What is it? All-new version of tough compact SUV.
Key features: New look and tech including nine-speed auto transmission.
Our view: The most impressive version of the Jeep Cherokee for several years.
The launch of the fifth-generation Jeep Cherokee marks the return of a model not seen in the UK for some years, a victim of parent company Chrysler’s fight to survive. Now that Chrysler is safe in the hands of Fiat, the Cherokee is back in an all-new form heavily influenced by Italian input.
There are nods to the Cherokee line, most notably the bold, seven slot grille and the signature trapezoidal shape of the wheel arches, but overall in looks this Cherokee is an antidote to somewhat bland predecessors.
The styling is pitched to place the Cherokee firmly in the modern crossover market – it’s certainly not as rugged as previous versions and the visual treatment divides opinions.
Perhaps more controversial is the mechanical package, which also appears to be less rugged. For many, the Jeep is the original off-roader with capabilities only matched by the Land Rover, but the new Cherokee is built on a platform also the basis of the Alfa Romeo Guilietta, and uses Fiat diesel engines.
Never before has a Cherokee engine been mounted transversely and serious off-roaders will also be put off by the front-wheel-drive version that indicates the brand’s targeting of the growing crossover market.
However – in all-wheel-drive form with the ‘Active Drive 1’ driver aid the Cherokee is pretty capable once the tarmac ends, certainly to a degree that will satisfy the vast majority of off-road enthusiasts. For the extreme minority there is a more sophisticated Active Ride 2, but at the time of our test this had not reached the UK.
Yet while Active Drive 1 lacks certain features, such as a low-ratio transfer mode, it copes with most challenges. This was demonstrated impressively on the launch event by placing each vehicle on a frame which simulated water or ice by putting rollers under three of the four wheels. As they spun madly, torque was immediately transferred to the one wheel with grip, that hauled the car off the frame…
Current engine choice stretches across two versions of the 2-litre Multijet diesel. In future months there will be a 3.2-litre V6 petrol engine option, but only on a Trailhawk version of the Jeep Cherokee available on special order – and the company does not expect many orders…
The 140hp diesel comes with a six-speed manual gearbox and front or four-wheel drive transmission – the former offering plus 50mpg fuel economy and emissions under 140g/km. The 170hp version is all-wheel-drive only and matched to either the manual or a nine-speed auto gearbox which Jeep says is the first in the mid-size SUV segment – though Land Rover might disagree and point in the direction of its Evoque.
This gearbox is highly refined and suits the generally more assured characteristics of the larger engine. And other features, such as the seamless disconnection of the rear axle when the 4×4 transmission is not required, help make the new Cherokee the best riding of the entire line, perfect for today’s crossover market in which it will mostly sell. It smothers bumps and changes direction easily while staying upright, though it is still closer to its old-style 4×4 roots than the road manners of certain rivals.
The complete redesign has extended to the interior – it is all new, with much higher quality of fit and finish, and with such technology as a driver information screen dubbed a Thin-Film Transistor. This shows such details as speed, fuel consumption or navigation instructions – in mono or colour depending on model.
Even the centre console touchscreens vary according to trim level – five inches on the entry-level Longitude models but on the Longitude+ and Limited extended to 8.4 inches, according to Jeep the largest in the mid-size SUV category.
All are part of a ‘Uconnect’ system that allows the driver to control the audio, climate controls, heated and ventilated seats and much more through large buttons. Bluetooth connectivity, navigation, music and audio streaming are all included.
Overall this is the most impressive version of the Jeep Cherokee for several years. While it has clearly tilted much more in the direction of road-only users, it retains enough capability for all but the most extreme off-roaders. In the road market, however, it is now up against some very serious competition…
Jeep Cherokee – key specifications
Model tested: Jeep Cherokee.
On sale: June 2014
Range price: £25,495 – £35,695
Insurance group: 26E-28E
Engines: 2.0 diesel x 2
Power (hp): 140, 170
Torque (lb/ft): 258, 258
0-62mph (sec): 10.9 (12.0), 10.3
Top speed (mph): 116 (117), 119
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 53.3 (50.4), 48.7
CO2 emissions (g/km): 139 (147), 154
Key rivals: Ford Kuga, Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda CR-V
Test Date: June 2014
(Figures in brackets 140hp engine with 4WD Active Drive)