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Car reviews - Jeep - Cherokee - 5-dr wagon range

Launch Story

Jeep logo28 Feb 2008

By GEORGIA OCONNELL

JEEP is back on the medium SUV warpath with the third generation of its Cherokee model since the brand relaunched in Australia in 1994.

Available now and dubbed the KK, it replaces the 2001-vintage KJ series, with an all-new body and interior, sitting on a significantly modified ladder-frame chassis that is now wider and longer in track and wheelbase than before.

There is now a new four-wheel drive system, while big steps have been taken in the name of safety, strength and refinement, backed up by a roomier and more refined interior, as well as higher levels of standard and optional equipment.

Under the skin the KK Cherokee is closely related to the recently released Dodge Nitro.

Two Jeep models are available – with prices commencing at $39,990 for the Sport and $45,990 for the Limited – while a pair of carryover engines are fitted to Australian-bound Cherokees.

The first is the 3.7-litre SOHC petrol V6 that delivers 151kW of power at 5200rpm and 314Nm of torque at 4000rpm. That’s 1kW and 7Nm better than the outgoing V6 petrol Cherokee – the upshot of refinements to the valve train and combustion chamber while an ETC electronic throttle control system helps improve driveability and acceleration feel according to Jeep.

This engine is only available with a four-speed automatic gearbox – now incorporating hydraulic line pressure for lower fuel consumption. Jeep says the combined average is 11.7L/100km (a 0.5L/100km saving from before), with the carbon-dioxide emissions figure being 283g/km.

For even better economy, there is the 2.8-litre DOHC 16-valve common-rail turbo-diesel four-cylinder unit featuring a VGT Variable Geometry Turbocharger shared with the Wrangler. This aids its 160kW power maximum at 3800rpm, while the 460Nm torque top happens at 2100rpm.

The official combined fuel and CO2 figures are 9.4L/100km (0.6L/100km better than previously) and 250g/km respectively.

In the interest of a smoother and quieter operation, this Mercedes-Benz sourced engine now features a forged steel crankshaft with eight counterweights instead of four, with a structural oil pan also assisting in cutting noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) properties.

Mercedes also supplies the five-speed automatic gearbox in the diesel. It has a sequential shift function.

Interestingly, American consumers will not be able to buy the CRD as it does not meet coming US Federal pollution regulations.

Unlike the KJ, there is no chance of a four-cylinder petrol version Cherokee – that sector is now the provenance of the smaller monocoque-bodied Patriot and Compass.

The new 4WD system is called Selec-Trac II, which uses a console-mounted switch to electronically shift between three modes – 2WD, 4WD Auto and 4WD Low – with a pushpin button present to shift into Neutral if desired.

Standard on both models, it is an on-demand set-up with technology that anticipates and prevents wheel slip before it occurs.

Normal 2WD sends 100 per cent of torque to the rear wheels.

In 4WD Auto vehicle sensors adjust and redirect torque between the front and rear axles based upon real-time driving conditions.

Drivers can also select 4WD Low in scenarios such as steep grades, rough terrain or over poor traction surfaces. Jeep says that this second speed gear multiplies engine torque 2.72 times and locks the clutch pack for maximum traction.

Underpinning all this is a wheelbase that is 45mm longer than before, straddled by a uniframe body that is actually 3mm shorter.

The new independent front suspension features short and long-arm coil springs and an anti-roll bar for what Jeep refers to as an optimum combination of ride, handling and steering feel.

Long wheel travel and tuned jounce bumpers help maintain a consistent ride quality, while a low-arm design mounts the upper control arm on the longitudinal rail of the front body structure for increased stiffness to help reduce NVH levels.

Meanwhile, an all-new five-link rear suspension set-up features upper and lower trailing links and a track bar, to provide lateral stiffness for greater responsiveness. There is also a solid axle for “uniform handling and stability when the vehicle is loaded or towing a trailer.”

The hydraulically-powered rack-and-pinion steering system has also come in for modification, helping the turning circle to improve from 10.8 to 10.4 metres.

Included in the KK Cherokee is Hill Descent Control, which provides downhill assistance at a controlled speed by means of the Brake Assist electronic brake control device. It is said to be extremely smooth in operation and allows the driver to use both the brakes and throttle without turning itself off, with a return to the preset speed afterwards. It only works in 4WD Low.

The KK’s approach angle is 28.2 degrees (or 38.2 with the bib spoiler removed), 21.7 degrees for the break-over angle and 30.3 degrees for the departure angle – with the rear bumper design especially swept up for greater clearance. The water fording maximum is 51cm – with the Cherokee’s air-intake, alternator, and fuel vapour emissions all located in higher positions.

New to the series is a Hill Start Assist system that holds on to the brakes for two seconds for smoother launches.

All models include ESP stability control, ABS anti-lock brakes with Rough Road Detection for greater off-bitumen performance, traction control, Electronic Roll Mitigation (ERM), which senses an imminent roll before deploying the standard side/curtain airbags and keeping them inflated for longer, Brake Assist, an energy absorbing steering column and a safety cage body structure.

Customer research indicated that existing Cherokee owners would like to see more rear legroom and shoulder space, a lift-up tailgate for easier use by shorter people, and a relocated spare wheel. All these have since been incorporated in the new vehicle, with a one-piece tailgate featuring a lift-up glass panel. The spare is now slung underneath.

Cargo length is now increased to 840mm at floor level, while the towing capacity is rated at 2270kg.

Other new features that are optional include a full-length canvas roof called Sky Slider, which gives an open-air experience express-up/down windows, radio and mirrors, satellite-navigation, Chrysler’s MyGIG media interface with premium audio, and a voice dialogue system.

A reverse camera will become available later, and can be retrofitted in vehicles fitted with MyGIG.

The interior is all-new and features increased storage spaces. The rear seats can recline 12 degrees, the front passenger seat can fold forward onto itself for extra-long loads, there is a 60/40-split folding arrangement with the rear seat, while the cargo floor is reversible and has a 10cm lipped surround on the hard plastic side to keep wet stuff from spilling into the surrounding carpet.

Added to the base model now are automatic temperature control, power and heated fold-away mirrors, power windows with driver's-side one-touch, foglights and alloy wheels.

Inside, the Limited adds leather upholstery with new French-seam stitching, stainless-steel door sill plates and premium floor mats.

Over 30,000 Cherokees have been sold in Australia since the model’s return in 1994 – with almost 18,500 of them being the XJ and the remainder (12,300) made up of the KJ.

Jeep won’t comment on sales expectations, but says that it is counting on about a 50/50 sales split between Sport and Limited, with the CRD accounting for around 30 per cent of volume.

In America, the Jeep Cherokee name dates back from 1974 – where it became the ‘sportier’ two-door wagon version of the SJ Wagoneer first introduced in 1963 – to 2001, when the circa-1984 XJ Cherokee was replaced by the KJ Liberty.

Of course, Subaru’s hold on the name in Australia forced Jeep to continue with the Cherokee name.

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