Managing Editor Dalia Awad jetted to Milan to be among the first to test drive Jeep and Fiat's first ever collaboration, combining the power of American vehicles with the style of Italy...
Picture this. You land in Milan’s famous Malpensa airport. It’s right at the beginning of Milan Fashion Week and the arrivals board is flashing more than the photographers at the end of a catwalk, while words like ‘blog’, ‘make-up artist’ , ‘bias cut’ and ‘Donatella’ fill the air. The city is alight with excitement as hundreds of fashion professionals shuttled through the airport and tried to navigate to the shows, scattered across the historic city. Why was I here, you ask? Not for the fashion, but for fast cars with four wheel drive, as Jeep invited CairoScene out to be the first to test drive the newest addition to their family, the 2015 Jeep Renegade.
Now Italy isn’t a country you’d associate with Jeep – that big, brash all-American band. No, Italy is a place for supercars, tiny quaint hatchbacks and those iconic scooters, zipping through tiny alleyways and cobbled streets. Out in the suburbs of Milan where we would experience the first Jeep of its kind, the streets were filled with cute little Fiats – that was the Italy I’d imagined. Turns out, however, there was a reason this experience was arranged on Italian soil as the Jeep Renegade marks the start of beautiful relationship between Italy’s Fiat and the USA’s Jeep Chrysler Company, as they joined forces to create a vehicle that could navigate both city streets and off-road trails with equal elegance.
We arrive at the famous Balocco Proving Grounds, 45 minutes outside central Milan, and the veritable home of Fiat, and take our seats in front of a massive screen showing glorious footage of young, beautiful people having fun. Needless to say we were intrigued as the suspense built. Dotted around were symbols of Jeep’s long heritage in the 4x4 and SUV categories – the X-marked jerry cans that defined off-road vehicles back in the day, as well as one of the final remaining 1941 Jeep Willys MBs; an icon of the USA’s military success in WWII. After a few minutes, the Renegade would arrive in all its ‘fresh-off-the-manufacturing-plant’ glory – the manufacturing plant which resides in Melfi, southern Italy, making history as being the first site in Italy to ever produce a Jeep vehicle.
Available in some seriously unique hues, from a vibrant orange and an army-inspired khaki, to a shimmering white, the ‘baby Jeep’ as the press is endearingly referring to the Renegade, has a much younger spirit and, indeed, driver in mind. Marking the brand’s first entry into the Small SUV category, the Renegade could be described as a slightly more compact version of the popular Wrangler, but comes with some very special details. Designed by the experienced team at Jeep HQ in the States, it still has that robust, powerful feel to it, but with smoother edges and cute little design details including several ‘Easter eggs’ in the form of Xs we were challenged to find both on the exterior and inside the vehicle. After a formal introduction to the newest family member, it was time to drive.
Available in five different models to suit different driver and terrain needs, we started the first part of our test drive on both the highways and quaint villages in suburban Milan in the automatic Sport version, in Alpine White, which glistened on a sadly grey September morning. The cabin, with its orange accents and rough and ready style, is spacious much like you expect a Jeep to be, though it wasn’t overwhelming, as it everything is easy to reach from driver’s seat. Behind the wheel, though the car is elevated, it doesn’t feel like you’re driving a mammoth car like many SUVs do, creating confidence for those, like myself, who’ve only previously driven hatchbacks and standard saloon cars.
The spectacular scenery of rural Milan made for an aesthetically pleasing drive, up hills populated with grape vines and down alleys you wouldn’t even expect cars would be allowed. Stopping for photo ops every couple of miles, the Renegade certainly turned heads, making up for the fact that I wasn’t being papped, front-row at Armani Couture. The drive itself was definitely smoother than Central Milan where the world’s press were fighting over each other for the perfect shot, while traffic came to a standstill for fashion week, as the 9-speed automatic transmission did all the hard work. The Sport version is made for the city, available only in front-wheel drive, though it can still pick up some serious speed thanks to its 185 horsepower 2.4-liter Tigershark engine. However, the city is all well and good – but what of Jeep’s raison d’etre? What was this ‘baby Jeep’ capable of when compared to its big brothers?
It was time to off-road. Swapping the Sport version for their signature, top-of-the-line 4x4 Trailhawk model, in Omaha Orange nonetheless, we were out to prove something on the proving ground. The specific off-road equipment of the Trailhawk includes increased ride height of 35 mm compared to 4x2 model, off-road suspension and skid plates, and unique front and rear fascias with enhanced approach and departure angles. Powered by a 185 horsepower 2.4-liter Tigershark MultiAir engine, with nine-speed automatic gearbox, the Trailhawk burst through bushes, scaled impossible angles and stood perfectly suspended on just three wheels when we tested it to the extreme. And it was certainly extreme as we competed to see who from our group could cause the biggest splashes as we revved through mud, sand and water, trying not to rely on what Jeep’s ambassadors referred to cheekily as the ‘oh shit handle’ to keep ourselves steady as we tackled the roughest terrains.
Scheduled to hit the MENA markets in the first quarter of 2015, the Jeep Renegade will certainly peak the interests of younger drivers in the region who could very much benefit from the sturdiness and spaciousness of an SUV, without guzzling too much gas or finding it impossible to park in our crowded cities. With a whole host of options, add-ons and accessories, it will even find a place in the hearts of die-hard Jeep fans and extreme off-roaders as its capabilities remain robust despite its size and fun design – more than making up for missing fashion week.