Nobody likes cute cars. Oh, sure — they’ll claim otherwise, taking brief delight in the appearance of a mint-green Fiat 500, quipping that you “just don’t see those very often.” And then they’ll disappear into the forest in their Ford Sasquatch or Subaru Megatron to be one with the redwoods, never to be seen again.
The Jeep Renegade is far from perfect, though it’s separated itself from so many other SUVs by being at least somewhat cute, mostly thanks to its big, round eyes that conveyed a happy, boundlessly adventurous demeanor. The facelifted Renegade for 2023, which has been unveiled for Brazil and will likely debut here in a matter of weeks, isn’t so optimistic. At best it looks unamused; at worst, pissed off. It’s making lots of judgments about you and your loved ones behind its furrowed brow, and it doesn’t care who knows.
This obviously isn’t a new trend for car design. I recall a LiveScience article from 2008 — People Love Angry Faced Cars — fronted by an image of an E60-generation BMW 5 Series, that dives into the phenomenon a bit. (On a side note, I miss the days when the passive-aggression of an E60 was considered obnoxious.) The site spoke to Truls Thorstensen, then head of business consulting firm EFS, about a study his company had conducted on the personality traits humans glean from automotive faces:
For this, Thorstensen enlisted his own group of experts that included Sonja Windhager, an anthropologist at the University of Vienna. They asked 20 males and 20 females to rate 38 passenger car models which came out between 2004 and 2006.
Study participants assessed cars based on a system known as geometric morphometrics (GM), which allowed the men and women to rate certain traits on a sliding scale (such as “infancy” to “adulthood”). The traits represented maturity, sex, attitudes, emotions, and personality — all things that people infer from human faces at a single glance.
Participants were also required to reveal if they saw the face of a person or animal in the car — or none at all — and whether they liked the vehicle. Thorstensen’s team was careful to restrict the pool of designs to passenger cars, so the imposing proportions of “big, hulking SUVs” wouldn’t taint the results.
Those results were entirely predictable:
People overwhelmingly preferred cars that rated highest on “power” traits.” High “power” cars like the BMW 5 Series tended to be lower or wider, and have slit-like or angled headlights with a wider air intake.
That explains the everlasting obsession with big grilles, then. The Renegade is merely following the trajectory many models do, progressively getting increasingly angrier each time it goes under the knife.
Looking at how the littlest Jeep started and how it’s going, I’m also reminded of a cultural phenomenon that’ll be familiar to anyone who’s a fan of Nintendo’s Kirby series. Kirby is a pink puffball that’s impossible to hate — he’s perfectly adorable. Yet the box art for every American release of a Kirby game always has the little dude looking positively jazzed to fuck up someone’s day.
Now I’ll admit that angry Kirby is still heart-meltingly cute — arguably even cuter than cheery Kirby, depending on the context. But much like how the pink guy is a welcome distraction from the latest triple-A sad dad simulator, it’s always been nice to see the doe-eyed Renegade on the road amid all the contempt. Even small SUVs look like they’re itching for a fight nowadays.
As for what else this facelift brings, the Renegade’s scornful eyes will be encircled with LED rings that function as both daytime running lights and turn signals, like with so many other new cars. The design changes around back are less profound, while the interior will benefit from a new digital instrument cluster, upgraded 8.4-inch touch screen with Uconnect 5 and steering wheel more in line with those on Jeep’s latest models, like the Grand Cherokee L.
New for Brazil is a turbocharged, 1.3-liter, 180-horsepower four-cylinder with a snappy name — T270. This is actually the same engine our Renegade has had for the last two years as the upgrade powertrain. Selecting it drives the price past $30K though, which is far too much for this thing. OK, maybe the listless expression is making a little more sense now.