2014 JEEP CHEROKEE REVIEW
What’s Hot: Fabulous ride on-road and off it, smooth drivetrain, off-road ability
What’s Not: More road noise on all-terrain tyres, no diesel option, steering feel lacking
X-FACTOR: Masterful balance - a wagon built for serious trail-bashing without sacrificing on-road comfort
Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
Engine/trans: 200kW/316Nm 6cyl petrol | 9spd auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 10.0 l/100km | tested: 14.6 l/100km
When you think of a Jeep conquering the famed Rubicon Trail in California, there’s only one which comes to mind - the Wrangler.
But hold on a second. Take a mid-sized SUV, jack it up slightly, add rear diff-lock, low range transfer case, compliant suspension and an excellent ESC programme, and it may have what it takes to have a good crack at it.
Which is exactly how the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk came into being.
Jeep has ensured that the Cherokee Trailhawk is “trail-rated”. That means it has to excel in five key areas: traction, articulation, water fording, manoeuvrability, and ground clearance.
And it had to prove its mettle in some of the roughest terrain available.
So, has the Cherokee Trailhawk nailed those five points? And even if it did, how well does it stack up as a passenger car? Jeep dropped us in the middle of the Flinders Ranges to find out.
Quality: Apparently this thing is built in Ohio, but someone forgot to tell Jeep. Think American-built means acres of shiny, hard plastic? Think again - there’s a distinct Euro influence with how this car has been put together.
Cast your eye across the dash and you’ll notice the soft-touch surfaces, neat contrast stitching and nice touches like the traditional Jeep door handles. The buttons and dials are all big, though - nothing dainty here.
Material quality is very good (some could be better), remembering that this is a fully off-roadable car that comes in under $50K.
Comfort: This is an area where the Cherokee shines. The leather seats in the Trailhawk are brilliant, with enough bolstering to keep you from rocking around when off-road, but cushioned perfectly for long distances.
We’d like to see a dead pedal, for resting your left foot, but apart from that the driving position is excellent and there’s plenty of adjustment in both the steering wheel (manual) and seat (electric).
Back seat passengers fare very well, with heaps of foot-room, and even having a long-legged driver up front, knee-room isn’t impeded. Three abreast will be tight, but with a tall cabin and plenty of glass area, you’ll never feel claustrophobic.
You can also slide the rear seats fore and aft around six inches, liberating more boot space.
Equipment: The Trailhawk is exactly the same as the Limited spec Cherokee, but adds all the off-road fruit. That means it’s fully loaded.
A self-parking function is standard, as is radar-based cruise control, dual-zone climate control, a huge eight-inch touch screen infotainment unit with Bluetooth phone and audio, USB and SD ports, a reversing camera, plus a crystal-clear seven-inch colour screen nestled in the instrumentation.
Rain-sensing wipers, heated seats, sat-nav, voice commands, diff-lock, lane departure assistant - it’s all there. Jeep even has an induction-charging mat for mobile phones available.
It won’t take a trainspotter to work out the visual differences between the Trailhawk and other models, though.
With 17-inch wheels but large all-terrain tyres, housed in flared wheel-arches and offset further out, it has a more purposeful stance.
Then there’s the bright-red tow hooks, two up front and one at the back, that signify intent.
Storage: While the boot is a standard size for this segment, not only can the rear seats fold flat to create a large load area, the front passenger seat also folds flat.
Under the passenger’s seat squab is a small area perfect for an iPad, books or maps, while the centre console has a lidded under elbow storage area for a wallet or keys.
The glovebox is nice and deep and there’s a coin stowage area ahead of the gear lever. The usual abundance of cupholders applies here, and the door bins will happily hold 600mm bottles of water.
ON AND OFF ROAD
Driveability: Turn the key (no start button, unless you opt for the Electronic Convenience pack) and the V6 cranks into life with a minimum of fuss.
Select drive, the electric park brake automatically releases, and the nine-speed auto takes command moving quickly and smoothly up the ratio count.
While the auto is very, very smooth and a great partner with the 3.2-litre Pentastar V6, it is a little hesitant on kickdown; once it’s worked out what you’re wanting to do it picks the right ratio and gets on with the job.
But even at the national highway limit, we still couldn’t get into eighth or ninth gear, which are moonshot overdrives.
Manual control can be taken by shifting the lever to the left (there are no paddles here), and again it’s a fraction slow to respond to downshifts, but upshifts are handled quickly.
Thankfully, if you do want to take control manually, the shift pattern is the right way around (pull back to upshift, forward to downshift).
The Cherokee sits flat at speed and handles corners very well, but what we wanted to know was how it would cut it in the rough.
With a combination of taller springs and bigger tyres, the Trailhawk is a full 25mm above the other Cherokee models, so its ground clearance is quite good. But because its wheelbase isn’t huge, there’s plenty of ramp-over angle to play with.
All of the facts and figures are great on paper, but it’s only in the real world that you see what it’s really like. So a 4WD trail on the Willow Springs property was one way to test it.
The Trailhawk’s ESC is specifically designed for its unique wheel and tyre combination, and it proved its worth on the fractured shale rock surfaces we encountered.
Our mission was to leave it in its automatic mode to see how far we could get without having to resort to using the Selec-Terrain dial.
We also had the rear-diff lock to help if we really got stuck.
As it turned out, neither were needed. Climbing up slippery slopes (there had been recent rain) was simply a matter of 'point and shoot'. When there was rock moving underneath, the ESC quickly realised and braked that wheel, sending the torque to the other wheels.
It climbs with hardly any of the clickety-click present in other ESC systems; it just finds the grip and gets on with it.
Downhill ascents were a piece of cake too.
With the hill descent activated, we could control the speed at which we descended by simply pushing the gear selector to the manual slot and moving it forward or back, in increments of 1kmh, up to 10kmh.
While the trail itself wasn’t particularly heavy duty, a few “off-piste” expeditions allowed us to see how it went over larger rocks and deeper mud. The Cherokee’s ability is, in a word, excellent.
Refinement: Gone are the days of a thrashy V6 keeping the Jeep churning along. This new version of the Pentastar (down to 3.2-litres) is as smooth as silk. The nine-speed auto matches well in keeping things nice and quiet.
Wind noise is suppressed and overall the cabin is quite hushed. Unlike the Sport, Limited and Longitude, however, the Trailhawk uses all-terrain tyres, which do create more road noise.
Ride and Handling: On the road, the ride is expertly judged. There’s enough compliance to soak up little jittery imperfections but not too much so that it leans in corners.
In fact, it can be pushed further than you expect, with beautifully neutral balance.
But in the rough the ride is even more remarkable.
None of the shudder, none of the loud bangs that normally find their way into the cabin off-road.
The excellent seats help, but it is by far one of the best rides when off-road, this side of a Range Rover.
We would like a bit more feel from the steering however. Both on- and off-road, it tends to be a bit ‘distant’, but you’ll have no trouble placing your wheels.
Braking: Pedal feel is initially a little spongy, but you quickly adapt, and even on long down-hill descents, relying solely on the brakes, the Cherokee was never bothered.
The front discs are 330mm x 28mm vented rotors with single-piston floating calipers, while the rears use 278mm x 12mm solid rotors with single-piston floating callipers.
ANCAP rating: Five stars. The Cherokee scored 36.16 out of a possible 37 points.
Safety features: Dual frontal, side chest and side head airbags (curtains) and a driver knee airbag are standard. Antilock brakes (ABS), electronic brake distribution (EBD) and electronic stability control (ESC) are also standard. Advanced seat belt reminders are fitted to all seats.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Service costs: tbc
During the warranty period, you get roadside assistance included, but after the warranty expires, you can purchase it at a cost of $143 per year.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Land Rover Freelander 2 Si4 ($55,600) - Probably the closest competitor in terms of size and ability, the Freelander is looking dated in comparison to the Cherokee, and it’s a whole lot more expensive. (see Land Rover reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
We’re unabashed fans of the new Cherokee, and there’s good reason. It is well built, has ability in reserve, is supremely comfortable, drives very well and, in this writer’s eyes at least, looks great.
There’s more to it though: with this new Cherokee, Jeep has given us a very well-resolved machine.
While some cars have either more on road-bias, or are built for tackling the rough, none - at this price level - are as accomplished across the board as the Cherokee.
It doesn’t seem to suffer from being a jack-of-all-trades, which is why it gets our tick of approval.
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