would probably be fine. “If you choose your lines carefully and use the Jeep’s off-road modes,” he told me, “I think you should be all right.”
That sounds easy enough, but I’d never had to “choose my lines,” and I had no experience with off-road modes. I was heading into the trip an off-road amateur, my knowledge not extending past the fact that all-wheel drive was required to get where I hoped to go. If you’re an experienced off-roader, my impressions probably won’t be of much value, but then you’re probably also not the target market for the Renegade anyway. My goal was not to determine whether my Jeep could hang at the Easter Jeep Safari or even to test its off-road limits. Rather, I needed to know if the Renegade has the off-road chops necessary to get a novice like me to a trailhead a few miles off the beaten path.
In that regard, the Jeep was an unequivocal success. Over 14.6 total miles of rutted, boulder-strewn roads, some 3,000 feet in elevation gained and lost again at a 6-mph pace, and six stream crossings, the Renegade never missed a step. The only time my forward progress stalled was not a result of the Jeep but rather the fault of a group of four-wheelers filling the path. “Choosing my lines” typically meant aiming for the places that seemed least likely to hurt the Jeep, and I never did bother with the off-road modes (one each for sand, snow, and mud) because the 4WD Lock button seemed sufficient.
I don’t intend to present this as some amazing feat of off-road mastery. Truth be told, I would bet on any SUV with all-wheel drive and comparable ground clearance handling the same trails. Some might take a little more finesse, but they’d reach the destination. And that’s the point. The Renegade Sport isn’t likely a serious option for serious off-roaders. But for those millennial buyers looking for something to get them to the trailhead in search of the all-important instagrammable backdrop, this Jeep will do just fine.