The car’s controls do at least make operating what is a fairly complex vehicle fairly simple. The Renegade 4xe defaults to its ‘hybrid’ running mode on start-up, which looks primarily to the electric drive motor for power in and around town while there is charge in the 11.4kWh battery. Ask to go quicker than about half-throttle and the combustion engine will fire up and chip in. It has Battery Save and Battery Charge running modes, too, as well as an Electric one.
Use Hybrid and you’ll find the piston engine starts and stops fairly smoothly, but it very quickly becomes quite loud and buzzy if asked to work hard. Since the electric half of the car’s powertrain seems to be geared quite short (presumably so that it can make the greatest contribution to the car’s off-road capability), you’ll find you don’t have to go much beyond 30mph to be rousing the petrol engine fairly regularly if you want to make quicker progress. This will be a bit of a turn-off for those who like the idea of running a PHEV as efficiently as possible, I’d guess. For interested drivers, meanwhile, the way the hybrid system seems constantly to be starting and then shutting off the engine, and shifting gears also, undoubtedly makes it seem a bit flustered and hyperactive, and it certainly presents some drivability issues.
You can, thankfully, choose to drive the car in Sport driving mode, keeping the piston engine running almost continuously and cutting down on the amount of reaction time the Renegade seems to need before responding to bigger throttle inputs. It feels passably brisk driven this way, but very rarely as urgent as you might hope the most powerful Renegade in the range would feel. The piston engine is noisy and boorish when revving; there’s often a bit of light clunking and shunting about the transmission as it engages and changes gear; and while the car feels brisk enough when accelerating from a standstill, it becomes a pretty unremarkable performer on the road at greater speeds.
The ride admits some Tarmac surface noise on those standard ‘M+S’ tyres, but it’s fairly supple and absorbent, and makes for broadly comfortable transport at low speeds. Particularly light and slightly pendulous, over-assisted steering gets in the way of any particular enjoyment of the car’s handling, where body control can be found a bit wanting both over bumps and around bends both tight and fast. And just as the car’s steering feels over-assisted, so too does its brake pedal – so much so that it can make stopping the car without a little jerk or a pitch something of a challenge.
But if the Renegade makes up for its dynamic quirks anywhere, it does so first and foremost off road. It offers specific terrain-selectable drivetrain control modes for snow, mud and sand and for rock-crawling, as well as particular 4WD Lock and 4WD Low modes that retune the car’s inter-axle torque distribution and throttle sensitivity for particularly tough going.
I tested it on some rutted, muddy forest tracks, finding the limit of its ground clearance (201mm) only once – and very briefly. Low-speed control under power was never tricky to maintain, but I’d have liked finer and more progressive control under braking.