After a long wait, the new Jeep Cherokee has finally arrived in SA. You might think it’s ugly, but underneath that contentious body beats the heart of a true Jeep
When it comes to the styling of the new Jeep Cherokee, there seem to be two different opinions out there. There are those who think it’s ugly, and then there are those who think it’s hideous.
In our opinion, it’s neither. While we agree that it’s controversial, the Cherokee is far from ugly. Let’s move closer to the middle ground and call it distinctive. It certainly won’t be mistaken for any other SUV on the road.
To focus on the exterior would be a disservice to the Jeep brand. After all, it’s the brand that gave birth to the SUV, so whenever a new one comes along, it’s always a special occasion.
The new Cherokee is no different. It almost feels as though we’ve been waiting for it much longer than we actually have, but that’s because the previous model just wasn’t as good as something wearing a Jeep badge should have been.
This new Cherokee has everything to prove and just as much to lose.
The first time a Cherokee SUV was introduced, it was basically competing in a segment of one. These days it’s facing off against 15 competitors, any one of which makes a compelling case for itself. Couple that to the fact that brand loyalty is almost non-existent these days and you have a car that could fail drastically if only one element isn’t as good as it should be. No pressure, then.
For now, let’s get the styling issue over and done with. This is obviously a drastic departure for Jeep, but that doesn’t mean the new Cherokee doesn’t have one or two reminders of generations past. The wheel arches are typically squared off and the front end is still dominated by a massive seven-slot grille.
It’s very much a Jeep, but in appearance it’s unlike any Jeep we’ve seen before.
Features and equipment ****
The subject of this road test is the mid-range 3,2-litre V6 Limited AWD. The interior and standard features certainly go a long way in justifying the heady retail price of R564 000.
First, there’s the look and feel of the interior. The shapes of the dashboard and centre console serve as a tribute to the original Willy’s Jeep, which is a fun fact, but nothing more. It’s the quality of the materials and the feel of the important touch points that really impress. Jeep had a reputation for shoddy interiors for a while, but we’re happy to report that this is now a thing of the past. The Grand Cherokee started changing perceptions, but it’s the Cherokee that will inevitably convince the consumer that Jeep is, once again, building quality products.
In Limited guise the Cherokee comes with a staggering amount of standard equipment, including automatic headlights and rain sensing wipers, Nappa leather trimmed “power seats” with heating function and eight way adjustment for the driver, a leather wrapped shift knob, a seven-inch fully reconfigurable instrument cluster colour display and Jeep’s own Uconnect media centre.
It’s a very impressive unit, not only because it comes with every possible infotainment application one could want, but also because it’s so easy to understand and use. (Navigation is standard fitment across the range.)
The screen is large enough to permanently house a main function bar at the bottom, which makes life that much easier. It also has a large processor, which means there’s no significant time gap between the moment you press the touch screen and the desired menu popping up.
As it’s meant to be a family vehicle, no cost was spared on safety. The Limited comes as standard with seven airbags, ESC, rollover mitigation and ABS with off-road calibration. There’s also a host of more advanced standard or optional features, depending on the model you choose. These include Forward Collision Warning with crash mitigation, parallel and perpendicular park assist, which reverses the car into a parking for you, adaptive cruise control, lane sense monitoring, blind spot monitoring and rear cross path detection, which warns you of oncoming traffic when you are reversing out of a parking space. These active and passive safety systems have helped the Cherokee to achieve a class-leading overall score of 83/100 in the Euro NCAP test.
All things considered, the driver and his/her passengers are well catered for in the new Cherokee.
Jeep is making a big fuss about the Cherokee’s all-new “premium” interior, and with good reason. Compared to the previous generation, this new model has taken a giant leap forward thanks to refined materials and clever storage spaces.
Three interior trim choices are available; all inspired by various locations the design team visited in search of inspiration. These included Morocco, the Grand Canyon in the US and Mount Vesuvius in Italy. It sounds like an excuse to go on holiday at the company’s expense, but the end result is plain to see.
The inside of the new Cherokee is extremely tasteful. There is space for five SA-sized individuals and more than enough room in the boot for their luggage. The seats are deeply comfortable and the heating function makes them particularly cosy on a cold winter’s morning.
The rear seats can be folded down in a 60/40 split, which is always a helpful feature on those odd occasions when one needs to transport something large. The front passenger seat can be folded flat if even more space is needed.
A few storage spaces are scattered around the cabin. Any person with a family will know how useful these small compartments can be. There’s one on top of the centre console for smaller items and a hidden space beneath the passenger seat to keep valuable items out of sight and out of the minds of dastardly smash and grab thieves.
All of this pales in comparison with the on-road refinement. The Cherokee has an independent suspension set-up front and rear, which results in a comfortable driving experience on tarred surfaces. Couple that to noise and vibration levels that have been drastically reduced compared to its predecessor, and you have a car that as comfortable and cosseting as can be.
The 3,2-litre V6 petrol model we tested is currently the most powerful engine available in the new Cherokee. It delivers a peak output of 200kW and a torque figure of 315Nm.
It does a decent job of getting the Cherokee up to speed and does so with a rather nice soundtrack. Jeep claims the 0 to 100km/h run is done and dusted in 8,1 seconds, but it feels at least a second faster, thanks to the sound of that meaty V6 when you’re working it hard. This impressive engine also enables the Cherokee to tow anything weighing up to 2200kg.
Naturally, there’s a downside to all this power and you can probably guess what that is.
To counter the fuel-sipping nature of the V6, Jeep has mated it to an advanced nine-speed automatic transmission. Jeep claims this new transmission’s gear ratios afford the right responses at the right time, which means it’s aggressive when it needs to be and frugal when it isn’t.
That part of the equation works just fine. The gearbox has a way of responding just how you want it to and the shifts are as smooth as a block of butter rolling down a hill of Vaseline.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the result with regard to fuel consumption. Jeep claims a combined figure of 9,5 l/100km, but we added another 10 litres to that figure. It has to be said that we drove hard and spent only a few kilometres on the highway. The test vehicle had only a few thousand kilometres on the clock, so we’re quite sure the fuel consumption will drop at some point. We reckon that, if driven carefully, it should be somewhere closer to the 12 l/100km mark.
There is a 2,4-litre four-cylinder petrol available as well, but only in front-wheel drive format. Jeep is adamant that most people go for petrol in this segment, but we can’t help but think that the inclusion of a turbodiesel derivative would open up the Cherokee to a whole new, more frugal minded enthusiast.
As previously mentioned, the new Cherokee is very much at home on tar. This new model is far closer to the Grand Cherokee than the Wrangler in the way it handles the bends.
Once again we have technology to thank for its prowess in this department. The Cherokee has Jeep’s Selec-Terrain traction control system, which is operated via a dial next to the gear lever.
On Limited models the system has four modes: Auto, Snow, Sport and Sand/Mud. This system adapts up to 12 systems to optimise grip in any of the above conditions.
For the purposes of our test we used only the default Auto and Sport setting, the reason being that we wanted to see how sporty the new Cherokee could be.
As it turned out, the answer is “very”. With a massive engine and a traction control system tuned for enthusiastic driving, the Jeep is actually quite good at going around corners. We’re not suggesting that it’s an Alfa 4C, but for what it is, it isn’t half bad.
The reason we used only Auto is simple – it’s good enough for most occasions. In this mode the system detects a loss of grip immediately and engages four-wheel drive on demand. The torque is split between the front and rear depending on the driving conditions, which is all you need in this particular model.
If it’s a proper off-road machine you’re after, rather look at the Trailhawk model, but more on that in an upcoming edition.
The 3,2-litre Limited was more than up to the task of hustling along on a badly corrugated gravel road. As it had rained the previous day, the roads were also extremely slippery.
We tried our best to get the Cherokee out of shape, but the Selec-Terrain system is too smart for that. Duck into a corner too fast, or try to accelerate too soon and it’ll stop you dead in your tracks. Some might frown upon the fact that it won’t allow you some fun on a muddy road, but on that day, on a pass with absolutely zero run-off and a massive drop right next to the car, we were thankful for it.
Suffice to say that the Jeep Cherokee feels secure, no matter what the road conditions. And besides, if you’re really in the mood for some fun, turn the dial to Sport mode. This allows the vehicle to get slightly sideways before it cuts in and saves you from yourself.
The only issue in this department is the lack of a proper manual override. You can put the nine-speed automatic in manual mode, but you have to change gear using the gear lever. We know this is just nit-picking, but a set of paddles behind the steering wheel would have been a nice touch.
All things considered, the new Cherokee is an excellent car, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. The only two real issues are the fuel consumption and the hefty retail price of R564 000.
While the fuel consumption is a tough sell, one might be tempted to fork over that much money simply because the Cherokee can now be seen as a premium product. The previous model was regarded by some as a cheap and cheerful mid-size SUV for the masses, but the new one really can be mentioned in the same breath as the BMW X3 and Audi Q5.
Then we have to consider the fact that it’s a Jeep. It comes with a boatload of heritage as standard and you’ll be joining a group of hardcore enthusiasts known as Jeep owners. Owning a Jeep isn’t like owning any other car. By buying a Jeep, they say, you’re buying into a lifestyle. There are stores out there that sell Jeep underwear, for goodness sake.
We like the new Cherokee very much. Yes, the looks are controversial, but that love-it-or-hate-it styling hides a truly impressive machine, which is completely worthy of that famous seven-slot grille.