There had been rumours for years about Jeep building a compact crossover, but the first concrete evidence of the Renegade’s existence was revealed at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2014.
Ever since those first images started syphoning through on our desktop screens, we’d looked forward to driving Jeep’s entry into the trendy compact crossover segment. Why would you bother with a French car, or a Ford for that matter, when you could have something sporting one of the most legendary badges in off-road history?
We first suspected trouble when we happened to cross paths with a delivery truck with a few Renegades on the back, about a week before the local launch. The Renegade certainly wasn’t as compact in the flesh as it looked in the pictures. In fact, it was much closer in size to a Ford Kuga than an EcoSport.
The second sign of trouble was the moment Jeep revealed the local pricing for the Renegade. Currently there is only one model in Limited specification and it retails for R375 900.
Other models will be joining the range shortly, but even the cheapest model will set you back R340 000, according to Jeep SA’s website. That means an entry-level Renegade costs the same as a top-spec Opel Mokka, which seems like a rip-off, quite frankly.
Our media colleagues expressed the same sentiment, which resulted in Jeep sending out an e-mail, which clearly showed the Renegade’s position in the market. According to a graphic, which is divided into four quadrants and names vehicles like the Renault Duster, Nissan Juke and Kia Sportage, the Jeep falls into the Premium/Cool category. Only two other vehicles are included in this segment, and both are German. Oh dear!
The first is the Mini Countryman, which is getting on in years and due for replacement, but the second specific competitor made things interesting. In the same week, Audi announced that the facelifted Q3 had arrived in SA. The Q3 just happened to be the other German competitor named by Jeep. A few phone calls later, we had both models in the Leisure Wheels parking lot.
Looking at the two, side by side, we couldn’t help but feel sorry for the Jeep. It was like a blindfolded five-year-old facing up to Mike Tyson.
It’s nearly impossible to take on the Germans, and the dominance of the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4 is proof of that. There’s only one realistic way to steal sales away from them, and that’s by introducing a similar product with a lot more features at a significantly lower price.
The entry-level Q3, which we chose for this test, retails at R402 500, which is around R26 000 more than the Renegade in Limited specification. That’s a pretty decent price gap, but we know for a fact that people are willing to spend thousands for something with a premium badge, which made us wonder if the gap was big enough.
The German companies are notoriously stingy when it comes to standard specifications, while Jeep is considered one of the more generous manufacturers in the industry. Would the additional features in the Renegade persuade enough people to forget about the four rings adorning the front of the Audi?
Jeep Renegade Limited 1,4 MultiAir Turbo
The Renegade wears its Jeep badge and seven slot grille proudly at the front, and there are numerous features in the cabin to remind you that you’re in a product made by the famous US manufacturer. But peel away that body and you’ll find nothing but Italian.
The Renegade is built alongside the Fiat 500X in Italy. It is basically the same car, but instead of a brutish American exterior, it wears a smartly tailored Italian ensemble.
The modern Fiat engine is a 1,4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol unit that produces 103kW and 230Nm of torque. A slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox is fitted as standard.
It’s a fairly nippy car thanks to that turbo engine, with Jeep claiming a zero to 100km/h time of less than ten seconds. The small capacity engine means it’s supposed to be frugal as well, with Jeep claiming an average combined fuel consumption of 6,0l/100km. We just wish our test unit had received that memo, because we struggled to get it under 8l/100km.
As usual, Jeep has been very generous with comfort and safety specifications. As standard you get a seven-inch instrument cluster display, the UConnect touch-screen infotainment system with all the latest connectivity features, premium cloth seats, dual-zone climate control, leather shift knob and steering wheel with satellite controls for the stereo, cruise control and trip computer – and a lane departure warning system. This is in addition to the usual safety and comfort features, which include electric windows, automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, a 12V socket and the host of safety acronyms that help keep you on the road, or protect you in the event of an accident.
Our test vehicle was one of the first to arrive in SA, which meant Jeep included navigation, leather seats and 18-inch rims free of charge. These models are fairly limited, so it’s worth noting that if you want to add them as optional extras you will end up paying a price very close to that of the Audi.
Audi Q3 1.4T FSI
The Q3 has been available in SA since 2012, and it has earned our affection and respect. In fact, in the buyers’ guide at the back of this magazine, we say that, as an overall package,it may be the best of Audi’s SUVs.
A recent minor facelift has brought it up to date, with the Q3 now featuring a 3D-design front grille, new headlights and tail lights, and
refreshed bumpers front and rear.
It’s also powered by a 1,4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, but it produces slightly more power than the unit in the Jeep.
Audi claims an output of 110kW/250Nm and an average fuel consumption figure of
5,5l/100km. As for real world consumption, it was just as bad as the Jeep, and we couldn’t get it to dip below 9,0l/100km.
We tried our best to get hold of a manual model to make this test as fair as possible, but unfortunately Audi didn’t have one available. Luckily, however, the 1,4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol and six-speed manual combo is one we know fairly well, as it’s used in other VW and Audi products we’ve tested over the years.
In terms of standard specification, Audi has played it smart. It includes everything you could possibly need in a car like this without inflating the price by including unnecessary gadgets.
Standard kit includes xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, a leather steering wheel with remote controls for the infotainment system and trip computer, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, a concert radio with a neat pop-up LCD colour screen, 16-inch alloy wheels, cloth seats and manual air conditioning.
As with the Jeep, the Audi has the safety and comfort features we’ve come to expect. We wish it were as black and white as that, but because this is a German test vehicle it came with a number of optional extras to showcase what is possible if your pockets are deep enough.
For the purposes of this exercise we ignored what we could and used previous Q3 test notes. The additional cost of these optional extras demonstrates just how expensive things can get. The actual price as tested of this Q3 is R554 380 – a staggering R150 000 more than the standard price of a manual 1,4T FSI. That’s a whole brand-new Kia Picanto’s price worth of extras! The optional items we could easily live without include an off-road style package, an S-line sports suspension, front sport seats and 19-inch alloy wheels.
It’s worth remembering that neither test car accurately represents the vehicle you would drive off the showroom floor. The Jeep is much closer in this regard, but the Audi’s optional extras list borders on the ridiculous.
It’s odd that these two cars would compete head-to-head, because in terms of exterior design they couldn’t be further apart.
The Jeep has obviously been designed to grab attention and it’s very good at that. It got a lot of glances in the traffic and even a few compliments at the service station. Some people weren’t as impressed, though, saying it looked like an “oversized Kia Soul”, which we can sort-of see from certain angles.
Overall, Jeep has done a pretty decent job of making the Renegade look cheeky while retaining the traditional design trademarks that Jeeps are famous for.
As a bonus, the Renegade has a number of “Easter eggs” – design features not immediately apparent. They don’t really add much to the package, but we found ourselves looking for these hidden treasures anyway, so Jeep might just be onto something here.
The Audi, on the other hand, does not stand out in a crowd. Yes, it is a handsome vehicle, but its designers were clearly briefed to go for elegance rather than extravagance.
The slight changes Audi made with the recent facelift are welcome, but hardly noticeable when it’s parked next to the older model. We surmise that the Audi will appeal to the kind of person who just wants to blend into the crowd, rather than attract attention.
That is, unless he/she goes for the optional off-road styling package and 19-inch off-road wheels. These two extras add R73 000 to the price, which seems outrageous, but they do contribute a bit of excitement to a package that could arguably have done with just a tiny bit more cheek.
The Jeep was never going to win this battle. Jeeps have become more upmarket over the last few years, but Audi has been in the business of building premium vehicles for a lot longer, and it shows.
Jeep has spruced up the interior, which is borrowed from the Fiat 500L, by adding a touch of leather here and an Easter egg there, but there are some bits of plastic, especially around the centre console, that just don’t belong in a car costing more than R350 000.
Having said that, we enjoyed the look and feel of the gear knob and steering wheel. The leather seats, with their orange inlays, weren’t quite to our liking, but they received a lot of positive feedback from people who approached us to chat about the car.
The Audi’s interior is the very definition of premium, even if you disregard the front sport seats in the test model. In fact, these seats were a lot harder than the standard ones, so we’d strongly advise against ticking that specific box.
We searched long and hard, but couldn’t find a single piece of plastic, leather or trim that could be described as below par.
As for space, it’s another victory for the Audi. These two vehicles are similar in size, but the interior of the Jeep felt more cramped, which came as a surprise. The main reason is the Renegade’s narrow cabin, which also affects space in the boot. With all the seats folded up, the Jeep has a maximum loading space of 351 litres.
The Audi’s wider proportions play in its favour, giving it a 460-litre boot. Those additional 110 litres make a big difference to the average family man.
We had no trouble getting four adults and one baby seat into the Renegade for a short trip. You wouldn’t be able to carry their luggage as well, but at least the family can enjoy a day out together in comfort.
Speaking of family, it’s worth noting that both vehicles received the full five safety stars from Euro NCAP. The Renegade scored 87% for adult occupants and 85% for child occupants. The Audi’s marks for children are exactly the same, while it betters the Renegade’s adult occupant score with an impressive 94%.
The main difference between these two vehicles is in the standard specifications. In the Jeep, you get everything as standard, barring the few goodies Jeep threw in for free on the initial models.
On the Audi, you have to pay for a lot of optional extras. In this particular car they included MMI Navigation at R22 200, front sport seats at R6600, leather/Alcantara trim for the seat at R13 090, deluxe air-conditioning at R5780 and aluminium satellite inlays at R3020.
That’s roughly R50 000 over and above the standard price, but here’s the thing: apart from the deluxe air conditioning, there isn’t a single feature we would include if we were building our own vehicle. You can get a free navigation app for your phone these days, so even if you had the cash, why would you pay R20 000 extra?
Comparing the standard specifications of these cars reveals another interesting element of this road test. If you bought a Renegade without the launch items thrown in for free, the features wouldn’t be all that different from the standard specifications in the Audi. The main differences are climate control, a USB port, which the Audi doesn’t have and the Jeep’s additional colour display in the instrument binnacle.
Both vehicles are a testament to how far small capacity turbocharged engines have come, with both these engines having won accolades in the prestigious International Engine of the Year awards.
Having said that, the Audi is ever so slightly better, but to be fair, Volkswagen first introduced this engine in 2006, so the company has had a lot of time to hone and refine it, and this definitely shows.
The engine packs a serious punch for something so small, and a manual gearbox definitely helps you get the most out of it, as we’ve experienced many times before in other products.
This is a new engine for the Q3, however, and it has to be said that we noticed some turbo lag initially, but once you get past that initial threshold, it’s something you can forget about.
The 1,4-litre turbocharged engine in the Renegade also packs a punch, but it will take more time to get used to than the powertrain in the Audi. More often than not, we’d drop down a cog, only to experience more turbo lag. Once you drop down, you find yourself in a gear with suitable power.
It’s not really a problem on the highway, but it is highly irritating in bumper-to-bumper traffic, especially when you combine it with a particularly clumsy stop and start system that kicks in way too early for our liking.
We were disappointed with the fuel consumption in both cars, considering that they weren’t worked very hard. The Jeep dipped below the 9l/100km mark once during its time with us, while the Audi steadfastly refused to do the same. Both vehicles had low mileage on them, so fuel consumption might improve over time.
To test the driving experience on tar, we used the vehicles back-to-back on consecutive nights on the same route, which included stints on the highway, a snug and busy network of roads in an industrial district and suburbia.
The comfort levels and ride quality of the Audi were better, but only slightly. The Jeep felt a bit bouncy, picking up imperfections on roads. Even with its harder sports suspension the Audi felt more compliant. Having said that, we wouldn’t bother with this option, because, while it improves high-speed stability and cornering abilities, it ruins the low speed ride on tar and dirt. This is a pity, because we know the standard suspension in the Q3 is much better. In our opinion, it’s one of the best compromises between comfort and dynamic ability on both tar and gravel.
Thanks to the Audi’s optional suspension, the Jeep was the undisputed winner when we drove on a gravel road. Its suspension soaks up the bumps and gives the driver some nice feedback on what’s going on down below.
We tried driving both cars up a tiny one-metre slope at an angle, and both failed the test quite badly. Wheel articulation definitely isn’t their strongest feature, but then again, neither was built with trail driving in mind.
Value for money
It’s difficult to judge with these two vehicles, because both rely on their badges to justify a hefty premium over other vehicles of similar size and providing similar luxury. It would be fair to say that neither represents the best value for money in the R375 000 to R405 000 price bracket.
For the same amount of money, you could buy a Ford Kuga, Toyota Rav4, Mazda CX-5, Subaru XV or a Nissan X-Trail. All these vehicles are bigger than the Renegade and Q3, and while they cannot compete in terms of badge snobbery, they do make a lot more sense if you have a family.
And while Jeep may not see the Opel Mokka and Nissan Qashqai as direct rivals, we don’t really see why they shouldn’t. These vehicles do the same job as the Renegade for around R30 000 less.
The Audi’s optional extras made it impossible for us to declare it the winner in this shoot-out. When you compare the Renegade we used with the test Q3, there’s no escaping the fact that the Audi cost a whopping R180 000 more than the Jeep. It was, however, a test vehicle and they tend to be specified beyond the point of reason.
If, however, you compare the standard car with the standard car and take into account that this is a battle between premium SUVs, we choose the Audi.
The Jeep offers more as standard at a better price, but the price difference is not wide enough to lure us away from the appeal of owning a set of keys with an Audi badge on it.