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EVERY journey starts with a small step and that would appear to be what Jeep are taking to re-establish a foothold here.

Some months back they introduced the Cherokee.

Now it is the turn of the smaller, compact SUV/Crossover, the Renegade.

I recently spent a morning driving versions of it off-road across sloping fields and forest tracks among the Wicklow hills, and on the road to Glendalough.

Jeep admit that they have a lot of catching up to do on the Irish market.

That’s why they are not making overly ambitious projections about sales for this new arrival, even in the compact SUV sector that is expanding so rapidly.

But they reckon with price and spec they’re giving it every chance.

It is an interesting piece of work, designed at once to attract those who like their SUV to have 4×4 ability and those happy with 4×2 who want the Jeep looks and name but will never get a tyre muddy.

Even with ordinary tyres, the 4×4 version took the smooth pasture inclines and a few severe mucky slopes in its stride. The 4×4 system redistributes torque to the wheel(s) that have the best traction.

But I’d say even more surprising was the 4×2 performance on the tarmac – good balance, nice feel to the steering and plenty of pep in the 1.6-litre diesel engine. I like their phrase: equally at home among the Wicklow Hills or Ballsbridge.

We found it roomy too; there is no spare wheel but it shouldn’t take much to sort one. There are 351 litres of boot space which extends to 1,297 with the rear seats folded.

They seem to have done an excellent job in keeping out noise because we noticed little from tyre, road or engine.

The Renegade is Jeep’s first foray into the small SUV segment and the first under the FIAT Chrysler Automobiles umbrella to be developed by Italian and American engineers. It also breaks new ground in being the first Jeep built in Europe and sold in the US.

Other segment ‘firsts’ include 9spd transmission (optional) and rear-axle disconnect (switches between two and four-wheel-drive).

The 1.6-litre diesel (120bhp, 120g/km) is the main driver but there is a 2-litre diesel (140bhp, 170bhp) as well as 1.4 and 1.6 petrols. There are 5spd, 6spd and 9spd transmissions.

And there are several more engines coming down the track between now and July.

The main rivals are the Skoda Yeti and the MINI Countryman.

There are four trim levels: Sport, Longitude, Limited and Trailhawk.

Standard equipment includes a 5ins Uconnect touchscreen with DAB radio and Bluetooth plus auxiliary and USB connectors, air con, electric parking brake and 16ins aluminium wheels.

Longitude adds integrated sat nav, cruise control, 17ins alloys; 4WD is an option.

Limited has 18ins alloys, dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, heated front seats 7ins colour instrument cluster, 6.5ins Uconnect touchscreen with voice-operated sat nav and 3D mapping, Bluetooth, rear privacy glass, rear parking sensors, silver finish on roof rails, door mirrors and front grille.

The Trailhawk is the best off-road as it has a Jeep Active Drive Low and Selec-Terrain system with Hill Descent Control and Rock Mode. Ride height is up 30mm and it gets special mud and snow tyres, better approach and departure angles, suspension and transmission skid plates etc. It is the only one with the 170hp 2-litre diesel and 9spd automatic transmission.

Next year they celebrate their 75th anniversary. There are several models coming down the line, including a mid-size SUV early in 2017, and a new Wrangler. Towards the end of 2017, you can also expect to see a new Grand Cherokee.

By then we should have a good idea of how far the first few steps from the Cherokee and Renegade have taken them on the journey.

For sheer looks it wins by some distance and mine was particularly well decked out.

Equipment includes Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS), 6-speaker audio system, 7ins display screen (rotary dial), cruise control, electronic 2-zone climate control, electric front seats and much more.

It is a car that is probably going to be overshadowed by its hybrid counterpart purely on price.

But visually and technically either version can match the established rivals. The 200t would do even more only for that one time-lag blemish. Get that right and they have something quite, quite special here.