Car reviews - Jeep - Cherokee - Limited Diesel
Go anywhere comfort, well matched economical engine, standout looks, adventure-inspiring off-road manner
Room for improvement
No mid-range or trail-rated diesel option, off-putting pedal arrangement
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12 Nov 2014
WHEN the first images of the 2014 Cherokee emerged, its unusual styling, which departed from previous generations and looked like nothing else on the road, was polarising to say the least.
Jeep says this is precisely why it will attract new buyers who want something that looks a bit different and who won't object to the missing connection between the aesthetics of the new model and the one it leaves behind.
The initial range of four petrol-powered variants offered everything from a two-wheel drive four-cylinder for the urban adventurer, up to a hardcore trail-rated Trailhawk version with four-wheel drive and Chrysler's excellent (albeit thirsty) 3.2-litre Pentastar V6.
But nearly five months after the first variants arrived, the range-topping Cherokee Limited Diesel has arrived and GoAuto spent a morning behind the wheel of the new variant in the heart of the Victorian highlands.
As is often the case, a technical off-road adventure starts with a cruise on surfaced roads to get to the trails, which gave us time to explore some of the new variant's comfort features.
For the first time in five generations, the Cherokee is built on a monocoque shared with the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, which has provided the SUV with loads of passenger space and excellent car-like on-road manner – no whining knobbly tyres or bone-shaking jacked-up suspension kits here.
Cruising at freeway speeds let the 2.0-litre diesel settle down to low revs and barely perceptible noise, returning better fuel economy than the quoted combined figure of 5.8-litres per 100km.
That performance is great for the black-top sections and day-to day use, but has the car connection compromised the traditional Jeep ability to cut it off-road?Occupants are accommodated in plush leather seats with heaters in the front spots and excellent comfort for longer trips. Jeep says the interior has 'premium accents' and while the general quality of cabin materials and construction is good, the Jeep interior layout still has a way to go to catch some of its competitors.
The expansive 7.0-inch TFT screen nestled between the speedometer and tachometer is a useful addition with all vehicle information easy to access for the driver, although the finish isn't quite as seamless and stylish as the version in its Grand Cherokee big brother.
Turning off the main road and on to unsealed trails revealed the Cherokee's smooth ride continues when the surface starts to degrade.
Its traction control and transmission is very much a point-and-fire affair and good progress through gravel and dust mountain single-track was easy. The Cherokee's steering is light enough for ease of use but a touch too light for adequate feedback at speed so we kept our rally aspirations at bay and stayed the right side of a very big drop.
Speeds decreased as the track became more technical and the light steering weight and more trail-focused ratio came into its own, allowing careful negotiation of obstacles without the danger of thumb-punishing snatch through the wheel.
Despite a verdant green covering of foliage following a wet winter in the Victorian highlands, the trails were largely dry with loose rock, dust and steep gradients providing the greatest challenges.
The first steep descents were no problem for the oil-burning Cherokee and the lack of hill-descent tech wasn't a disadvantage with speed easily reined-in by braking. Occasional spurts of ABS intervention reminded us how loose things were getting under tyre but keeping a straight course required little concentration.
Jumping off the accelerator and on to the brake pedal did catch us out on more than one occasion with the two pedals sitting on different plains, creating a step that has to be overcome.
Where most applications allow the right foot to slide across unobstructed from accelerator to brake, the Jeep requires a conscious lifting of the foot.
Climbing provided more pleasant surprises in the diesel Cherokee and with increasingly steepening slopes the low-revving 350Nm engine was perfectly suited for crawling up gnarly rock faces without breaking a sweat.
The Limited spec Diesel lacks some of the Trailhawk's trail-rated gear but with bags of torque and nine close-ratio gears, not once did we wish for more pulling power.
With only two on board and light luggage the Cherokee wasn't stressed on our test drive and, no doubt, a family with kit would push the Jeep harder, but for stickier situations its low-ratio range and Active Drive switchable modes would help keep things moving – we didn't call on it once.
Jeep's nine-speed automatic transmission is a first for the mid-size SUV segment and is a great match with the diesel engine and four-wheel drive system, holding on to gears intuitively when descending steep drops to make the most of engine braking.
The specially tailored transmission program keeps the engine right in the sweet-spot even when the throttle was stabbed, which gave the Jeep a composed and un-flustered nature when climbing even the most severe slopes.
After our short hack over the Victorian peaks we returned to the bitumen stretches around Bright and the Cherokee resumed its placid and calm demeanour, with only a fine veneer of dust to suggest it had been doing anything other than easy freeway work.
Even remit of trail-rated gear, the Cherokee Limited Diesel combines a cracking engine with equally commendable transmission, driving all four wheels to hold its own both on and off-road.
Not once did we wish for more trailblazing ability but it’s a shame the Diesel is not available as either a more affordable entry or more capable Trailhawk variant because the VM Motori diesel is the perfect match no matter what the application.
On-road, the diesel drivetrain provides frugal and refined motoring, but then stump-busting torque to climb otherwise daunting obstacles.
It may sit at the top of the Cherokee pricing pile and eye to eye with some formidable opponents with equally good diesel engines, but the oil-burning Cherokee has a unique look and the venerable Jeep off-road prowess to single it out.
The Jeep Cherokee Limited Diesel is without question the all-round hero of the Cherokee range and should worry anything in the compact/medium SUV segment that claims to have genuine off-road ability.
It has been well worth the five-month wait.
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