Jeep’s baby preps for NZ launch

The first Jeep not to hold full American citizenship might avoid direct confrontation with a like-sized local market favourite from Japan when it finally arrives, its distributor has hinted.


WHEN it comes, in what format and for how much is still being sorted, however among all the rivals for the impending Jeep Renegade already operating in New Zealand, one is being cited as a particular foe.

Fiat Chrysler New Zealand chief executive officer David Smitherman says it will be impossible not to recognise the Mazda CX-3, a Mazda2-spun crossover which won plenty of praise in the round of domestic motoring awards meted in the run-up to Christmas, as being a barometer for customer taste and expectation.

However, whether the Jeep prices to compete is not yet clear, though comment to Motoring Network suggests the incoming Fiat-built baby might not go exactly head-to-head.

“I guess our vehicle falls into that category so we are kind of forced to do that,” Smitherman said when quizzed about whether CX-3 was the main challenger. However, he added:  “ … though we don’t want to necessarily compete in price.”

That comment might leave impression that, as in Australia where the Renegade is already on sale, Jeep has priced above the Mitsubishi ASX and Ford EcoBoost and managed to sidestep direct matching against most CX-3 variants, which in our market span from $31,195 to $38,595 in front-drive form, and $36,695 to $42,595 in four-wheel-drive.

Instead, Renegade mainly prices against physically larger fare, with the Subaru XV and Volkswagen’s Tiguan being specifically cited. The Japanese model here kicks off at $37,990 and tops at just $10 under $45k while the VW, which presumably is about to enter runout with a new model due mid-year, spans from $39,990 to $52,990.

A common pricing policy might seem logical, given that FCNZ is ostensibly a sub-office of Fiat Chrysler Australia, yet with FCA just last week having determined to drop $A2500 from its model prices to rebate those early adopters who paid the original stickers, perhaps it’s understandable why the NZ prices have yet to be sorted.

The Australian range’s prices, converted to New Zealand money, run from just under $29,000 to $42,000, but it is often not a good gauge to simply apply that formula as a method of accurately gauging potential NZ market stickers. It is becoming increasingly common for NZ market prices to carry a premium over our neighbour’s after straight conversion.

In respect to pricing and positioning, Smitherman offered that sourcing was a factor.

“The vehicle does come to us from Italy as well so there’s different pricing mechanisms.”

He also added that FCNZ was “in a beneficial situation in that we can learn from Australia’s experience.”

Being built in Italy and drawn off the same Turin-produced platform that underpins the Fiat 500X crossover that is also potentially set to come to New Zealand gives Renegade special status as being the first non-American Jeep to be sold here.

It will be a handy addition for FCNZ. The small SUV sector is a sales hot spot. Also Jeep, despite its brand status and despite sports utilities now grabbing the biggest single slice of new car sales, appears to have had a quiet 2015. The full picture will likely become known when NZTA, the Goverrnment agency that collates all industry registrations data, releases detailed analysis of last year's market. This might happen next week.

Smitherman says although some examples of the Renegade will be arriving shortly, they’re only here for a dealer presentation planned for next month. Whether media and customers get to see them is not clear.

He says his Auckland office is still working out when it can launch Renegade. The best he could offer today was that the intention was to have it in the market within the first quarter of 2016.

“We haven’t finalised our plans. We’re still taking with the people at FCA about it. We have some vehicles on the water but I have not yet confirmed a launch date.

“I would hope it will be here in quarter one but I’m a bit reluctant about going too public with it at the moment because we are still finalising our plans. We’re just working through it at the moment.”

Asked if supply was an issue, Smitherman said that the full range was not yet available across the Tasman.

However, he also added that it was unlikely that this market would see as many variants as those offered to our neighbours, where the lineup covers Sport, Longitude, Limited and Trailhawk models, some in front-drive and others in four-wheel-drive, with manual as well as automatic transmission choices.

“Probably we won’t take the full range. There’s quite a lineup there … we will keep it fairly simply. We’ll probably look at the Trailhawk, the Limited and potentially the Sport, but we wouldn’t take a manual.

“It’s a great little vehicle but we’re just trying to be sensible about it. But at the moment we’re just trying to work out our plans. We might know more in the next couple of weeks.”

In Jeep-speak, the Fiat platform has been renamed as the ‘US small and wide 4x4’ platform. It runs MacPherson struts front and rear and disc brakes at all four corners. 

With manuals out of the picture, it possible the entry Renegade here might be a Sport with Fiat’s MultiAir 2 1.4-litre, 103kW/230Nm turbocharged petrol motor, backed by a six-speed dual dry-clutch transmission. This model returns 5.9 litres per 100km, has idle stop start, and can tow 1200kg.

It has cloth seats, a Uconnect 5.0-inch screen infotainment arrangement with Bluetooth and a rearview camera, plus seven airbags, a polyurethane steering wheel with cruise and stereo controls, air-conditioning, 40/40/20 split rear seats with a fold-flat front passenger seat and 16-inch alloys.

Next in line across the water is the four-wheel-drive Longitude – known as the Latitude in the US – which is also powered by the 1.4-litre turbo and six-speed DDCT combo.

It’s still trimmed in cloth, and it also uses Jeep’s Uconnect 5.0-inch touchscreen infotainment unit, but with six speakers instead of four. It has a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, rear parking sensors, automatic headlights and wipers, two-way powered driver’s seat and 17-inch alloys.

The Limited is also specced with the same powertrain and drivetrain layout. A 7.0-inch colour TFT dash screen and a Beats-branded nine-speaker array complement its larger 6.5-inch satellite navigation-equipped Uconnect screen.

Bi-Xenon headlights, heated eight-way powered driver and passenger pews, a heated steering wheel, leather trim, centre console bin, tinted glass and 18-inch rims round it off.

The flagship Trailhawk, meanwhile, has the most powerful engine in the line-up, the naturally aspirated 2.4-litre MultiAir 2 Tigershark from the Cherokee. In Renegade it makes 129kW and 230Nm. It is in marriage with the range’s only nine-speed automatic transmission and provides an optimum economy of 6.2L/100km.

At 1550kg, it weighs almost 250kg more than the lesser models, but is also the most highly specced, with Trailhawk-specific leather interior, badging and bonnet decalling, large Uconnect screen, off-road specific 17-inch rims and Bridgestone all-terrain tyres.

The Trailhawk also provides a comprehensive suite of off-road technology, including Jeep’s Active Drive Low gearset which includes a 20:1 crawler gear, 20mm higher ride height, Koni adaptive dampers, a five-modeSelec-Terrain switch, redesigned front and rear bumpers for better departure and approach ability, underbody bash plates and hill descent control.

The transmission also sports a disconnecting rear axle and power take-off unit (PTU) arrangement, allowing the Trailhawk to run on-road in front drive.

Jeep says the Trailhawk has a wading depth of 480mm and ground clearance of 211mm, while its four-wheel independent suspension is said to be capable of 205mm of wheel articulation. Ironically, despite being the range toughie, its towing capacity is reduced to 907kg (braked).

Seven airbags, a rearview camera and rollover mitigation are standard safety items across the range, while augmented forward collision and lane departure warning, blind-spot monitors and rear cross-path detection are available as options.

All Australia-market Renegades can be optioned with Jeep’s dual-panel removable roof, known as the My-Sky roof, which can be either slid back or taken completely off and stowed.