Jeep will enter a new market segment with a small, Fiat-derived B-class model – and yes, it is trail-rated.

Dubbed the Renegade, a name dusted off from a former Wrangler trim package and a 2008 concept vehicle, the new small CUV is an addition to the Jeep line and will slot below the Patriot and Compass in the brand’s U.S. stable.

Debuting at the Geneva auto show later today, the ’15 Renegade shares its Small-Wide platform with the Fiat 500L, though Chrysler executives say the architecture has been significantly updated for the new Jeep.

It will be built at Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s assembly plant in Melfi, Italy. There will be no Fiat version of the vehicle.

Production, which will include right-hand-drive models, begins at the end of the second quarter, and the Renegade will launch in Europe in the third quarter. Rollout in the U.S. will follow quickly, probably in late December.

There’s more than a hint of Wrangler and Patriot in the design of the Renegade, which features classic Jeep lines, not the more modernized styling of the new Cherokee released late last year.

Mark Allen, head of the Jeep design studio, notes the strong Wrangler influence in the exterior, with its 7-slot grille and round headlamps, adding there is “enough Wrangler DNA that it could affect Wrangler (demand) down the road.”

It also could signal Jeep’s direction on the future of the bigger Compass/Patriot models. Chrysler has said it plans to offer only one of the two models in the line’s next-generation. With the Renegade’s more Patriot-like design, it could mean Jeep will stick with the less traditional Compass cute-ute, with updated design cues that follow the Cherokee more closely.

B-CUV Big Opportunity for Jeep

FCA executives see a big opportunity with the Renegade, particularly outside the U.S., where the automaker plans to make a bigger push with the Jeep brand.

Jeep CEO Mike Manley notes B-segment CUV sales already total 2.7 million units annually worldwide, including 1.1 million each in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region and about 250,000 units in the U.S. And Chrysler expects demand to grow as buyers move out of small hatchbacks and sedans and into CUVs for the greater utility offered.

“This is a very important segment to us,” Manley notes during a backgrounder at Chrysler’s Auburn Hills, MI, headquarters ahead of the model’s Geneva debut. “We’re a niche player in Europe. This is giving us a vehicle that is not just highly competitive in Europe, but plays in a 1.1 million-unit segment in Europe.”

The Renegade is expected to do battle with the Nissan Juke, Mini Clubman, Kia Soul and Ford EcoSport, but the small CUV also should have “more reach” in the market, even beyond its segment, executives say.

In the U.S., Manley says, the Renegade will be priced competitively to draw people out of B-class hatchbacks and sedans. “They will get great ride and handling, but also space and utility,” he says, adding the model has “every chance to be the top seller” for the brand worldwide.

The Renegade will be offered with a broad lineup of powertrains, featuring four MultiAir gasoline engines, four diesels and two manual transmissions, plus a dual-clutch gearbox and conventional automatic.

Factor in a choice of 2-wheel-drive or one of two 4-wheel-drive systems and the new model can be had with 16 different powertrain combinations, the most of any Jeep.

The lineup includes a 138-hp 1.4L MultiAir with 2WD and either 6-speed manual or 6-speed DCT for Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia-Pacific. It gets stop/start technology as well.

North American buyers will be offered a 160-hp turbocharged version of the 1.4L, mated to the 6-speed manual and available in either 2WD or 4WD. The turbo engine will be sold in the other regions, as well, but boosted to 168 hp and with stop/start technology and a 9-speed automatic transmission.

All markets will offer the 2.4L MultiAir Tigershark engine rated at 184 hp. It mates with the 9-speed automatic and is available with or without 4WD.

The 108-hp 1.6L E.torQ diesel will be sold everywhere but North America. It comes only with 2WD and a 5-speed manual transmission and includes stop/start.

European buyers also can opt for the more powerful 1.6L MultiJet II diesel with stop/start, rated at 118 hp. Only 2WD and a 6-speed manual will be available with the engine.

Finally, a 2.0L MultiJet II diesel will be sold in European and Asia-Pacific markets, available in either 138- or 168-hp versions and combined with either the 9-speed automatic or 6-speed manual.

Manley says a diesel doesn’t make economic sense in the U.S. for a vehicle the size of the Renegade, noting the gain in fuel economy isn’t enough to justify the cost in an environment of relatively low fuel prices. “You have to be a diesel-head to really want it,” he says.

The Renegade lineup includes the base Latitude model, top-of-the-line Limited and the Trail Rated TrailHawk that gets Jeep’s Selec-Terrain 4WD system with “Rock” mode, increased ride height (an added 0.8 ins. [20 mm]), skid plates, front and rear tow hooks, fullsize spare and a unique, more sharply angled fascia to ease off-roading.

All Renegades feature electric power steering, and the new CUV is the first Jeep to utilize a Koni frequency selective-damping front strut and rear shock-absorber system the automaker says improves road-holding and handling characteristics by automatically filtering out high-frequency inputs from uneven road surfaces.

To cut weight, the Renegade goes with aluminum for its hood, front crossbeam and rear crash box.

The interior presents a youthful appearance, with its stylistic center vent, sport accents and splashes of color. And additional treatments could be in the cards, hints Klaus Busse, head of interior design for Chrysler.

There are a lot of things to play with in this vehicle segment, he says. “This is just the beginning.”

Amenities include a heated steering wheel and Chrysler’s U-connect telematics package, featuring Wi-Fi hotspot capability.

dzoia@wardsauto.com