So you want a baby SUV that walks the delicate line between “cute” and “rugged,” but you also feel the need to occasionally drive across the kind of terrain that would send 90 percent of the compact haulers on the market weeping back to the robot mothers that assembled them? Your choices are fairly limited – in fact, it's safe to say it's a field of one.
Calling the 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk cute might raise the hackles of a few brand purists, but Jeep is to be applauded for building its little Tonka truck with just enough whimsy to keep both off-road fanatics and accessory-driven auto shoppers interested. What's better than an SUV that can actually handle whatever the trail might throw its way? One that LOOKS like it can do the same, because after all, everyone knows that most Renegades that leave the showroom floor will be more modestly-spec'd base models rather than fully-armed Trailhawk editions.
Still, let's take a closer look at the Jeep that all other Renegades aspire to be like. The Trailhawk comes with the top-tier 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine (180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of twist), which represents a fairly even trade when compared to the base 1.4-litre turbo's 160 horses and 184 lb-ft of torque (matched with a manual transmission). More importantly, the Renegade Trailhawk gets a more capable four-wheel drive system with low-range gearing, the Selec-Terrain feature (which tailors the drivetrain to conquer specific off-road obstacles), and the most aggressive suspension and styling tweaks of the group.
Off-pavement, it's a surprising winner: the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk is tougher than you'd think, and treads lightly compared to heavier, more traditional all-terrain options. Around town, you'll have to look hard to find fault with the Trailhawk's ride, although the nine-speed automatic isn't as smooth as it could be in the first few gears. Fuel efficiency isn't anything to write home about, but at least it doesn't drain your wallet at the same rate as, say, a Jeep Wrangler would in similar circumstances. Plus, you get the urban ease of a small footprint that is easy to park (albeit also a liability when trying to haul four adults around on longer trips).
Who is the 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk for? The flippant answer is that it's the ultimate graduation gift for high-school kids with deep-pocketed parents, but the more nuanced response is that the tiny Jeep's appeal slices across so many demographic lines that it's not so easy to dismiss its tough-chic character with a pithy response. Every once in a while, an automaker churns out a model that defies any other tag but “winner” – and that's the word that best fits the very affordable Renegade.