Jeep took to the world stage that is the Geneva auto show to unveil an all-new vehicle that aims to usher in a new generation for -- and a new generation of buyers to -- the iconic brand. Called the Jeep Renegade, it will compete against other sub-compact SUVs such as the Nissan Juke, Mini countryman and Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. Though it has a small literal footprint, Jeep is banking on the Renegade having a massive figurative one. Just how big? The 2015 Jeep Renegade is to be sold in more than 100 countries and will be available with 16 powertrain combinations. 

The newest vehicle in Jeep's lineup was designed in America and will be made in Italy, not a total surprise since Jeep parent Chrysler has merged with Italian auto giant Fiat. The 5-passenger Jeep Renegade will be the smallest vehicle in the brand's lineup, but will feature the latest technology, such as the excellent Uconnect touch-screen information and entertainment system, and a 9-speed automatic transmission that debuted last year in the Renegade's bigger brother, the reinvented Cherokee. Getting back to its size, the Renegade is smaller than it may appear in photos. With a total length of 166.6 inches, the new Renegade is just a few inches longer than a Mini Countryman, and slightly shorter than its Fiat 500L cousin. 

Also: More coverage from the 2014 Geneva Auto Show

Design-wise, the Renegade is instantly recognizable as a Jeep thanks to its familiar slotted grill and big round headlights, but otherwise looks different from just about everything else. While more and more crossover SUVs favor rounded edges, the Renegade puts on a tougher air with its slab-like sides and blocky shape. Most interesting are its windows, which stretch over three-quarters of the cabin to enhance visibility and help bring the outdoors in. That latter trait is further enhanced thanks to two My Sky open-air roof systems with panels that are removed manually or via power operation. 

While several 4-cylinder engines will be offered in the Renegade around the world, it is coming to the U.S. with a choice of two: A 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that makes 160 horsepower/184 lb-ft of torque, or a larger 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that creates 184 horsepower/177 lb-ft of torque. If these engine sizes and their corresponding performance numbers sound familiar, it's because they are. Chrysler already uses them in vehicles such as the Dodge Dart, Fiat 500, and Jeep's own Cherokee. In the Renegade, the 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo engine will only be available with a 6-speed manual transmission, while the 2.4-liter MultiAir2 Tigershark (we don't make up these names; the automaker does), will come with the 9-speed automatic that debuted last year in the Cherokee. Each will be available in front-wheel-drive or 4-wheel-drive form. 

If you're a Jeep fan, this may be the point in which you're thinking, "That's all well and good that the brand is expanding its lineup, but is this thing really a Jeep?" And by that you mean, can it hop rocks, wade streams, and generally do the kind of off-roading that takes you to places where the Renegade's "soft-roader" rivals wouldn't tread? 

Jeep assures you it can.

Following in the footsteps of the Cherokee, the new Jeep Renegade aims to set itself apart from the crossover SUV crowd with off-road cred, claiming best-in-class ability when the pavement ends. 

"First and foremost, we had to deliver a Jeep SUV, and to get there, we've engineered the all-new 'small-wide 4x4 architecture' to set benchmark levels of off-road capability in the small SUV segment," said Phil Jansen, B/C-segment Vehicle Line Executive, Chrysler Group LLC. "Additionally, we designed the Renegade with superior driving dynamics, and integrated frequency selective damping shocks and a world-class brake system within our four-wheel independent suspension to deliver for on-road precision."

The 2015 Jeep Renegade does look to offer commendable off-roading advantages compared to its rivals, at least on paper. The Renegade's off-road worthiness is brought to you by up to 8.7 inches of ground clearance, a 30.5-degree approach angle, and Jeep's Active Drive Low 4-wheel-drive system with a 20:1 crawl ratio.

And like the Cherokee, its off-road credentials come with something of an asterisk. Base Renegade models will be front-wheel drive and have lower ground clearance and approach/departure angles, making them more suitable for the urban jungle vs. any real one. The good news is, for buyers whose idea of off-highway use entails more than a dirt lot, the new Jeep will offer two 4-wheel-drive systems, including the Jeep Active Drive Low on the "Trail Rated" Renegade Trailhawk. This top-line version brings the stats listed above, plus a terrain-selection system that includes a "Rock" setting to conquer more difficult obstacles. This toughest version of the Renegade will also be able to ford up to 19 inches of water and will be equipped with skid plates, front and rear tow hooks, and 17-inch all-terrain tires.

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For buyers who don't need quite this much off-road firepower but who still want the traction-enhancing benefits of 4-wheel-drive or plan just occasional off-road use, any U.S. version of the Renegade can be had with the regular Active Drive system. Though not as hardcore as the Trailhawk, the system is advanced enough to be able to send 100 percent of engine torque to any wheel when needed to get out of a sticky situation. Both systems use a power transfer unit (PTU) disconnect that engages the rear wheels when 4-wheel traction is needed and offer a slick Selec-Terrain system that can optimize the Renegade for snow, sand or mud with the touch of a button.

On the towing front, the 2015 Jeep Renegade will be able to pull up to 2,000 pounds, but to do that requires the 2.4-liter engine. (Sorry, America, we don't get one of the sweet and stout diesel offerings that can lug up to 3,300 pounds of toys.)

Other pertinent details, such as pricing, sale date, and fuel economy, are still to be announced. 

As for its name, this isn't the first time "Renegade" has graced a Jeep. The automaker unveiled a 2-seat, open air concept of the same moniker in 2008 that looked something like a dune buggy and was powered by an ultra-efficient powertrain that included a diesel engine and lithium-ion batteries. Going farther back into the past of a brand whose initial vehicles were born in World War II (but not quite that far back) was the Jeep Wrangler Renegade, an early 1990s trim package that featured specialized seats, unique wheels and a larger fuel tank.

The Jeep Renegade unveiled at the 2014 Geneva auto show is an entirely new entity, yet one with roots and a relationship to those Jeeps and others. Like the Renegade concept from a few years ago, this one promises to emphasize good fuel efficiency and a youthful flair, and as with the legendary Wrangler, the newest Jeep pays more than just lip service to going off-road. In our first blush with the Renegade, we are excited about its looks and potential, and can't wait to see what it's made of both in town and on the trail.

More Jeep news...

2014 Jeep Cherokee Altitude unveiled

2014 Jeep Wrangler Polar Edition now available

Jeep Wrangler JK production officially tops 1 million


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