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Future models - Jeep - Cherokee

New York show: Jeep shakes up Cherokee

Love-hate relationship: Jeep has brought its traditionally conservative styling in line with the 21st century.

Jeep says its radically redesigned Cherokee isn’t afraid of getting dirty

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Jeep logo28 Mar 2013

JEEP’S Cherokee mid-size off-roader has shaken off years of traditional styling to emerge kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

The polarising new-generation version was formally revealed overnight at the New York motor show ahead of an arrival in Australian showrooms at the end of this year.

Now with only a passing nod to its trademark face, wearing a backside that looks more at home on a European-designed hatchback, featuring front-dragging entry-level models and sitting on underpinnings that have had the purists moaning, Jeep says the new Cherokee is every bit as brave in the bush as the model it replaces.

However, moving to a shared platform with car-making partner Fiat means the traditionally off-road focussed brand can also concentrate on fuel economy, with the new Cherokee able to disengage the rear axle when it is not needed, such as for highway cruising.

That, combined with a nine-speed automatic transmission fitted to Jeep a Fiat-sourced 137kW/232Nm 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine has helped the Cherokee boost fuel economy almost by half, and pushing the Cherokee’s historically limited range out to 800km.

Jeep claims the nine-speeder is a segment first, although Range Rover this month also announced a similar transmission would be fitted to its smaller Evoque this year.

OK, that’s the on-road stuff, but what about the all-important off-road capability?For this, Jeep has taken a page from Land Rover’s book, introducing a console-mounted dial that allows the driver to look outside the window and select one of five settings - “Auto”, “Snow”, “Sport”, “Sand/Mud” and “Rock” - to match the terrain.

That is backed up with a two-speed power transfer unit for the Cherokee’s all-paw system, giving low-range gearing with up to a 56:1 crawl ratio and a locking rear differential. Models lower down the range get only a single-speed unit.

Improved electronics also means the new Cherokee can take advantage of modes that help it crawl up or down steep slopes.

The car-maker says there is a trail-rated version of the Cherokee to satisfy hardcore off-road enthusiasts.

Jeep will also offer the Cherokee with the Pentastar 3.2-litre V6 producing 199kW and 316Nm.

Jeep Australia has confirmed a 2.0-litre diesel engine will be available.

Underneath, there is independent suspension for both the front (Macpherson) and rear (multilink), and the body is now much stiffer, alluding to a much better driving experience than the model it replaces.

The Jeep’s interior has had a similar makeover. A big seven-inch digital instrument cluster dominates the dash in some models (the default is a 3.5-inch unit), while a bigger 8.4-inch colour screen (the screen on lesser models is only five inches) sits on the centre console.

Potential buyers bemoaning the previous Cherokee’s hard, utilitarian interior will rejoice in the revelation that the US car-maker has vastly improved things, including more use of soft-touch plastics.

Safety also gets attention, leaping to 10 airbags for the US compared with the current Cherokee’s six. The current car sold in Australia does not have a crash rating.

The Australian-delivery Cherokee was facelifted early last year, but only limited numbers are still available for sale.

Jeep says the shared underpinnings for the new model means it can cut the cost of production, potentially meaning the Cherokee can land in Australia at less than its former $28,000 entry-level pricing.

The model line-up is expected to include a walk-up front-wheel-drive Sport version, an all-wheel-drive Longitude model (Renault already has the Latitude name), an all-wheel-drive Limited model, and the hardcore four-wheel-drive Trailhawk.

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