Less Cute, More 'Ute By Warren Clarke It was pretty clear that Jeep needed to do something about its aged Cherokee. The 'ute, in existence since 1984, no longer enjoyed the warm reception it received in its glory days, thanks to sharp, new competition and profound improvements made to longtime adversaries. Help came this year in the form of the 2002 Jeep Liberty, which roared in to replace the terminated Cherokee. The Liberty offered all that the Cherokee did and then some; it's reasonably competent on pavement and bashes boulders like an Olympic rock climber off-road. But there was a problem: its "cute 'ute" appearance — highlighted by its sweetly bug-eyed peepers — struck some as being displeasingly contrary to its rugged nature. No doubt with those souls in mind, Jeep has conjured up the Renegade, a sporty flavor of the Liberty that wears its outdoorsman aspirations on its sleeve. On the inside, the Renegade doesn't stray much from what's offered by the Limited trim we reviewed a few months ago; this is a good thing. Furnishings within are modern and class-leading, with brushed aluminum trim, first-rate materials, an aesthetically pleasing gauge cluster and useful steering wheel-mounted audio controls. The leather and cloth seats are comfortable and supportive. Our one quibble — and it's a minor one — continues to be the center console-located window controls; this setup is counterintuitive, and takes some getting used to. Furnishings within are modern and class-leading, with brushed aluminum trim, first-rate materials, an aesthetically pleasing gauge cluster. Standard in the Renegade are features such as air conditioning, power locks and windows, a six-speaker stereo system with CD player and a pleasantly textured leather-wrapped steering wheel. The Renegade seats five; at a reasonably capacious 69 cubic feet, interior cargo capacity is about average relative to the competition. Taken off-road, the Renegade shines; this is a Jeep, no doubt about it. Muddy trail? No problem. Boulder-strewn path? Piece of cake. However, when driven on pavement, the Renegade comes up a little bit short in comparison to some of its less off-road-oriented, car-based competitors. As would be expected, its trailworthy suspension easily dispatches potholes and uneven pavement. But its chunky poundage (nearly 4,000 pounds; competitors such as the Honda CR-V and Mazda Tribute weigh in at under 3,500 pounds) — which works in its favor off-road, keeping it firmly planted — makes it a bit ponderous on city streets. There is also quite a bit of body roll in evidence, and the steering is somewhat stiff and unresponsive. A 3.7-liter V6, which motivates 210 horses and 235 pound-feet of torque, does a respectable job of powering the Renegade's bulk; highway passing maneuvers were easily tackled. Additionally, the engine has a noticeable, but not entirely unpleasant, growl at high rpm. Fuel economy is far from stellar. Be prepared to spend much time and money at the gas pump; the Renegade (when mated to an automatic tranny, as was the model that we test drove) is rated at 16 mpg in the city and 20 on the highway. During its week with us, the Renegade averaged 12 mpg. Towing capacity is rated at 3,500 pounds. Despite its youth, the Liberty has already achieved some notoriety with regard to its handling; specifically, one automotive enthusiast publication rolled it during slalom testing. Consequently, we were anxious to see how the Renegade fared during its time with us. Happily, stability through the slalom felt as confident as anything in the compact-SUV segment. The Renegade's tall second gear allowed us to keep the transmission in one gear during our runs, thus providing excellent torque for powering through the cones. Safetywise, the Renegade offers standard front multistage airbags (side airbags are available as an option) and three-point seatbelts in front and back. We suggest adding optional antilock brakes to your features list; the Renegade that we tested lacked it. We found the 'ute's brake pedal squishy and difficult to modulate. Add in the brake fade that was occurring by the final braking runs and it was nearly impossible to get a short stopping distance, even by non-ABS standards. We reported a 60-to-0 stopping distance of 158 feet, and a 30-to-0 stopping distance of 36 feet. There is some comfort to be had in the knowledge that the Renegade rates an exemplary five out of a possible five stars for its driver side, and four stars passenger side in the NHTSA's frontal impact crash testing; in side-impact testing, the Renegade rates five stars front and rear. In true SUV fashion, however, rollover resistance was less impressive; here, the Renegade nets two stars. But the real news regarding the Renegade is, of course, what's on the outside. With the Renegade, the Liberty has been given a decidedly more audacious face. On top, this trim has been crowned with a rather fearsome-looking, testosterone-laden integrated activity light bar, which all but screams "rugged" and "adventuresome." The light bar houses four halogen lamps; with 150,000 candlepower, these lamps are capable of shedding light on a variety of situations, whether it is a rocky mountain path or a late-night get-together at the beach. The lamps are shielded by protective plastic covers; we found these were too easy to dislodge, and felt that they would have benefited from being somehow tethered to the lamps. From an aesthetic standpoint, some of our editors found the light bar a bit overwrought. Others, however, lauded its usefulness, and thought it succeeded in adding a welcome jolt of machismo to the Liberty. The Renegade trim also boasts unique wheel flares that are wider than those on the standard Liberty, with machined stainless steel bolt heads. Trapezoidal wheel apertures frame meaty all-terrain tires mounted on 16-inch six-spoke aluminum wheels. Protective silver tubular side steps with black step pads are attached to the Renegade's underside; these side steps may be removed to facilitate extreme off-road adventures. Our Renegade was decked in an appealing Cactus Green; other available hues are Light Khaki and Bright Silver. The Renegade's ostentatiously virile appearance certainly proved eye-catching. One of our editors was extensively interrogated at a stoplight by an eager admirer, who was anxious to glean all manner of details regarding the Renegade's performance, pricing and availability. By and large, the 'ute's pumped-up exterior met with a glowing response; "That's a hot-looking ride," remarked an acquaintance of one of our editors. By and large, the 'ute's pumped-up exterior met with a glowing response; "That's a hot-looking ride," remarked an acquaintance of one of our editors. In some circles, appearance is everything. The Liberty line of SUVs is at the top of its class when it comes to true off-road performance. With the Renegade, Jeep gives buyers a vehicle that's generously endowed with the brand's legendary trail-busting prowess — and one that looks the part, as well. Our Renegade was priced at $23,245 — approximately $900 more than a similarly equipped Liberty in the Limited trim. Are the extra exterior doodads worth 900 bucks? Only if you truly have a need for a halogen lamp-equipped activity light bar.