The Jeep Renegade is rugged, roomy and a competent road warrior
Jeep thrills The Jeep Renegade 1.4 comes with a 1.4-litre Fiat-sourced MultiAir2 turbocharged engine that is paired with a six-speed autobox. ST PHOTOS: JOYCE FANG

An iconic American sport utility vehicle (SUV) built in Italy on a Fiat platform sounds like a recipe for disaster. But the Jeep Renegade is anything but.

The compact Jeep - manufactured in Melfi, Italy, and sharing the platform of the Fiat 500X - retains its all-American charm and offers exceptional build quality as well as surprising usability.

It looks like a Jeep, with its unmistakable silhouette highlighted by a steep windscreen, angular wheel arches and upright grille. It is a geeky, outdated design (even more so than the Jeep Cherokee), but it is charming precisely because of this.

The model, however, has some interesting styling cues, such as its minimalist rear section. All you see are two lonely squarish tail-lamps dwarved by an enormous and flat-as-Florida tailgate.

Inside, the Renegade is refreshingly new, and yet feels very Jeep-like. The grab handle above the glovebox, the "Since 1941" stamp on the centre console, the no-nonsense layout of the cockpit - they shout Jeep.

There is also a multi-function steering wheel, an electronic parking brake lever and a small five-inch infotainment screen that incorporates a reverse camera.

It is a rugged yet friendly cabin, with lots of room in both rows of seats - especially headroom. Even the boot is decently sized.

The interior is pleasantly solid and well put together. Cubby holes feature soft rubber lining to ensure things stowed in them do not rattle - something not all luxury cars do.

There is not a squeak from within, which, not too long ago, was unimaginable in a Jeep or a Fiat.

It is not all form, though. The Renegade actually drives like a Jeep, complete with its heaving, listing chassis that is so characteristic of the American brand.

Its 1.4-litre Fiat-sourced MultiAir2 turbocharged engine is paired with a six-speed autobox. It delivers 138bhp and 230Nm - adequate for the compact SUV, even if its propensity for whiney high revs and not-always-linear throttle response makes it seem like it is struggling at times.

Together with its relatively high seating position, it beats all other modern SUVs and crossovers in the area of idiosyncrasies. Most of the others are pretty homogeneous in the way they move, often coming across like big, bland hatchbacks.

For SUV fans, these models miss the point. For why would anyone want an offroader if it drove like a family car?

The Renegade feels unique and it is all the better for it. Its whiney drivetrain aside, it is a competent road warrior - offering a commanding and sturdy helm, and a cornering ability and surefootedness you would not expect of a tallish vehicle.

And even though the 1.4-litre offered is a front-wheel-drive, it is set up high enough for you to climb curbs with relative ease.

The Jeep has enough modern amenities to make those born well after 1941 happy too. These include a 12-volt outlet, a USB inlet, blindspot and cross path warnings, cruise control, and lane departure warning with lane-keeping. But strangely, it does not have automatic headlights.

It could also do with more storage space. In front, there is nowhere to put even parking coupons, except for the glovebox.

Unlike all previous Jeeps, the Renegade has a decent fuel consumption figure of 7.8 litres/100km. It may not be as polished and well-oiled as some of its peers, but it sure is a whole lot more interesting.