2014 JEEP CHEROKEE REVIEW
What’s hot: Smart interior, best-in-class ride, 9-spd ZF auto, strong off-road
What’s not: Steering-feel a little remote, ‘flat’ exhaust note.
X-FACTOR: A 'clean sheet’ new model with sharp urban style and get-away-from-it-all capability: the new Cherokee succeeds on so many levels.
Vehicle style: Medium SUV
Pricing: Sport 4X2 $33,500; Longitude 4X4 $39,000; Limited 4X4 $44,000; Trailhawk 4X4 $47,500
130kW/229Nm 2.4 litre petrol ‘four’ (Sport 4X2 only) | 9spd auto
200kW/316Nm 3.2 litre petrol V6 | 9spd auto
2.4 litre petrol listed: 8.3 l/100km | tested: 12.1 l/100km
3.2 litre petrol listed: 10.0 l/100km | tested: 9.4 l/100km
Every now and then a car comes along that you know is going to succeed. Usually, it’s a giant leap from the car it replaces, and, also usually, it’s a segment stealer.
It’s also one that’s going to steal buyers who might otherwise have been looking further along the SUV food-chain to ‘the next size up’.
There is in fact daylight between this new Cherokee and the solid but old-fashioned Cherokee it replaces.
The old Cherokee was alright; it was reasonable buying for what it offered in 4WD capability and family-friendly features, but it was a bit of mutt - loyal, but lacking in sophistication.
In looks, in features, in the finish to the interior and in the way it drives - and in the rationale as to what this car is about - the new Cherokee is a generational leap from the square-rigged wagon it replaces.
In a segment dominated by conservative boxy lines, the new Cherokee looks as modern as tomorrow. These lines won’t quickly disappear into a sea of beige urban sameness.
But it’s unmistakably ‘a Jeep’.
Below is the Fiat Group's CUS-wide platform shared with the Alfa Romeo Giulietta hatch, extensively engineered for the new Cherokee.
The two current engine options - the 2.4 litre MultiAir petrol four, and the 3.2 litre Pentastar V6 petrol (a 2.0 litre turbodiesel is coming later in the year) - come hooked up to a nine-speed ZF automatic.
Nine speeds? None other in the segment offers as standard such a liquid and sophisticated powertrain - and right through the range.
We joined Chrysler Australia in the Flinders Ranges in SA to eyeball the new Cherokee and to put it through its paces, on-road and off.
We started in the Limited 4X4, swapped to the Sport 4X2, then took the Trailhawk 4X4 deep off-road into the Flinders.
We came away convinced: this car sets a new standard for not-so-small SUVs. It’s the first of the next generation and its arrival has its segment competitors suddenly looking old and grey.
Standard features Sport 4X2:
- Air-conditioning (with rear outlets) and cruise control
- Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, Uconnect media centre with AM/FM radio
- Three 12-volt power outlets (cargo, floor console and instrument panel)
- Audio aux-in jack and full-function USB-port and six-speaker audio
- 5-inch touchscreen display (and voice command)
- 3.5 inch instrument cluster display
- Illuminated cup-holders in floor console, overhead sunglasses holder
- Reversing camera
- Rear reading lamps, courtesy lamps and illuminated cargo compartment
- Electric park brake
Longitude 4X4 adds:
- Active Drive 4X4 system (with Select Terrain drive mode selector)
- Automatic headlamps and rain-sensing wipers
- Roof rails, rear cargo-net and fog lamps
- Dual-zone automatic air-conditioning
- Ambient LED interior lighting
- Passenger in-seat storage compartment
- Eight-way powered driver’s seat and powered tailgate
- Leather-wrapped steering wheel
Limited 4X4 adds:
- Choice of nappa leather trim and seats
- Heated front seats
- Front and rear parking sensors
- Premium 506W Alpine 10-speaker (with Sub) sound system
- 7-inch instrument cluster display
- 8.4-inch touchscreen display with Bluetooth, voice command and navigation
Trailhawk 4X4 adds:
- Active Drive Lock 4WD system with selectable low-range
- Rear axle diff-lock
- Hill descent (and ascent) control
- Heavy-duty engine cooling and auxiliary transmission oil cooler
- Off-road accessory kit and all-season floor mats
- Matte black bonnet decal and moulding accents
- Bespoke leather with red accent stitching
This is a very comfortable and satisfying interior. It’s as well put-together as Mazda’s CX-5, but roomier, and with a robust and substantial feel.
The Cherokee range starts at the mid-point of the CX-5 range so it’s reasonable to expect more features and a higher level of specification.
In this the Cherokee does not disappoint. Touchscreen, reversing camera, high-end audio - most places you look the Cherokee offers a level of sophistication and quality-feel that sets a benchmark.
The soft-touch dash has a contrasting stitched highlight on the top face, and, in the up-spec leather-trimmed models, the stitching is repeated on the leather seat-facings and door trims.
Whether leather or fabric, the seats are very comfortable, nicely shaped for off-road work, and with support in the right places for long stints on the highway.
The second-row has room for three abreast, and three headrests, though shoulder-room will be tight for adults. The seats split-fold, folding flat for carrying larger items.
The front passenger seat also folds flat if you want to put a surfboard inside.
There are storage spaces everywhere and a very large 700 litre cargo space (all seats in place), rising to 1555 litres with the rear seats folded.
Metal highlights throughout the interior look good, the centre-stack is neat (and easily navigated) and the switchgear has a quality feel with rubberised touch-points and solid defined movements.
In the up-spec Limited and Trailhawk models, the larger touchscreen and sat-nav sets off a smart and classy interior.
It’s from a North American factory, but manages a better quality feel to the surfaces and trims than you’ll find in the up-specced Honda CRV, CX-5 or Hyundai Santa Fe. (And has won the Wards ‘10 Best Interiors’ award.)
The displays are customisable, feature voice recognition technology and are easily read.
Importantly, once a screen setting is chosen, it becomes the default setting (eliminating that sometimes infuriating search for “where you were last” every time you start the car).
ON THE ROAD
Key technical specifications:
- 2.4 litre petrol ‘four’ (Sport 4X2 only): 130kW/229Nm; 9-spd ZF automatic
- 3.2 litre petrol V6: 200kW/316Nm: 9-spd ZF automatic
- Electronic power steering
- McPherson strut front suspension, four-link rear
- Longitude and Limited 4X4 models feature Jeep Active Drive
- All 4X4 systems feature Selec-Terrain traction control with five customised settings: Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud and Rock (Trailhawk only)
- Trailhawk: Active Drive II with rear diff-lock, Hill Descent (and ascent) control and Selec-Speed control
Head to head, there is not another in the medium SUV segment that rides as quietly on road (when at speed) or that soaks road imperfections as well as the new Cherokee.
We noticed a little wind-flutter from the base of the a-pillar (could be coming from the wipers), but this is one refined drive.
Even the 2.4 litre ‘Tigershark’ MultiAir four-cylinder goes about things quietly and unfussed.
We were expecting the thrashy sound familiar to anyone who has driven the discontinued and not greatly-lamented Chrysler PT Cruiser. But this more powerful new engine is a smoother and better-balanced affair, and far easier to live with.
It is also, thanks to the pairing with the 9-speed ZF transmission, surprisingly strong.
With such a wide spread of ratios to harness, the 2.4 litre Cherokee makes very good use of its 130kW and 229Nm. Away from the line, or when accelerating out of corners, it doesn’t feel underdone or as if its struggling to get things moving.
However, while not short of legs on-road, fuel consumption for the smaller 2.4 litre suffered under a heavy foot. You will do a lot better than our 12.1 l/100km unless you regularly sink the boot in.
The 3.2 litre V6 is less troubled by a boot-full of enthusiasm and is very lively, despite the Cherokee’s 1.8-tonne heft.
With 200kW and 316Nm, a willingness to spin freely and that tremendous 9-speed ZF automatic, the Cherokee is a very effective and efficient high-speed tourer.
On the highway it will effortlessly flatten hills, overtakes rapidly and does it without punishing fuel consumption. Our 9.4 l/100km on a very brisk open-highway run bettered Jeep’s official average 10.0 l/100km figures.
And on a tight new engine.
Off-road, the Trailhawk returned an average of 18.1 l/100km, but this was after three hours of mostly low-range driving (with the rear difflock engaged) picking along rocky trails, steep climbs and deep ravines.
On-road and off, the ride is particularly good and very well-damped at speed.
After some sudden heavy rains in the region, there was a lot of debris and sudden washouts cutting the highway. The Cherokee had no trouble isolating things below and remaining balanced when belting through these.
The steering is a little over-isolated - I’d prefer more feel - but it’s comfortable, can be placed accurately when cornering and doesn’t suffer from excessive kick-back when picking along off-road trails.
And it’s off-road where the new Cherokee shines and makes its soft-roading SUV competitors like the new X-Trail and CX-5 look underdone and expensive.
But only the Outback - at a hell of a struggle, if at all - will get you anywhere near where the Trailhawk can effortlessly go.
This a genuine heavy-duty 4WD wagon.
And if the ascent or descent looks particularly troubling, punch in descent control, select the speed via the plus-minus plane on the shifter, and let the car do the rest.
If anything, it’s too flamin’ competent.
The off-road capability of the Trailhawk literally takes much of the challenge out of a challenging off-road trail.
The design brief for the new Cherokee was that it had to be able to get through the hallowed Rubicon Trail in the US.
With 221mm ground clearance, wading depth of 508mm (around half a metre) in standard trim, 29.9 degree approach angle and 32.2 departure angle, and all those off-road systems at work, you get a sense it could get through anything that a person of sane mind might point it at.
The V6 models also feature a 2200kg tow rating (the diesel will offer 2393kg towing capability).
So, yes, this SUV matches or betters the on-road comfort and performance of the best of its medium SUV competitors, and then clamber to places you would only take a heavy-duty AWD.
Impressed? Considering the totality of the package, it’s very hard not to be.
ANCAP RATING: The new Cherokee is a 5-Star ANCAP car, Jeep's first to achieve the top score.
All in the range come standard with seven airbags including driver’s knee-bag and all-row side curtain airbags, LED tail-lamps and DRLs, stability control, traction control, speed-sensitive door locks, hill-start assist and tyre pressure monitoring system.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Because of the strong 4X4 capability of the new Cherokee in Trailhawk guise, it hardly has a direct competitor on the medium SUV segment. It also feels a size bigger. Except for lacking third-row seats, you could sensibly cross-shop the new Cherokee against the Pathfinder and Kluger.
You might however line up the 2WD Sport against the following:
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
That Grand Cherokee is very good buying and the market knows it.
If Jeep Australia can get the word out about its smaller bro’, this new Cherokee may do the same in the medium segment as the Grand Cherokee has managed among large SUVs.
The new Cherokee perhaps has the tougher task. The medium SUV segment is chock-full of very good cars and the dominant CX-5 is not going to be easily dislodged from its iron-grip on top-spot.
But this new Cherokee is a very impressive car. Its entry price is a little higher than others in the segment, but it feels the more premium purchase and is very well specced for features and capability - especially in off-road performance.
It also feels the more substantial and complete car than its medium SUV competitors, and is the freshest in looks and feel.
It started from a clean sheet, and it shows. As lead designer Greg Howell said at the Australian launch, “The new Cherokee was not going to be the (same) vehicle that we had been making.”
Forget for a moment that it drives really well; if you show up at work or the schoolground gates in this car, you are going to make an impression, no risk.
It is the best buy of the moment . But don’t take our word for it, check it out for yourself.
PRICING (Excludes on-road costs)
- Sport 4x2 - 2.4 litre 4cyl auto - $33,500
- Longitude 4x4 - 3.2 litre V6 auto - $39,000
- Limited 4x4 - 3.2 litre V6 auto - $44,000
- Trailhawk 4x4 3.2-litre V6 auto - $47,500