It drives Land Rover mad but the general term so many people still use for a 4×4 off-roader is Jeep. It£€™s thought Jeep is a contraction of GP, or general purpose, the go-anywhere reconnaissance vehicle developed for the US military by the Bantam Car Company in less than 49 days for use in the Second World War.
The smallest Jeep is the new Renegade which offers more off-road capability in the compact £€˜crossover£€™ class than softer rivals like the Nissan Qashqai or Skoda Yeti. The Renegade£€™s styling is more junior Jeep than full-on Mad Max against the world as its name implies, and in the bright red test car there were times I felt like Postman Pat.
The way other Renegade drivers waved at me enforced the feeling. For some reason the Jeep proved a popular target for dive bombing birds so it always needed cleaning to look its best.
A handicap of the styling is the wide widescreen and rear roof pillars which make rear three-quarters vision awkward so extra care is needed. Prices start at £23,995 for front-wheel drive only models but the four-wheel drive test car, which transfers power to the rear wheels as well if the front slip, in Limited trim £€“ there£€™s also Sport, Longitude and the off-road flagship, Trailhawk £€“ tipped the scale at £28,295.
Active Drive Low provides crawler gearing and differential locks. On road then it£€™s not surprising it£€™s not as agile and sporty as, say, a Yeti, but tackle some floods or rutted, muddy tracks and the Jeep lives up to its proud heritage.
It doesn£€™t feel as rugged as the Cherokees I drove on the legendary Rubicon Trail in California years ago, but it has more character about it than Japanese £€˜soft-roaders.£€™ Jeep has a sense of humour as well as of history.
It proclaims £€˜Since 1941£€™ above the satellite navigation screen and the mud splattered graphic on the rev counter drew a smile as did the outline of an original Willys Jeep near the base of the windscreen. And the tail lights even feature a vintage petrol can!
Jeep is owned by Fiat these days and the Renegade is based on the Fiat 500X and built in the same factory in Italy. The Fiat petrol and diesel engines are available with a choice of a six-speed manual gearbox, an automated dual-clutch manual or a nine-speed automatic transmission.
My heart sank when I saw the auto transmission lever and the absence of paddles on the steering column to speed up changes. Autos sap power and with only 138bhp it didn£€™t seem the Renegade would have much to spare.
Fortunately the auto changes gear quickly and seamlessly and the 2-litre turbo diesel rarely felt lacking once rolling. Limited trim fittings mean you can get in without fiddling with an ignition key, fire up the engine and disappear down the road while the chap next door is hunting his keys.
The loud beep when you lock or unlock the car though nearly drove me mad. Electrically adjustable front seats mean you can dial in a great driving position and the ride on Bridgestone 225/55/18 tyres was accommodating over our battered roads and frankly dangerous speed bumps.
One day someone is going to sue a council for big money and this misguided policy will stop. The brakes were softer than I like. The fuel read out claimed 525 miles to empty but I only managed 342 miles before my nerve ran out.
Pressing on we averaged 35 to 36.4mpg but gentler driving saw a best of 45.2mpg and an average of 42.9mpg. Another display warned the car needed servicing in 10, 865 miles or 338 days.
Also consider Mini Countryman, Nissan Juke, Renault Captur and Skoda Yeti.
Verdict Smallest of the Jeeps but still very capable.