There are two important things you need to know about the all-new Jeep Cherokee.
First, it really does look like that and, secondly, it’s not cheap. The top-of-the-range Trailhawk retails for R607 000, which is a great deal of money for what is essentially a mid-size SUV. For that kind of money you’d expect a premium product that can outclass all its rivals when the going gets tough, but more on that later…
Let’s get back to the topic everyone’s discussing at the moment: those looks.
Yes, it’s quite a departure from what we’re used to from Jeep. The previous-generation Cherokee was designed using only a ruler. This time round it almost seems as if the designers dropped an LSD tablet before putting pen to paper.
I like it. It’s a bit generic at the rear, but from the front it’s stunning. Some may not like the drastic departure, but there’s only so much you can do using a box as inspiration. The new design adds a dash of elegance that was missing on the previous car.
This elegant theme continues on the inside. The new Cherokee is a giant leap forward in this department, so much so that it’s now fairly close to class leading. The hard grey plastics are gone and it their place we found softer materials. The overall feel is also more robust. It feels like the kind of interior that’s going to last for a few years.
You also get a lot of toys to play with. The first model we drove, the 3,2-litre Limited petrol V6, comes as standard with everything one might need in this kind of car. The list of standard specification includes leather seats, electric everything and Jeep’s Uconnect infotainment system with every possible audio connection (Bluetooth, USB, etc.) and navigation.
More importantly, it’s very easy to understand and control. Within two minutes of slipping in behind the wheel we knew exactly how to connect a phone and how to operate the climate control. Even first time Jeep buyers wouldn’t take more than an hour to understand how every single system in the car works.
To test the abilities of the Limited, we drove it on one of the worst gravel roads I’ve ever come across. It was littered with potholes and slippery enough to use as a makeshift slip-and-slide. The Cherokee proved to be very, very good in this environment, with the AWD system kicking in milliseconds after even the slightest loss in grip is detected. It did a stellar job of soaking up the bumps, but I would have liked to see how far this particular model could be pushed off road. I have a sneaking suspicion that it might be able to cope with a lot more than a muddy back road.
Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to drive the 2,4-litre FWD Longitude. It was supposed to be part of our launch experience, but a few millimetres of rain the previous night made it impossible to drive these cars in the field Jeep had prepared for us. This had nothing to do with the car itself, as all of the other FWD mid-size SUVs would also have been useless in these conditions.
Jeep saved the absolute best model for last. It’s called the Trailhawk and it’s the only model in the line-up aimed at the hardcore off-road enthusiast. As such, it comes with a number of features not found on lesser Cherokee models.
The Trailhawk, for example, has both hills ascent and descent control. You also get low-range, chunkier all-terrain tyres and a locking rear differential. Our off-road excursion was fairly short, but it was easy to see that this particular model has a lot of potential. I can’t wait to get a test unit so we can see what it can really do.
The rest of the package is impressive as well. There are around 70 different safety systems to keep the driver and his/her passengers safe and a number of convenient storage spaces scattered around the cabin.
The Jeep designers also hid one or two “easter eggs” in the cabin, but I’m not going to spoil the surprise and tell you where they are. I can, however, tell you that these hidden features may be gimmicky, but they do put a smile on your face when you first spot them.
In my humble opinion the new Cherokee is a fantastic vehicle. It’s more premium and capable off the beaten track than all of its rivals, but, then again, its rivals are a lot cheaper.
Whether people will pay between R480 000 to R607 000 for a mid-size SUV remains to be seen, but one can make the argument that the Jeep is worth the extra layout, simply because it offers a customer so much more.
I hope we get a Trailhawk on test soon, because I seriously can’t wait to see what it can really do.
If you’re in the market for a mid-size SUV, do yourself a favour and go check this car out.
The price and styling may be a bitter pill to swallow for some, but you can’t deny the fact that, overall, it’s a very good package.