Car reviews - Jeep - Renegade - 75th Anniversary
Unchanged go-anywhere ability, handsome colour schemes, value-retaining exclusivity
Room for improvement
Hero greens are extra, no all-paw Renegade version
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25 Aug 2016
IT IS widely known that most SUVs spend most of their lives on sealed roads, carrying nothing more challenging than screaming children, and Jeep’s range of vehicles is no exception to that rule.
However, Jeep says the important thing is having the knowledge that you could hack through the Flinders Ranges or over a razor-sharp rock-covered hillside that has never seen a tyre before, if you really wanted to.
At the launch of the four specials in the Flinders ranges, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Australia marketing and product strategy director Zac Loo explained why it is important to offer a range of capabilities.
“Not everyone is looking for a pure off-road vehicle and they want a balance between capability and on-road potential so we will always have a spectrum of vehicles that are off-road capable but also urban oriented as well,” he said.
“Part of being a Jeep and part of the DNA is the capability and that needs to permeate through and, while everyone might not take it off-road, we have a saying in the company which is ‘doers and dreamers’ and there is a balance between those two.”
For two days, we were very much ‘doers’ after touching down in the remote town of Leigh Creek, South Australia, where we boarded the Recon Green Jeep Grand Cherokee that had already started to gather a veneer of red dust.
Of the four unique 75th celebratory colours, the Grand Cherokee’s is darkest and most subtle but looks great with a bit of grime to match the 20-inch bronze wheels and exterior Moroccan Sun bronze highlights.
It was also a good opportunity to appreciate the mid-life facelift that will roll-out to all variants later this year.
After an arrow-straight road cruise deeper into South Australia’s outback, we turned off the friendly paved section and on to trails that initially appeared regularly used but that would change as the endless expanse rolled by.
The brittle volcanic boulders shifted and cracked unnervingly underneath the Jeep as the trail became increasingly inhospitable, but any signs of previous vehicle activity soon disappeared and we were, quite literally, off the beaten trail.
But that doesn’t seem to bother the Grand Cherokee and with a little care we were able to pick a safe way through the, at times, steep climbs and unforgiving rocks.
South Australia offers a visceral opportunity to experience just how vast this great land is, and there is nothing quite like staring out into an endless skyline and beyond the epic Lake Torrens from the summit of a conquered mountain.
We took a moment to appreciate the view to the south and what appeared to be a distant dust storm as a third puncture was repaired, but we realised the cloud was a separate group of our colleagues doing circle work in a Wrangler. More about that later.
The return journey to our sheep station base took us over yet more bone-shaking boulders and testing gradients that validate the Grand Cherokee’s Trail Rated badge – the same stamp applied to all Jeeps that can handle more off-road abuse than you might imagine.
Later we took to the vast sand dunes in the Wrangler 75th Anniversary for a reminder of how capable the unapologetic model is. Its standard road tyres found grip in fine powder where there was little under foot and after one practice attempt, the long wheelbase version scaled an impossibly steep scramble.
Successfully ascending the dune required a run up that shook and rattled the Wrangler from end to end but, with the exception of a fabric panic handle that untied itself, nothing fell off.
After that, we ventured out on to flatter plains in the short-wheelbase two-door version for some shameless and frivolous power-slides that only remote and privately owned sand bowls can offer.
The Jeep mustered an impressive dust cloud that occasionally obscured almost all daylight from the cabin, but its filters kept sucking air through the unique vented bonnet and the rear wheels kept spinning for as long as we kept the throttle buried. It’s tough testing cars in the outback.
Accommodation for the evening was in the tiny remote town of Parachilna where the quartet of special Jeeps looked handsome and quite at home standing to attention outside the Prairie Hotel.
After an early start and a run into the desolate expanses of the desert at sunrise, we reformed the 75th Anniversary fleet for day two and headed into the heart of the Flinders Ranges. Our steed for the day was the Renegade 75th Anniversary dressed in its vibrant Jungle Green.
For all the special green tones, customers are asked for $400 on top of the price of the limited edition car, which seems curious as you can’t have the colours in any other less exclusive variant, but we think the Recon, Sarge and Jungle Greens are well worth the extra cash.
The Renegade 75th Anniversary is based on the Longitude version which, unlike the other specials is not four-wheel drive, and we feel that a version based on the range-topping Trailhawk might have better fitted the 75th principle, but the front-drive surprised us nonetheless.
We didn’t throw the baby of the range at terrain as demanding as the previous day, but the two-wheel drive Renegade highlighted just how versatile a boosted ride height and large diameter tyres can be.
We loved thrashing the littlest Jeep through water, dust, rockfalls and fast gravel sections and didn’t once feel inadequate in the company of its more grown-up and capable siblings.
After a quick blast in the Cherokee back on the black top our time in the dazzling South Australian outback came to an end all too soon.
There is lots to love about a Jeep safari across some of Australia’s most stunning scenery but one highlight was an opportunity to drive an original 1941 Willys MB that was bought in Australia as army surplus seven decades ago.
Despite its age, the 75-year-old Jeep is surprisingly responsive, nimble and torquey, but if there was a more serious purpose behind thrashing a 2016 Wrangler around a sand bowl immediately after a spin in its spiritual great grandfather, then it would be to highlight how little has changed in 75 years.
The modern range might be stuffed with far more safety and comfort gear, but the four 75th Anniversary editions and many other unlimited variants honour the core purpose that forged the brand in the 1940s.
In most cases the 75th Anniversary treatment is fairly mild and predominantly limited to aesthetic touches, but the four models are surprisingly desirable despite only minor changes.
With the special editions, Jeep proves that something as simple as a colour can evoke the rich heritage of a brand, but more importantly, their off-road ability is not limited to the exclusive versions.
Whether you are quick enough to grab one of the specials or not, Jeep is still building a range of SUVs that consistently offers genuine all-terrain potential even after 75 years.
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