It’s quite a clever name as it sums up exactly what the Renegade PHEV does. While other small plug-in hybrid SUVs like the Renault Captur and Hyundai Kona are front-wheel drive, the Jeep is four-wheel drive like the Ford Kuga PHEV. A 1.3-litre petrol engine drives the front wheels, while a tiny 58bhp electric motor drives the back ones. The motor is powered by a 11.4kWh battery buried in the centre of the car and positioned so it doesn’t steal space from passengers.
Depending on which model you choose there are two power outputs from the petrol engine. The basic Longitude and mid-spec Latitude get 128bhp while the tougher, more off-roadery Trailhawk version gets 178bhp. The power output from the motor remains at 58bhp, though, and the size of the battery doesn’t change either. A six-speed automatic gearbox is standard, too, with no manual option.
Jeep claims the all-electric driving range is 26 miles and in our testing we found that to be pretty accurate. That's not particularly efficient though - a Renault Captur will go further on a smaller battery. A full charge for the Jeep takes longer too: from a 7.4kW wallbox it's 1hr 40mins while a three-pin charge takes 5.5 hours.
As usual there are a number of driving modes – ‘Hybrid’ (which automatically switches between petrol and electric power), ‘Electric’ and ‘E-Save’. To complicate things ‘E-Save’ has two further modes – ‘Battery Hold’ maintains the battery’s charge and saves it so you can use pure electric power later, while ‘Battery Charge’ uses the engine to recharge the battery if it’s out of juice.
Having the electric motor powering the back wheels is good news for off-road drivers, because the motor’s instant power translates to traction on slippery surfaces. It reacts far quicker than a conventional system, too, as the engine concentrates on the front wheels and the electric motor focuses on the back ones. There’s 50% more pulling power in the 237bhp Trailhawk 4xe than the equivalent diesel version which is good news on steep slopes or sticky situations.
On the road the Renegade 4xe is a bit of a mixed bag. Around town it’s smooth and refined and on the motorway sitting behind the wheel is a hushed place to be. Leave the car in Hybrid mode and it smoothly shifts between electric and petrol power; take the car off-road and there’s no other small SUV that’s as adept. The Trailhawk version is particularly impressive and would embarrass SUVs costing twice as much.
On faster, twistier roads, however, it’s not so impressive. The engine wails noisily, the steering is numb and the gearbox slushy. It’s no sporty SUV, but admittedly neither is it trying to be.
At the price Jeep is charging, however, the overall driving experience is mediocre which is a real shame. If you need a proper four-wheel-drive PHEV SUV then the Renegade will impress with its remarkable off-road ability, and it’s a characterful and very likeable car.
But if you’re after a more rounded small SUV, rivals like the MINI Countryman Plug-in Hybrid and (the bigger but similarly priced) Ford Kuga PHEV are hard to ignore.