Oppo Review: Meepster the Jeepster

Less than one week in

About a month ago, my wife and I traded our dependable Kia Soul - that suddenly had a slipping clutch at 62,000 miles, and was due for an expensive maintenance service - to buy a car we’ve named Meepster the Jeepster. It was a leftover 2015 model, and the deal was fair if not excellent. Plus we were facing $2,000 in repairs on a car I had already crashed and beaten to hell for the past three years. And we still had two years left to pay for it.

We’d had our eye on a newer car a while - constantly shopping but not biting the bullet, pulling the trigger, or some third analogy for “committing to a purchase,” until the end of March.

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FULL DISCLOSURE: Jeep so wanted us to buy this car that they made one of the most irritating goddamned ad campaigns since Old Navy’s “Performance Fleece” commercials in the late 90s. Torch suitably lambasted them about it a year ago.

I get that their “Target Market™” is probably the segment comprised of mid-late 20s suburban adventurers. These are the kinds of people who wear North Face vests in the summer, and use words like “UrbExing,” when they mean, “Trespassing in dangerous abandoned buildings while carrying an expensive camera I barely know how to use.” These people like shitty music like X Ambassadors, Lumineers, and whatever else comes up when they plug Mumford and Sons into Spotify.

The truth is that many of the people I’ve seen driving Renegades are either 30-40something adults or older women who want something “Stylish,” with good gas mileage that’s easy to step in and out of. In that way, it’s just like the Kia Soul we traded for it.

Exterior: 9/10

It’s really a good looking little car. It’s got good proportions, a nice two-box shape, and that neato Jeep face. It’s also got a bunch of those little design touches that have been posted over and over and over.

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Seriously, though, the vehicle is pleasing to the eye. The flared fenders, chin spoiler, and plastic body cladding give it an agressive, sporty look to me. It looks a bit bigger than it is, too.

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The only styling gripe I have is with the wheels. The steelies are all-black. I’ve posted before about how black wheels make the car look like there’s a huge void under the wheel well. This is exaggerated by the black plastic cladding on the lower parts of the body. I foresee white powder coating in the future. Also, it could use a more aggressive-looking tire. Perhaps an A/T touring tire like a Long Trail T/A would look really good. Plus the outlined white letters set it off a bit:

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The Trailhawk in Anvil blue is probably the best-looking Renegade there is. It’s purty. But it was also $7,500 more.

Photo taken from The Truth About Cars
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Interior: 7/10

29 mpg displayed; 27.5 observed. Not bad
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The front seat is roomy, upright, and even despite the huge A-pillar, there’s a lot of good visibility. Adjust the mirrors properly and the blind spots are mitigated to a decent degree. Headroom is excellent, especially with the MySky roof. It adds another 2 inches of space above my fat melon.

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Seats are supportive and firm, although not as firm as a Honda or Toyota. Instruments are big and easy to read. The Uconnect is easy to use and it works well. One thing I really like is the fact that Jeep uses knobs on the stereo and HVAC controls - at least on this trim level. To tune the radio or adjust air conditioning, one need only reach over and turn a knob. The steering wheel controls take some getting used to - with the radio controls are on the back of the wheel - but in all it’s a pretty good, ergonomically sound package.

It could use more cubby holes though. In the Kia, I just put my phone in the cubby above the stereo and drove. Now I use that phone mount.

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One minor gripe about the driver’s seat is that the pedal box is kind of small. My feet are a size 12D so I sometimes clip the dead pedal when I shift. Perhaps that’s because I’m used to the wider footwell in the Kia I had before.

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Back seat room is decent for kids, but with the driver’s seat in a position where I can drive comfortably, legroom is sorely lacking. I have two choices:

1. Put my feet in the passenger footwell
2. Put my feet under the seat and splay my legs in a position that makes it look like I got stuck halfway while doing the “Butterfly” dance from the 90s.

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A 90s R&B girl group doing their contractually obligated dance moves

Rear visibility is lacking. However, The side mirrors are nice and big and there’s a backup camera. That helps quite a bit.

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That’s my driveway.

Engine: 7/10

We’ve got the 1.4t with 160hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. As much as I hate the cliché, it’s true that it’s got “punchy” mid-range torque. However, putting such a big turbo on a little car leaves the bottom end lacking. There’s some turbo lag, but not like the early 1.4 Darts that car magazines hated. The lack of torque took some getting used to, and that’s coming from a 1.6 Kia Soul with 123 lb ft. I’ve stalled this car a few times already and I’ve driven a stickshift since I was about 18. That’s 20 years of experience. Getting going from a stop requires a little clutch slippage or a decent amount of throttle, but when the turbo spools up and gets into the boost, it has the Jeepster moving pretty well. More importantly, that grunt is available from just off idle the whole way to about 5000 rpm. Above that, as Damon said, it gets a bit wheezy. Short-shifting at 55oo RPM - 1000 before the redline - actually nets quicker acceleration according to my butt-dyno.

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Combine that with the 28ish mpg average observed fuel economy just as the car’s getting broken in, and I’d call this engine “enough.” It’s good at what it does and offers some fun if you push it through.

Transmission: 7/10

The 6-speed manual in this Jeep has well-spaced gears and it’s matched well to the engine. The ratios are close enough to keep the engine in its powerband and tall enough to deliver decent gas mileage. The shifter has short, firm throws and gears engage with a satisfying “thunk,” while the big plastic “brushed metal-look” ball on the shifter feels just right in my hand.

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The major complaint I have about this gearbox is the clutch. It’s a hydraulic unit with a vague takeup point and a very light action - lighter even than the Soul. It takes a while to get used to. With a firmer clutch it’d easily be a 9. FCUSA needs to take a lesson from Mini or Honda when designing front-wheel-drive transmissions.

Handling and Ride: 6/10

This is really a mixed bag. The ride is what I’d call “Euro-Firm,” and it really shows its Fiat origins. Shocks are stiff but well damped. You’ll feel every bump in the road but it’s not jarring like an economy car.

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Handling is planted and there’s surprisingly little body roll for a front-wheel drive cute-ute. It’s not as confident as the Juke, but it’s also sitting on 215/65/16 Continental CrossContact all-seasons. The grip is adequate for most daily driving needs but can be a little squirrely in wet weather.

Here’s an example of how the engine, transmission, and chassis work to make things a bit hairy:

My wife and I share one car, and I typically drop her off at work in the morning. Leaving her office I have two choices to get to my shop. There’s the blind hill or the blind curve, both leading onto a 55-mph major road, with no merge lane, where I have to make a U-turn to get where I need to go.

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Anyone in Charlotte knows that W.T. Harris Blvd. can be a real mess, but this spot in particular:

The Blind HIll
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The Blind Curve

is a bastard.

In dry weather the grip is sufficient - even though when it gets into heavy boost between 4-5000 RPM it has some noticeable torque steer. In wet weather, though, the Contis struggle for grip and the traction control goes crazy. The combination of the all-seasons and the torque from the turbocharged 1.4 makes that full-throttle run a challenge. I’m sure if we had spent the extra $2 grand, and found one, the 4wd Renegade would be far better in this situation.

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Brakes: 7/10

4-wheel discs all around, and vented up front, leads to a decent stopping distance while the ABS and traction control keep things nice and straight, even in panic stops on wet pavement.

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Audio: 8/10

First, the engine makes fun noises. While the exhaust and intake are considerably muffled compared to its 500 Abarth cousin, the loud turbo whistle and blowoff valve remain. Shift gears in a tunnel or overpass and you’ll hear the “weeeeeeeee-PSH” that we all remember from Gran Turismo 2. While backing up a very steep driveway that required feathering of the throttle and clutch, it popped and whistled like a circus calliope.

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The sound system in the car, although the base model, is still very good. Bass response is decent, considering the six-speaker system with 6x9" woofers in the hatch. It has all of the features you’d expect, including Bluetooth, a touchscreen, and actual freaking knobs. You hear that Honda, Toyota, Ford, and GM? KNOBS!

One thing I will say, though, is that the automatic speed-volume control is a bit enthusiastic. Nail the gas and the stereo blasts before road and wind noise has a chance to catch up. The SiriusXM is cool but I’m not going to pay for it once the preview is done. The car already has bluetooth.

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Utility: 10/10

I’m not going to say much. I’ll just post some pictures:

Trash Day is far easier when the roofs are off.
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For the record, that’s 20 bags of soil and 15 bags of mulch in the vehicle. My mother in law had agreed to help a friend with a Lowe’s run because that friend only has a Kia Spectra. Mother-in-law got sick and passed the job onto us with the condition that we were able to use the pickup truck. When I went to get the truck, it was gone, so we had to use the Jeep.

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It has far beyond the capacity my wife and I need. Plus the doors open wide, the hatch opening is as wide as the space inside it, and the front seat folds nearly flat.

Toys: 9/10

MySky is a removable roof system that’s also available as a power sunroof in the upper trim levels. It’s made by Webasto, the company that makes about 1/3 of factory sunroofs and the only major competitor for Signature Sunroofs, the sunroof division of the company where I work. Webasto also had to recall a bunch of their aftermarket roofs for glass delamination that would cause the sunroof to fly right out of the vehicle at highway speeds. The recall is ongoing, but otherwise they make a good product. Anyway, it’s b

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asically two sunroof frames with a pair of fiberglass roof panels:

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You use a key that looks like a “Sarge” to unlock the roof latches, and it’s easy to take apart.

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When it’s removed there’s some wind buffeting but that’s to be expected. Crack the door windows and it’s gone. It takes about 5 minutes to remove the panels and put them in the provided carry bag, so it’s not as convenient as a convertible when it comes to open-roof driving. However, it also lacks some of the disadvantages of a traditional open-roof Jeep. With the roof on, it’s quieter than a stock hardtop Wrangler. With the roof off and windows open, it feels light and airy inside.

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The UConnect is easy to use, as has been stated before, and connecting a phone or other device to it is really simple. Touchscreen buttons are really big and can be found with just a glance. The . The only thing wonky is its auto-dim feature. It’s a bit too sensitive and looks like the radio and HVAC controls are flashing in twilight or early morning with big shadows and lots of sunlight.

Value: 8/10

Sticker price on this car, with destination and all, was $22,400. We were out the door for $19,300 after taxes, tag, and fees. Add to that the $3500 we were upside down on the Kia (after a crash that did $5500 in damage to the car, we only got $4500 for it.) and the $1700 service contract, we financed around $24,000 with no cash down.

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FCA also recommends premium gas with the 1.4T but it still runs OK on regular. The computers that run the MultiAir system seem to be doing their job. Even so, an extra $5-7 per fill up won’t kill me.

Now, before you jump on me about the service deal, it’s about peace of mind. I’d say that $1700 service contract is worth it for an unproven model in its first year for a brand with a poor reputation for quality. Zero deductible repairs, rental vehicle, and pre-paid oil changes with expensive cartridge filters and 5w-40 synthetic oil every 5,000 miles, and proprietary spark plugs every 30k, and the MultiAir system that may as well be magic, leads me to feel OK about spending the extra money.

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OVERALL: 78/100

Keep in mind that this review is totally subjective, and that I’m still in the honeymoon phase with this car. I plan on a long-term review in about 11 months, when the car has about 20,000 miles. Thanks for reading and keep the pedal down.

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