The Jeep Cherokee is back for 2014, but it doesn’t arrive in the UK until May. In the meantime, Auto Express has taken an early test drive in a US-spec version to see if you should hold off putting down a deposit on that brand new Nissan Qashqai.

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• Jeep Cherokee review

First up, it’s worth mentioning that the UK engine choices haven’t been finalised, but there will definitely be a 2.0-litre diesel in the range. American buyers can pick from a 2.4-litre four-cylinder or a 3.2 V6 petrol – we’re driving the latter, which is confirmed for Europe and possibly for the UK.

With 267bhp on tap and a nine-speed auto box fitted as standard, it’s an impressive performer. It’s smooth and refined, barely audible at idle and not much louder under acceleration, and launches the Cherokee from 0-60mph in 6.6 seconds.

If the V6 does come to the UK, it won’t be a big-seller as most buyers will opt for the diesel. We only hope that it works as well as this engine does with the nine-speed auto – a 2.4-litre we tried occasionally refused to change up, and response seemed slower.

At least the diesel has more impressive economy. The V6 driven here manages a little over 25mpg, while the diesel should do more like 65mpg – especially the front-wheel-drive model.

Jeep also offers three different four-wheel-drive systems on the Cherokee. Active Lock 1 functions as front-wheel drive for most of the time but can become four-wheel drive when needed.

Active Lock 2 adds low-range ability, while range-topping Active Drive Lock has a locking rear diff for serious off-roading. Jeep says the latter makes the Cherokee the most capable off-roader in its class. However, it’s fair to say that most buyers will be keeping their car firmly on the Tarmac, and here it impresses, too. The slightly firm suspension feels reassuringly robust more than uncomfortable, while at speed barely any wind or road noise enters the cabin.

There’s also an eagerness to the steering that you don’t expect from a Jeep. The Grand Cherokee and Wrangler have always been a little cumbersome and slow to react, but the Cherokee can dart through sharp bends with agility. Some suspension and steering settings will be tweaked for Europe, but let’s hope things don’t change too much.

While the styling has found as many critics as it has admirers, trust us that the more you see it the more you’ll grow to like it. You can’t be divided on the interior, though, which is smart, hi-tech and relatively high quality.

All models get chunky switches and a soft-touch dash, but our Limited car also has a seven-inch colour instrument cluster and an 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment screen in the centre console. A rear-view camera and leather seats are standard-fit.

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