2015 Jeep Renegade (© Perry Stern)Click to enlarge picture

2015 Jeep Renegade

Was that the headless horseman of the apocalypse that just rode by? This has to be one of the signs. Jeep is importing a crossover, the 2015 Jeep Renegade, built in Melfi Italy on a platform shared with the Fiat 500L. But if you can set that fact aside and imagine inhaling the same Lake Erie air new-car smell that a proper Toledo-born Jeep comes with, you might find something to like here. The little Renegade debuted this week at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show.

The interior and exterior styling whops you upside the head with its Willys ancestry, from its Wrangler-esque seven-slot grille and round headlamps, to its upright windshield, square tail lamps, and optional faux-removable black roof option (in fact, the optional My Sky removable roof panels provide much the same open-air feeling). Inside there are "clamp" motifs holding the infotainment system to the center stack, the vents to the dash, the speakers to the door panels, and the shifter to the console. The first is emblazoned with "Since 1941," and the others can all be anodized in accent colors. The floor of the center cubby features a topographical map of Moab. Mama, mia, that's a Yankee doodle dandy!

View Pictures:  2015 Jeep Renegade

This is a global product that will be sold in more than 100 countries with (a Jeep record) 16 different powertrain combinations. North Americans will choose between a 1.4-liter turbo MultiAir engine good for 160 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque or a balance-shafted flex-fuel 2.4-liter Tigershark MultiAir II mill good for 184 hp and 177 lb-ft. Both are built in Dundee Mich., which is practically a Toledo 'burb. Transmission choices include a six-speed manual or an AutoStick-controlled nine-speed automatic, with front-drive standard and a choice of two all-wheel-drive systems dubbed Jeep Active Drive and Active Drive Low. Both disconnect the rear axle when it's not needed to reduce fuel consumption. The latter, standard on the Trail Rated Trailhawk version comes standard with nine-speed and a lower 4.334:1 axle ratio (others get 3.734:1), which pencils out to a 20.4:1 first-gear crawl for hyper precise maneuvering on rocks.

Other off-road capability-enhancing features include Jeep Selec-Terrain, which optimizes throttle, transmission, all-wheel-drive and other system responses for Auto, snow, sport, sand/mud, and (Trailhawk only) rock modes. Hill Start Assist and speed-selectable Hill-Descent Control further enhance the little Jeep's off-road agility. Other Trailhawk features include a 0.8-inch higher ride height for 8.7 inches of ground clearance and unique fascias that provide an approach angle of 30.5 degrees, breakover of 25.7 degrees, and a departure angle of 34.3 degrees. It can also ford 19 inch-deep water. Wheel travel from the fully independent strut suspension, however, is not terribly Wrangler-ish at 6.7-inches front and 8.1-inches rear. We're convinced the Renegade will shame a Buick Encore or Mini Countryman All4 (the other B-class SUVs) offroad, but we remain slightly skeptical of its Rubicon capabilities.

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Some 70 percent of the unibody is high-strength steel (more than in any other Jeep), the hood and cross-car beam are aluminum, the rear suspension cradle is fully isolated, and the aforementioned struts feature segment-exclusive Koni frequency-selective damping that can tighten up handling while smoothing ride. The electric power-steering assist is fully integrated into the stability control system, so it can be used to fight crosswinds, road crown, torque steer, and more. To quell noise, the windshield features acoustic laminated glass and the triple-sealed doors are under flush with the body.

It's an undeniably fetching little Jeep, however, and the roster of standard and optional equipment is impressive: Forward Collision Warning Plus and LaneSense Departure Warning Plus (both of which warn, then act if the driver isn't paying attention), ParkSense rear assist and Rear Cross-Path detection (which will stop the car to prevent hitting an object), auto high-beams, trailer-sway control (2.4-liters can tow 2000 pounds), and Uconnect Access, which provides 9-1-1 assist, mobile hotspot, text-to-voice reading of incoming messages, mobile phone-app control of vehicle locking and starting.

The Renegade will go on sale in Europe this fall, with U.S. sales starting shortly after the first of the year. We eagerly await our first taste of the Renegade, and we'll let you know if it goes with ketchup or balsamic.

More coverage from the Geneva Motor Show