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Driven: Jeep’s softer-look Cherokee from $33,500

Cherokee re-born: The Jeep Cherokee returns to the Australian market after a short absence.

New-generation Cherokee arrives as Jeep continues its Australian sales assault


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6 Jun 2014

JEEP is back with the fourth generation of its Cherokee compact SUV, featuring a mix of four- and six-cylinder petrol engines and an automatic transmission standard across the range.

Lower specifications of the car, which is priced from $33,500 plus on-road costs for the entry-level front-wheel-drive Sport model, will compete directly against the likes of Mazda’s strong-selling CX-5, while at the top of the range, the $47,500 Trailhawk gains a low-range transfer box and a sense of adventure.

However, the new Cherokee is now more expensive than its competition, with Jeep laying bets that a nine-speed automatic transmission and a richly appointed equipment list will convince buyers.

Despite its softer, more hatchback-style looks, introduced at the New York motor show early last year, Jeep claims the Cherokee keeps its all-terrain ability while improving fuel efficiency across the range, as well as rolling out a suite of new technology and safety systems.

It becomes the first SUV in the Jeep line-up, which includes the Patriot and Compass small SUVs, the large Grand Cherokee that also makes up the bulk of the brand’s sales, and the Wrangler dedicated off-roader, to dump a manual gearbox in favour of the all-new nine-speed automatic system.

Cherokee features a new, advanced four-wheel-drive system in three states of tune, and is also the first Jeep product – and off-road-capable SUV for that matter – to automatically disconnect the rear axle when cruising, turning the Cherokee into a front-wheel-drive vehicle and saving fuel.

The Cherokee introduces Chrysler Group’s CUS-wide (compact US) platform that also underpins the new-generation Chrysler 200 sedan and Alfa Romeo Giulietta hatch, but is also expected to spin off Alfa’s forthcoming sedan, widely believed to be called Giulia, and an upcoming Alfa Romeo-badged SUV.

While the brand will initially introduce two petrol engines – a 2.4-litre four-cylinder “Tigershark” MultiAir and a 3.2-litre Pentastar V6 – a diesel engine is expected to arrive later this year featuring a 125kW/350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine shared with Alfa Romeo-badged vehicles.

The new, and somewhat controversial styling brings a radical overhaul of the Cherokee range, which in previous-generation guise, featured a boxy design that drew howls of derision from Jeep aficionados when it changed the shape of its headlights.

Jeep has whittled the variants down from six to just four for the new Cherokee.

It has also become more expensive, jumping from the $28,000 starting price of the previous-generation Cherokee fitted with a much more powerful – and thirstier – 3.7-litre Pentastar V6, but mated to an underwhelming four-speed automatic transmission.

This generation of the Cherokee will use a 2.4-litre “Tigershark” 130kW/229Nm four-cylinder petrol engine in the entry-level front-wheel drive Sport, with the $39,000 Longitude, $44,000 Limited and range-topping $47,500 Trailhawk all using a downsized 3.2-litre Pentastar V6 producing 200kW and 316Nm.

A lack of demand means that this time around a six-speed manual transmission was considered a non-starter for the Australian market.

Combined with the nine-speed auto, Jeep is claiming a big leap in fuel efficiency for the Cherokee. The smaller 2.4-litre engine and more compact form of the new SUV cuts fuel use by 33 percent to 8.3 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle, while the numbers drop for the Pentastar V6 from 11.7L/100km to 10.0L/100km.

The new Cherokee range includes three levels of off-road ability. While the entry-level, front-drive Sport can only take advantage of its extra ride height, the Longitude and Limited models also gain a sophisticated, Land Rover-like four-setting off-road mode that adjusts on the fly at the turn of a dial.

Step up to the more hardcore Trailhawk, and a low-range transfer box patches onto the drivetrain to provide a well of torque where needed, and a locking rear differential adds extra climbing ability. The Trailhawk also gets a rock setting alongside the auto, sport, snow and sand/mud settings.

In terms of off-road ability, the new Cherokee Trailhawk’s approach angle is 29.9 degrees, a break-over angle of 22.9 degrees, and a departure angle of 32.2 degrees.

The previous-generation Cherokee’s numbers were 28.2 degrees approach angle, 21.7 degrees for the break-over angle and 30.3 degrees for the departure angle.

The water fording maximum for both generations is around the same at about 51cm.

The jump in generations for the Cherokee sees it lose its previous body-on-frame structure for a more car-like monocoque body. The front suspension moves to Macpherson struts, while down the rear multi-link independent suspension features more lightweight aluminium components.

Steering moves to electronic rather than hydraulic assist, allowing Jeep to patch a number of on-road driver aids into its new off-roader, such as a lane-keeping assistant that stops the SUV wandering out of its lane with a gentle nudge on the steering wheel. It will even stop the Cherokee from wandering across the road as the road’s camber changes.

The entry-level Cherokee sits on 17-inch alloy wheels, with a tyre pressure monitor in the cabin and a full-size spare hidden under the boot floor.

Standard equipment includes a five-inch touchscreen with a Bluetooth phone connection and USB input, cloth seats, a driver’s seat-back pocket, LED daytime running lights and tail-lights, projector headlamps, one-touch power windows all around, an electric parking brake and single-zone air-conditioning with rear air vents.

There’s no reversing sensors, but the entry-level Cherokee range does come with a reversing camera borrowed from the Dodge Dart – overseas, the entry-level SUV is sold without one, and Jeep Australia had to special-order fit its own to cars brought in here.

In terms of safety, the entire Cherokee range is fitted with seven airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag. It has recently received a top five-star rating from Australia’s crash safety watchdog.

Stepping up to the Longitude adds the V6 over the four-cylinder engine, as well as the all-wheel-drive system that disconnects the rear wheels when they are not needed.

It adds fog lamps, eight-way powered driver’s seat with electric lumbar adjust, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift lever, dual-zone air-conditioning, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlights, and a powered tailgate.

From this model up, the front passenger seat carries over the previous-generation Cherokee’s feature of a fully folding front passenger seat to allow a long load space inside the cabin.

However, once again, the 60:40 split-fold rear seat has the smaller wedge of space on the wrong side for the right-hand-drive market.

There is also a handy under-seat storage space that features one of the hidden Jeep Easter eggs – a map of the Rubicon trail on which the car-maker benchmarks off-road ability.

Stepping up to the Limited adds heated leather seats, self-leveling bi-Xenon headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, a bigger seven-inch screen in the middle of the dash, and a much bigger 8.4-inch touchscreen on the centre console, a better 10-speaker audio system with full iPod integration, and front and rear parking sensors.

The Trailhawk adds 2.5cm of lift, a wider track and a much more off-road friendly front splitter and rear diffuser as part of a more rugged and masculine fit-out of the exterior that includes a blacked-out bonnet and prominent Trailhawk badging, as well as solid underbody protection.

A pair of tow hooks pokes out from the front bumper, and a single one out the rear, and both the engine and transmission cooling systems receive a boost.

As well a the low-range gearbox and the locking rear axle, the Trailhawk gains a speed-variable modes for crawling, climbing and descending.

Jeep is refusing to talk numbers on the new Cherokee, saying only that it expects the Limited to make up the bulk of Australian Jeep sales.

However, it is looking at the success of the Grand Cherokee – the first Jeep model to rewrite the rules for the US brand’s exterior styling – as an indication of how much potential the less grand Cherokee could hold.

2014 Jeep Cherokee pricing*
Sport 4x2 (a)$33,500
Longitude 4x4 (a)$39,000
Limited 4x4 (a)$44,000
Trailhawk (a)$47,500
*Excludes on-road costs.

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