Car reviews - Jeep - Cherokee
Genuine off-road ability, high levels of standard safety equipment, interior space, communicative steering feel
Room for improvement
Unrefined on-road performance, thrashy V6 engine, no diesel option (yet), pricey
Jeep’s facelifted Cherokee mid-sizer proves its worth off the beaten track not on it
31 Aug 2018
By TUNG NGUYEN
IN THEORY, Jeep should be in the best position to take advantage of Australia’s current love affair with high-riding SUVs given its entire model line-up is made up of off-road capable crossovers.
However, concerns surrounding the reliability of Jeep vehicles in recent years have caused the brand’s sales to drastically decline, even as the Australian buyers abandon traditional passenger sedans and wagons in favour of SUVs.
Expectations are high for the new Cherokee then, as Jeep’s entrant into the booming mid-size SUV segment that is now the largest in the country.
Ditching the polarising split-headlight design from before, the latest Cherokee also gains boosted safety equipment and interior refinement to give Jeep – at least on paper – its best chance yet at a significant sales boost.
However, does the Cherokee’s stacked specification and authentic off-road chops give it enough of an edge to cut into volume-selling mainstream mid-size SUV models?
Although Jeep’s new Cherokee is available in four flavours, only the spec-heavy Limited and off-road-focussed Trailhawk will be available at launch from October 1.
While the Limited is $1000 pricier than before at $46,950 before on-roads, the Trailhawk is actually $1500 cheaper than the outgoing version at $48,450 – putting both on the expensive side of the mid-size segment.
As such, both Cherokee variants available at launch are equipped with a substantial list of equipment to keep them competitive against the top-spec offerings from the likes of the market-leading Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4 and Hyundai Tucson.
New in the facelifted Cherokee is a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, but Limited and Trailhawk grades are fitted with an 8.4-inch Uconnect system that includes digital radio, satellite navigation, smartphone mirroring and Bluetooth connectivity.
The large display is a welcome addition that provides a bit of wow factor to the somewhat dreary interior, but we’ve never been a fan of burying functions such as heated and cooled seats in the system – which has not changed here.
Of note however, only the Limited grade is fitted with the bum warming/cooling pews, whereas it is an option on the more expensive Trailhawk.
While the touchscreen is responsive enough and can even be customised, we found – like on all touchscreen-only systems – it can be a bit hard to select the right functions from a list, such as changing radio stations or satellite navigation destinations, while on the move.
Other interior feature highlights include dual-zone climate control, push-button start, remote start, power-adjustable front seats, nine-speaker sound system, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and soft-touch surfaces.
However there is a bit of variation from the two top-spec Cherokees, with the Limited featuring leather seats, automatic high beam control, adaptive cruise control and 18-inch wheels and the Trailhawk getting all but the latter as optional gear.
It may seem a bit weird that the most expensive Cherokee variant doesn’t get all the gear, but Jeep’s Trailhawk-badged vehicles have always been more off-road focused, and the Cherokee is no exception.
Whereas the Limited may skew more towards the luxury side, the Trailhawk is equipped with a higher ride height and unique front and rear bumpers for increased approach and departure angles, increased underbody protection, low-range gearbox, rear locking differential and recovery hooks.
We actually dig that the upper end of the Cherokee spectrum offer two different packages that focus on comfort and off-road ability respectively, giving the Jeep mid-size SUV a bit more character.
Both version however, are powered by the same carryover 3.2-litre Pentastar V6 petrol engine, producing 200kW of power at 6500rpm and 315Nm of torque at 4300rpm.
Sharing the same nine-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission, which has been updated in line with the facelift, both channel drive to all four wheels.
While the powerplant does an admirable job at moving the 1800kg-plus SUV on road, it does start to feel a little thrashy, noisy and unrefined as the revs climb.
This flaw is further highlighted by the hit-and-miss transmission, which in our limited testing time displayed unpredictable cog-selecting abilities.
Sometimes putting the boot in would kick the automatic down a gear or two quickly, but in other situations the system seemed to take its time to think about things before anything happening at all – not ideal when trying to overtake large trucks on winding uphill roads.
The engine can be thirsty too, with official fuel consumption figures of 9.8 and 10.2 litres per 100km for the Limited and Trailhawk respectively – a stark contrast to smaller turbocharged engines such as Honda’s 1.5-litre CR-V that cuts consumption by about 30 per cent.
However, it’s when the road gets rough where the Cherokee really starts to come into its own.
With the Limited fitted with Jeep’s Selec-Terrain Traction Management System, drivers are able to flick a knob to toggle between Auto, Snow, Sport and Sand/Mud settings to maximise grip in different conditions.
We tested the Limited in a rugged off-road track in Auto mode and were delighted to find the Cherokee would happily tackle every crest, rut and decent we found with little fuss.
The one criticism we could level at the Limited during the off-road trek is its insufficient ride height that lead to more than a few scraps, bumps and crunches, but to its credit the Cherokee remained in one piece.
The Trailhawk meanwhile – thanks to the aforementioned off-road upgrades – will happily chew through hardcore trails that would make any other mid-size SUV cower in fear.
Think Toyota Prado and Nissan Patrol levels of capability.
The low-range gearbox and rear locking differential work a treat when things start to get really treacherous, while the clever electronics can actually be heard working overtime to move the Trailhawk through thick mud and slippery surfaces.
Measuring more than 4600mm long and 1850mm wide means the Cherokee offers plenty of room for even five adults thanks to ample head- and legroom in all positions.
While shoulder-room can be a bit tight with three adults in the second row, the seats are at least plush and pleasant over longer distances.
We’d like to see more support in the front seats though, as the pews are a little too flat for our tastes.
The boot meanwhile, will now swallow 70 litres more volume thanks to a redesign of the surrounding plastics, making it easier to load up for a family getaway or a round of golf.
Overall the Cherokee offers a solid choice for motorists looking for a practical, go-anywhere family hauler, despite some on-road refinement issues.
However, how many people are actually looking for a petrol-only, mid-size SUV that can tackle rough terrain?
We’d like to see a turbo-diesel engine return to the line-up, which Jeep is hinting could happen in future, that would improve fuel economy and increase driving range for those that would actually go bush.
If a pothole is the most rugged terrain you’d tackle though, other car-makers offer more pleasant on-road manners with equally competitive, if not cheaper, pricing.
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Model release date: 1 October 2018
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