Car reviews - Jeep - Cherokee - Sport
Distinctive design, roomy rear-seat packaging, functional dash, easy entry/egress, relative economy
Room for improvement
High entry price, lack of low-down torque, lots of body roll, poor vision, busy auto
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12 Nov 2014
Price and equipment
JEEP ought to have changed the name.
The striking, monocoque bodied KL Cherokee you see here has nothing to do with the boxy separate chassis 4x4 off-roaders of the previous three generations.
The fact is, the preceding KJ (2001) and KK (2007) models were christened Liberty elsewhere, but of course Subaru uses that name here. So the Cherokee badge is actually a revival after a dozen years lying dormant in all other markets.
With that in mind, the entry-level Sport is Jeep’s entrant into the hot front-wheel drive medium SUV category, challenging the popular Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4 and Nissan X-Trail. The aim is to lure new and younger buyers to the brand.
Note however that the American’s positioning is a little unusual. Priced from $33,500, plus on-road costs, it competes against either mid-level rather than base FWD rivals such as the base RAV4 GXL, or the entry all-wheel drive versions like the RAV4 GX AWD.
Jeep retaliates by pointing to the Cherokee’s standard segment-first nine-speed automatic.
Other Sport standard spec includes a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine, seven airbags (including one for the driver’s knee), tyre pressure monitors for the 17-inch alloy wheels, a full sized spare, central touchscreen with camera, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, USB input, LED daytime running lights and tail-lights, one-touch power windows all around, an electric parking brake, air-conditioning with rear airvents and a sliding/reclining rear bench.
Not the cheapest then, but the entry-level Cherokee is still competitive. More importantly, it doesn’t feel base inside.
Lower than some medium SUVs, the Cherokee’s interior is a snug and very car-like place to be. The few nods to Jeeps of past are limited to an electronic compass the instrumentation and the logo on the wheel.
The dash itself is a pleasantly styled if bulky plastic item with hardy finishes and plenty of contrasting textures. The quality on our example seemed AOK – and that’s not always the case in American-built machines.
All the basics are accounted for – ample space up front, clear instrument graphics (with a comprehensive trip computer screen that includes a large digital readout), excellent ventilation, heaps of adjustability and sufficient storage options.
But the driving position is spoiled by the total lack of left-foot resting place – indeed, for this particular driver, the bulk of the lower centre console intruded onto the upper-shin area.
The theatre-style lofty second row benefits from 60/40 sliding rear seats (to increase an already sizeable luggage floor area), overhead grab handles, rear airvents, a couple of places to stow things and reclining backrests. It’s properly cosy yet comfy back there. Plus, massive doors open wide to aid entry and exit. It’s all good stuff.
Additionally, that cargo area also benefits from a large aperture, while the floor – though quite high up – is flat and does have a full-sized spare as well as additional storage underneath. A light, and 12V socket are also incorporated within the luggage area.
Beware, though: drivers should not keep their window down while using the windscreen washers. Water ends up all over the window switches while wet thighs ensue. Also, rear vision is bad due to the upswing of the window line. You’ll rely heavily on that rear camera.
At this price point, parking sensors should be standard too.
For all you diehard old-school Cherokee fans out there, the Trailhawk model (from $47,500) offers a more off-road focussed experience with improved ground clearance, better protection and broader gearing options that includes a low-range gearbox, locking rear axle, and speed-variable modes for crawling, climbing and descending.
Engine and transmission
The Sport is the only Cherokee for now that employs Chrysler’s Tigershark 2.4-litre twin-cam four-cylinder engine – a development of the old World Gasoline Engine that also appears in several Mitsubishi and Hyundai models (including direct rivals). For this application it has gained variable valve timing and variable valve lift tech, to up the power and torque outputs to 130kW and 232Nm respectively.
Coupled to that nine-speed torque-converter auto, the Cherokee sets off in a spirited and smooth manner, offering sufficient performance when lightly laden for urban commutes.
Indeed, on the open road, with the revs barely over 2000rpm in top gear, the Jeep seems agreeably powerful and relaxed. Certainly it is no less grunty than most other FWD SUVs in this class.
Add more people, luggage and/or an incline or two, however, and the Sport’s heft (1738kg) means that the four-pot naturally aspirated engine has to rev – and hard – to keep up with the driver’s demands.
With so many forward ratios to choose from, the transmission is busy shuffling between cogs, and that can become tiring to hear after a while. Sometimes all that seems to increase is the level of noise coming from up ahead. There just isn’t enough torque for the Cherokee to feel properly ready for that unexpected quick overtaking manoeuvre.
Having said all that, there is some good news on the fuel consumption front, with our Cherokee returning just under 10L/100km over a wide range of driving conditions – including highway travelling.
Ride and handling
Under that controversial skin is a stretched and elongated version of the C-platform that underpins the Alfa Romeo Giulietta hatch. MacPherson struts and a multi-link independent rear end lurk underneath. You’d never know by driving it.
The good news is that the Cherokee is, dynamically, the most cohesive Jeep that we have ever driven, thanks to direct electric rack and pinion steering, responsive handling and surprisingly sticky roadholding (aided by a set of sticky Continental tyres).
But Sport is another misnomer associated with this vehicle, for while it will turn in enthusiastically, you’d hardly call the Cherokee dynamic.
With lots of body roll greeting every tight corner, there’s just too much weight lolling around for it to feel anything approaching tight or controlled.
As a result, the Jeep seems too top heavy and lazy relative to, say, a CX-5 or Ford Kuga.
That would be alright if a brilliantly soft ride was the upshot, but the SUV’s suspension is no more supple than the Mazda’s or Ford’s.
On the other hand, since most people don’t buy a base FWD Cherokee for its dynamic aptitude, they will more likely appreciate the solid and isolating feel offered when driving along quietly on the Australian blacktop.
Maybe Jeep ought to call the base Cherokee S instead of Sport.
Safety and servicing
The Cherokee recently scored a maximum five-star ANCAP crash safety rating.
The warranty period is for three years/100,000km, with six-month and/or 12,000km service intervals.
No fixed-price servicing is provided. Jeep Roadside Assistance is a three-year roadside assistance program that provides 24-hour roadside assistance for the first three years of the vehicle’s life. It is part of the warranty package and can be renewed at extra cost out of warranty.
The Cherokee Sport is a characterful, charming and capable medium-sized SUV, especially if rear-seat packaging, cabin comfort, modern connectivity and a strong on-road presence are desired.
But it is on the expensive side, can use a bit more torque, and is not really a Sport in any sense other than name. Keen drivers ought to look elsewhere.
The lower end of the medium SUV class only has a few real stars – Kuga, CX-5 and Forester namely – with the rest struggling to rise above the mediocre. In our estimate, the base-model Cherokee is near the top of the second group.
1. Ford Kuga Ambiente 1.6t AWD auto: From $31,490 plus ORCs
The best-driving and handling medium SUV also brings a smooth and punchy 1.6L turbo petrol powerplant coupled to an AWD and six-speed auto drivetrain. Why the dynamic and refined Kuga isn’t a best-seller is beyond us.
2. Mazda CX-5 Maxx 2.5 AWD auto: From $32,880 plus ORCs
A sporty chassis and strong engine/transmission combination match the CX-5’s great styling, but the Mazda is noisy, drab inside, and has some surprising spec omissions that undermine value. Still, it’s a far-better choice than most rivals.
3. Subaru Forester 2.5i CVT AWD: From $32,990 plus ORCs
Not very pretty perhaps, but the Forester barely puts a foot wrong, with a punchy yet parsimonious drivetrain, involving dynamics, roomy cabin, impressive comfort and high quality engineering. A worthy alternative.
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