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Electronic switch gives this Jeep SUV better traction

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You maybe noticed this vehicle in the last Batman vs. Superman movie. An all-black Jeep Renegade bustled through the city, slipping in and out of traffic. For most people who follow cars, you might have figured out that Batman was driving a Jeep, and that the iconic brand is not exactly known — at least historically — for city driving. That’s why, when I tested a Jeep Renegade Altitude 4×4 recently, my goal was to avoid normal highway driving as much as possible. I took one to a road by my house that was covered in mud and gravel. I decided to test out a dial near the steering wheel that lets you adjust the traction for the current situation.

For most driving, you just leave the setting on Auto, which automatically senses the traction you need for the road. Interestingly, the Auto setting is mainly for fuel savings because it turns off power to the rear axle — you are not in 4×4 mode. Yet the car can tell if you start to slip within a fraction of a second and will enable 4×4 mode. This happened to me on a paved road once during my test when I drove over a wet road and hydroplaned slightly. I could feel the rear tires kick in — I doubt I was going to skid since there wasn’t enough water, but I did feel the grip of the vehicle. In a situation with more water, it would have kept the vehicle going straight.

This is how computer-controlled traction works. The vehicle knows when you move slightly askew on the road, and provides just the right amount of power to avoid slipping.

To test it further, I turned the dial to mud and headed out to that country road by my house, which is being repaved and is mostly just water, dirt, and gravel right now. Sure enough, when I punched the accelerator (this version of the Renegade has a turbocharged engine), the vehicle stayed straight, and you can feel the tires adjusting — they actually allow more slip. A Jeep rep told me the mud setting adjusts the chassis controls, differentials, and transmission ratios to make sure the vehicle doesn’t turn sideways like most vehicles would.

The dial also lets you set the traction for sand, snow, or rock. I didn’t get a chance to test those — no sandy areas, no snow, and no rocks around my house. I could see someone using those for a fun day of driving in an off-road situation, although the limited edition Altitude 4×4 costs $22,190 so it’s a little spendy to hit the rocks with on a mountain trail. (The normal Renegade without 4×4 costs $17,995 — not exactly cheap, but at least a bit more affordable.)

What is the use case for the 4×4? For most drivers, I’m guessing it is when the road you are driving on to work gets a little stressful — a blizzard comes up suddenly, or you realize the road is wet or covered in a layer of mud. That also happened to me during my test. I was driving on wet pavement and noticed a farmer had driven with a tractor on the road, and there was a lot of mud on the road. I decided to switch over the to the mud setting, and never had any issues driving (at lower speeds, mind you) over the muddy and wet road.

The Renegade Altitude 4×4 is a rugged vehicle with some great options for off-road driving. You might not want to use one in an actual off-road situation, but it does the job.

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