Cheeky Cherokee: The Cheap Jeep Off-roader

The all-new Jeep Cherokee Limited, powered by the efficient 2.0-liter turbo diesel engine in combination with the new nine-speed automatic transmission or a 6-speed manual transmission, is making its European début at the 84th Geneva International Motor Show, March 3, 2014.  A 3.2L automatic engine is also available.

The all-new Jeep Cherokee Limited, powered by the efficient 2.0-liter turbo diesel engine in combination with the new nine-speed automatic transmission or a 6-speed manual transmission, is making its European début at the 84th Geneva International Motor Show, March 3, 2014.  A 3.2L automatic engine is also available.The all-new Jeep Cherokee Limited, powered by the efficient 2.0-liter turbo diesel engine in combination with the new nine-speed automatic transmission or a 6-speed manual transmission, is making its European début at the 84th Geneva International Motor Show, March 3, 2014.  A 3.2L automatic engine is also available.

The all-new Jeep Cherokee Limited, powered by the efficient 2.0-liter turbo diesel engine in combination with the new nine-speed automatic transmission or a 6-speed manual transmission, is making its European début at the 84th Geneva International Motor Show, March 3, 2014.  A 3.2L automatic engine is also available.The all-new Jeep Cherokee Limited, powered by the efficient 2.0-liter turbo diesel engine in combination with the new nine-speed automatic transmission or a 6-speed manual transmission, is making its European début at the 84th Geneva International Motor Show, March 3, 2014.  A 3.2L automatic engine is also available.

The all-new Jeep Cherokee Limited, powered by the efficient 2.0-liter turbo diesel engine in combination with the new nine-speed automatic transmission or a 6-speed manual transmission, is making its European début at the 84th Geneva International Motor Show, March 3, 2014.  A 3.2L automatic engine is also available.The all-new Jeep Cherokee Limited, powered by the efficient 2.0-liter turbo diesel engine in combination with the new nine-speed automatic transmission or a 6-speed manual transmission, is making its European début at the 84th Geneva International Motor Show, March 3, 2014.  A 3.2L automatic engine is also available.

I’ve been saying it for a while now, how is Jeep doing it for the price without the thing falling apart?

Outside:

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, Cherokee’s face. It caused much consternation when the early photos were released. There is little aesthetic wiggle room so most either love or hate it. At first I thought it was a face only a mother could love, but as I drove more kilometres, the face grew on me. Like most people I thought the slanty bits at the top were some kind of flash new LED headlight, but no, the headlight is the bit that looks like a fog light lower down. I like the vertical grille but it now looks like a shaver that’s been dropped on its foil.

The Trailhawke is the top model and is comes fully loaded. Because the Trailhawke off-road ready, there is a big chunky set of tyres on 17” rims for real bush-bashing. It has a certain butch look about it which appeals to the outdoorsy camper in all of us, even if it is well hidden. Jeep calls this “Trail Certified” whatever that means.

The ground clearance of 221mm gives the 4WD a decent chance of getting you out of the muck should things go badly tits-up. The rear hatch is electric, of course.

The pictures tell the rest of the story. Either you like it or you don’t so move along, there is nothing to see here.

Inside:

The all-new Jeep Cherokee Limited, powered by the efficient 2.0-liter turbo diesel engine in combination with the new nine-speed automatic transmission or a 6-speed manual transmission, is making its European début at the 84th Geneva International Motor Show, March 3, 2014.  A 3.2L automatic engine is also available.

Something happened with this last generation of Jeeps. It’s as if a little man in America was given a big wad of money and told to “go for it”, and did. Previous interiors felt very low-rent with cheap plastics, nasty ill-fitting trim and poorly designed controls. These days, it has gone all posh. It’s no Q7, X5 or ML, but you could get 3 Cherokees for one of any of the others, and only the Jeep can comes with real 4WD. The others won’t get you much further than a poorly raked Eastern Suburbs gravel drive without some poor dear breaking a nail and having a conniption.

The cabin feels classy. The seats are comfy and you can set your driving position fast with electric adjustment on the driver’s side. The passenger forgoes this little luxury in favour of a huge under-seat stowage bin. You won’t fit in a 6 pack like do in Dodge’s Journey, but there is still oodles of room for a handbag, wallet and mobile phone. There is a little pull-tab at the rear of the seat cushion for access, but tucking it down completely conceals the bin’s lid. If you don’t mention it, no one knows it’s there, foiling any unwanted attempts to fiddle with your private parts. The leather has the look a much more expensive brand. The stitching is precise with the pads making the cushions look sculptured. The leather is used lavishly especially in the top model. You have your steering wheel and gear knob wrapped in leather, as well as the seats and parts of the dash and doors. You can ask it to park itself too, either kerbside or in a 90° parking bay. It’s fun to watch the faces of drunken queens nearby when you do that, or when you remotely start your jeep from the key fob while standing in the pub with G and T in hand.

The rest of the inclusions are as impressive: auto dimming mirror, auto headlights, auto wipers, auto highbeam, auto hand brake, and the fabulous U-connect audio system. It is one of the easiest Bluetooth systems I’ve used. It enables even the most fumble-fisted of us to pair a phone in under 10 seconds. Go to Bluetooth on the car and phone, hit pair, and then confirm on both devices. This way you don’t need to bother with anything as inconsequential and annoying as a PIN.

Something that used to annoy me was Blind Spot Detection, but now I can’t do without it. If the is a car, or more importantly a bike in your blind spot, and little backlit icon shows up on your external mirror. You can often see it as you come up beside posh hire cars with their don’t-look-at-me-but-notice-me dark tinted windows. You expect it on a Merc or Beemer, but good lord a Jeep? We all have moments of inattention and blind spot detection helps prevent that moment from changing a life forever for the worse.

On a lighter note, there are numerous storage bins for you to lose stuff in, and the ubiquitous LED rechargeable torch is still to be found in the cargo hold. It’s a Jeep thing and I can’t understand why it isn’t done by every brand. How many times have you fumbled about in the dark wishing for a light, and had to make do with your phone while your hands are full?

The cabin feels expensive and cosy and one that you could live with for a long time. It would be criminal to take if off road only to get schmutz over the bright new leather, even though that’s where it’s most at home.

The Drive:

There are a range of engines, with my favourite being the 3.2 V6 Pentastar. It’s nowhere near as economical as the 2.4 4cylinder TigerShark or 2.0L turbo diesel, but has much more power. It sounds fabulous with a nice growl under hard acceleration.

As for the equipment, I don’t know where to start.

The new 9 speed auto is silky. It may sound like overkill but it allegedly cuts highway fuel consumption to 7.7L/100k. In town it doesn’t hunt anywhere near as much as you would think and if you’re so inclined, there is a manual mode with shifting via the gear lever. None of that helps the fuel consumption which climbs alarmingly from highway mode the second you spot a traffic light. It is particularly dire if you keep sinking the boot in. The car is much better at changing gears than most humans so don’t bother with the manual mode. Sadly there is no proper manual option.

I took an overnight run down the M4, past “The Riff” (aka Penrith) and on up into the Blue Mountains. It ate the K’s with ease. I love radar cruise control, especially if it has a queue assist function. Stop/start traffic means the system knows what’s going on. As long as you don’t stop more than 10 seconds or so, will move off again without you doing anything other than holding the wheel. If you stop more than ten seconds, a tap on the accelerator starts the whole process again. It is genius in heavy traffic. You can adjust the distance to the car in front from a steering wheel button. You still have to keep an eye on the speed because you’re not always conscious of the car in front slowing. It isn’t unusual to find you’re following at 90kph on a 110kph 4 lane highway with no other cars around.

Jeep have gone the whole hog on the lane warning system too. In addition to discrete lights on the dashboard, the steering wheel gives a gentle tug to let you know you’re wandering. If you then do nothing, it will steer the Cherokee back into the lane. If it thinks you don’t have your hands on the wheel it will sound an alarm and flash a message telling to put your hands back where they belong. The hide of her! She can get a bit pushy quite frankly. Until you get used to it you may find yourself bouncing from one side of the lane to the other like a drunken sailor. Perhaps it was just my bad driving.

Through the bends, Cherokee changes direction without much fuss and feels at home on dirt or tarmac. The top model is the pick for dirt with its fancy-schmancy class leading 4WD set up. I’ve no doubt it could walk up walls if you wanted it to. I don’t though. I prefer a more sedate pace with classical music, gentle air conditioning, and a hotel of at least 3 stars with breakfast included.

Of course there is push button start but without this option you need to enter the key-fob into the dash board Mercedes Benz style. This is no doubt a hangover from the Daimler-Chrysler days.

You can customise the LCD screens to a degree. The 8.4” centre-stack screen (with navigation models) has all the main functions, with the smaller screen in the instrument cluster supplying some handy driver info. Importantly, the 8.4 incher is a touch screen. Inputting addresses is easy but the radio presents the odd issue. There are no physical buttons except the steering wheel controls. If your favourite stations aren’t next to each other, the steering wheel button is useless unless you want to scan through all the stations. It would be nice to select how you want it to search, then you could add stations as you want them to appear in your favourites, and flick between them. Currently, you either use the manual tuning button, or the radio menu, both of which are a bit of a faff. The sound is amazing with beautiful clear tops, rich middles, and a deep moody bass. Obviously the high-end Alpine Premium system sounds the best.

Considering you’re driving a reasonably big (despite claims of being small) off-roader, the road manners are excellent. The sound deadening is fabulous and the easy steering, comfy seats and endless gadgets make the experience a luxury one. There is the odd bit of cheap plastic but all is forgiven considering the price range is $35,000 to $52,279 drive away. The 4WD top model is two and a half grand cheaper than the Toyota’s smaller AWD Rav 4. Comparing the two interiors is chalk and cheese and the exterior is a “lay down misere” for Jeep.

I do like a bit of a sunroof and in sunroof models the full length glass has a sliding front panel with interior shade. This provides endless fun for the dim-witted.

The drivetrain depends on the model. It is a wee bit confusing so pay attention: you get either the 3.2V6 with AWD (active drive I), the 2.0L diesel with 4WD (active drive 2 with low range), or finally, the Trailhawke with the full shebang. It has a 3.2L Pentastar V6 with Active Drive Lock 4WD with low range. It seems stupidly complex so one wonders why Chrysler’s marketing people didn’t just say “Here are the 4 models. Choose engines, transmissions and 2wd or 4wd with lock as you please.” This current combo does my head in. Why are there two 4WDs and an AWD in addition to a 2WD? It’s especially maddening considering most of us won’t ever get the chance to go off-roading.

Conclusion:

It’s Fabulous, just fabulous, despite the face. Yes there is the odd foible, but nothing you couldn’t live with. It is spacious, easy to drive, and if you are so inclined, opens a new world to explore. It’s excellent value, so, is not so precious that you couldn’t go into the wilderness for the full Brokeback Mountain experience. I have heard whispers that other brands are having jealous hissy fits because of Jeep’s pricing. There will be SUV retailers shivering on their mastheads every time they see a Cherokee or Grand Cherokee, because sales have been brisk.

Would I buy one? Yes, without question.

Sport: $35,000, 2.4 L petrol, 130kw/229Nm, Front wheel drive

Longitude: $40,500, 3.2L petrol, 200kw/316Nm, AWD active drive I

Limited: $48,622, 3.2 L petrol, 200kw/316Nm, AWD active drive I

Limited: $53,872, 2.0L diesel, 125kw/350Nm, 4WD active drive II w low range

Trailhawke: $52,297, 3.2L petrol, 200kw/316Nm, 4WD active drive II lock w low range

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