What’s in a name? If you reference William Shakespeare, he would suggest that a name is just a name and that a rose that is called something other than a rose would still smell sweet. While I can see where he was coming from or, more literally, from whence he came; I can’t say that I whole-heartedly agree with him. Start calling roses by some other name, like “fungus” or maybe even “discharge”, for example, and the apprehension in which they are sniffed will no doubt begin having a negative impact on the overall smelling experience. So when Jeep designers decided back in 1970 to name one of their most desirable CJ trim packages the “Renegade”, they could not have imagined the road that laid ahead for the Renegade name, or fathomed the 45 years in which it would run its full course.
The name Renegade is usually intended to relay a spirit of open rebelliousness, while the actual origins of the word express more of a negative tone- one of acting as a traitor, a dissenter or someone who deserts a cause. It seems as though the CJ was intended to walk a fine line between an agile off-road vehicle and a downright treasonous form of transportation- a line it walked with exacting precision. The original CJ Renegades of the early seventies were well-optioned examples of the Jeep lineup that were treated to attention-grabbing exterior striping packages that refused Renegade owners the ability to blend into a crowd. Response from Jeep buyers was largely positive, causing the Renegade to maintain its reign at the top of the CJ pecking order until the last CJ was produced in 1986, leaving behind a strong demand for the Renegade on the collectors market even today. With seventeen years of success in its rearview mirror, it’s pretty easy to see that the Renegade nameplate was, in large, well-accepted despite its marginal surname.
By the late 1980’s, much of the automotive culture had changed drastically from the carefree extravagance of the previous decades. Vehicle safety and exhaust emissions were playing the larger roles in design and development. The new Wrangler YJ that was released in 1987 as the successor for the legendary Jeep CJ had already taken a serious design departure from the Jeep status quo, most notably with the YJ’s rectangular headlights and modernized interiors. When AMC/Jeep design staff began entertaining the thought of reintroducing the Renegade after a three year hiatus, it’s not clear if the multi-faceted definition of a renegade had been reiterated to the crew. As yearly sales of the YJ grew in excess of the previous CJ models sales numbers, eager designers began to mock up clay models of plastic body cladding in hopes of reincarnating the renowned Renegade for a new generation of Jeepers. What efforts were expended eventually resulted in what many consider a cross between a Jeep Wrangler and a Ferrari Testarossa- certainly more road-friendly fare than the Jeep was previously accustomed to. The plastic-clad YJ Renegade retained its status of the exclusively-appointed Jeep offering for a total of five production years, from 1990 through 1995, which also marked the end of Wrangler YJ production.
The Renegade nameplate may have suffered some amount of depreciation through the Wrangler YJ era, causing Jeep to bestow a slew of other badges on their special edition Wrangler TJ models offered from 1997 through 2006. Sahara, Sport, X, Rubicon, Anniversary Editions and even an SE model thrown in for good measure were all present to carry the torch for the esteemed off-roader, but not a Renegade in the bunch. Rumor has it that some Jeep dealers across the country tried to dress up new TJ Sport models with Renegade decals in an effort to help bolster sales. I can only imagine that the Renegade Package listed on the add-on invoice was the first thing to be dissected and appropriately disposed of during price negotiations along with the ever-present undercoating and Dealer Prep fees. Had the Renegade truly run its course?
While 2008 was a year tarnished with the financial frolicking of both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the daily distractions of a generally failing economy, the design forces at Chrysler/Jeep were hard at work in an asserted effort to resurrect the Renegade name. Unveiled at 2008 Detroit Auto Show, the new Jeep Renegade was, by all accounts, far from being a rule-keeper. Pairing a hybrid duo of electric motors to drive front and rear differentials independently, the concept Renegade even turned its back on the conventional by incorporating a Bluetec diesel engine to the mix; tasked with both the recharging of the batteries and to extend the driving range to an impressive 400 miles, a relatively sizable feat for the time. This Renegade was designed to be a true open-air driving experience, complete with the guts and gusto of locking differentials and low gearing to please the avid off-road fanatic while making remarkable achievements in the manufacturing practices in the process. The Renegade was to be constructed largely of environmentally responsible materials, including parts that are easily recyclable at the end of the vehicles lifespan and an exterior that is molded in color, eliminating the painting process and its impacts on the environment. Could it be that the Renegade had finally found its own means of redefining the name it was given or was this Renegade destined to desert us once again?
As many concepts do, the promise of a 2008 Renegade returned to the design studio where it was created, to live out the rest of its days in some dark forsaken archive, likely to never be seen again. In what may be its final act of rebellion, the Jeep Renegade returned to our collective realities in 2015 in the form of a sub-compact crossover SUV built on the Fiat Panda platform. While this new installment in the Jeep Renegade chronicles seems to further establish dissent in the hearts and minds of the Jeep faithful, the car in and of itself, is nothing to be ashamed of when looked at in the scope of its segment; contending with the likes of the Honda HR-V, Subaru Crosstrek and Nissan Juke, and doing so in enviable fashion. I will even go so far as to say that the new Renegade is a more than worthy successor to the easily forgotten Jeep Liberty. I can’t even find ample energy to hold a grudge against Jeep using the ‘Renegade’ name. After all, the name Renegade has earned somewhat of an inherent double connotation, not to mention it sounds so much better than the Jeep Iscariot. OlllllllO