The new Jeep Cherokee proudly displays a ‘Since 1941’ motif on its steering wheel, and while the American 4x4 icon isn’t short of heritage, its UK offerings have never really cut it.
The new Cherokee is at last a huge step in the right direction, offering stand-out looks and strong equipment levels in a crowded class. Were it less dull to drive, it could be an outright winner, rather than an interesting also-ran.
The Cherokee is priced between £25,495 for the 138bhp diesel front-drive manual car, and £35,695 for the range-topping 168bhp automatic 4x4. That pitches it directly into one of the most hotly contested car segments, facing high-specification version of the Nissan Qashqai and X-Trail, Ford Kuga and Kia Sportage, plus premium offerings like the Audi Q3 and BMW 1 Series.
Our choice: Cherokee Limited 2.0-litre 170
Stung by criticism that its boxy offerings simply recycled old design cues, Jeep has really upped the ante for the new Cherokee’s looks. Most striking is the wraparound front grille and slim LED running lights, with the main headlights mounted in a separate cluster lower down.
With the grille surrounds picked out in chrome it’s an unashamedly brash design that’s matched around the car by boxy wheelarches and a very bluff tailgate.
It’s a real Marmite design, just as controversial in the metal as in pictures, but we applaud Jeep’s confidence for trying to stand out in such a crowded market.
It only takes a few minutes perched behind the wheel of the new Cherokee to realise this is a car aimed at being as comfortable as possible.
Jeep has made big boasts about this car moving away from agricultural handling to more road-biased manners, but it’s focused so heavily on a plush ride that can handle the worst British tarmac, the chassis is rather inert and disappointing. There’s lots of body roll and extremely light steering even at higher A-road speeds.
While the 2.0-litre diesel engine manages to cope well with the hefty 1900kg kerbweight, the general inertia of the car robs the driver of any fun or interaction. Certainly, the new Nissan Qashqai or Ford’s Kuga strikes a better balance between family-friendly ride quality and a modicum of composure in faster driving.
Special praise must go to the nine-speed automatic gearbox however, which is optional on the 138bhp model and standard with the 168bhp version (both variants share a 350Nm torque output). We’re often wary of gearboxes with eight or nine speeds for changing gear too often in the name of a meagre saving in consumption.
However, not only is the Jeep’s gearbox smoother and more predicate than Land Rover’s own nine-speeder, it also contributes to a claimed 16 per cent improvement in efficiency versus the old Cherokee.
Jeeps have generally had a poor showing in reliability surveys, but the latest cars feel much better put together and share engines with myriad cars across the Fiat group, so we’re expecting improvements in its Driver Power survey rank as the brand expands.
As far as safety is concerned, Jeep can be very proud of the Cherokee’s five-star NCAP showing.
Top-spec models feature a wealth of safety tech included lane-departure warning assistance, blind-spot monitoring, and even a system that’ll automatically apply the handbrake when reversing if an obstacle appears behind the car.
Considering there’s also a clear reversing camera view displayed through an impressive 8.4-inch touchscreen, manoeuvring the Cherokee should be a doddle, despite its gaping turning circle.
That boxy shape pays dividends inside the Cherokee, which feels spacious in either row of seating and has a 591-litre boot no matter whether you have the front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive version. Slide the rear row of seats forward, as in the new Nissan X-Trail, and that grows to a useful 714 litres, while flipping the backrests down altogether liberates up to 1267 litres.
Plus, an underfloor stowage bin offers 77 litres of hidden storage for valuables or delicate goods. The boot meanwhile can be electrically opened and closed if you spec one of the options packages, which groups convenience features like rain-sensing headlights and wipers.
Standard on entry-level Longitude models is a five-inch main touchscreen, while Longitude Plus and Limited models upgrade to an 8.4-inch display. It’s a colourful, crisp and intuitive system that could shame a few premium carmakers’ interfaces, and works well with the optional seven-inch TFT display in the instrument binnacle.
Ignore the thirsty V6 petrol Cherokee (as 86 per cent of British customers are expected to do) and the Cherokee’s 2.0-litre diesel engine makes a case for erasing Jeep’s gas-guzzler reputation.
Claimed consumption of between 48.7mpg and 53.3mpg is around par for the class, though of course the lighter, less friction-prone front-wheel drive model is the one to go for if running costs are the main worry. That car also has the lowest CO2 emissions of any Cherokee, at 139g/km. A 168bhp 4x4 version sits two tax bands (£50 dearer) higher.
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