Pick up any gossip mag and there’s sure to be a section dedicated to the latest celebrity facelifts - but no one is prepared to talk about the automotive industry’s fascination with a good nip-and-tuck.
That is unless the car in question has been treated to an intensive rhinoplasty, much like that of the 2018 Jeep Cherokee which has banished its polarisingly avant garde mug for a money maker than’t sure to land it more A-list roles with families around the world.
The move away from Jeep’s ‘love it or loathe it’ design helps bring the new Cherokee into line with the models that sit either side of it, with a clear family resemblance between the all-new compact Compass and the large Grand Cherokee, helping position the Cherokee as a more premium product amongst mainstream brands.
Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
Price: $36,000-$52,000 (estimated) plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 134kW/234Nm 2.4-litre 4cyl petrol, 199kW/316Nm 6cyl petrol | 9spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: TBC
As well as giving the design team an extensive brief for the redesign, Jeep also ordered its engineering division to tweak key mechanical elements to improve the Cherokee’s on-road behaviour.
The finished product delivers an Extreme Makeover level of attention to detail, going beyond skin deep changes for an SUV that’s not only more handsome, but also gains a better set of on-road manners, and boosts suitability as a family runabout.
When the refreshed Cherokee hits Australian shores from mid-2018 expect the current four-variant range to continue, starting with a two-wheel drive Sport variant powered by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder before stepping up to the Longitude and Limited, and the off-road hero Trailhawk, all powered by a 3.2-litre V6 mated to all wheel drive.
Exact price and specifications for Australian models are yet to be locked-in, but no major changes are expected for the range, meaning a starting point under $40,000 for the Sport up to a point just above $50,000 for the Trailhawk.
Changes to the interior of the new Cherokee aren’t as dramatic as those to the exterior, although there’s still plenty of new detail touches like piano black and brushed aluminium highlights throughout the dash, and new trim colour schemes which push the Cherokee up a step above its predecessor in terms of quality and presentation.
The interior is spacious for the whole family, offering decent space and good range of front seat adjustment. Jeep has also introduced a new interface for its Uconnect multimedia system with a fresh style and easy to operate 8.4-inch touchscreen in top-spec variants.
Rear-seat occupants aren’t short-changed for space either, with enough room for a couple of adults to travel comfortably, while young families are catered for with three ISOFIX child seat anchorage points.
Revisions to the powered rear tailgate, which is now made from a lightweight composite construction, have improved cargo carrying capacity, with Jeep claiming it can accommodate two sets of golf clubs across the boot.
ON THE ROAD
The entry-level 2.4-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine in the Cherokee Sport keeps unchanged outputs of 132kW and 234Nm, but adds an automatic stop/start function to bring fuel consumption down by as much as 7.5 percent.
The four-cylinder is more than adequate for everyday suburban duties, but, considering it doesn’t hit maximum pulling power until 4600rpm, it does need to be worked hard out on the open road when climbing hills or for quick overtaking manoeuvres.
It will occasionally chirp the front tyres and tug through the steering wheel under heavy acceleration but at the other end of the scale a revised intake manifold helps to keep noise down during spirited running.
In all other variants, Jeep runs its 3.2-litre Pentastar V6, making the Cherokee the only mid-size SUV to offer V6 power. With 199kW and 316Nm outputs are the same as before but modifications to engine control software are said to improve responsiveness and refinement.
Despite the V6’s bigger outputs, it also needs to be revved hard to get the best out of it during anything more than leisurely cruising around town. When pushed it can sound a bit gruff towards the top-end of the tacho and is thirstier than most modern turbo motors.
Thanks to the extra traction of its all-wheel drive system the V6 Cherokee feels much more stable than the base car through bends, working seamlessly to shuffle torque to where it’s needed the most.
Similarly, revisions to the springs, bushes and anti-roll bars in the suspension, and a slight extension to the track width on all variants except the Trailhawk, are said to bring better dynamics while also improving comfort and compliance.
At the Cherokee’s overseas launch in the Santa Monica Mountains north of Los Angeles, we had the chance to the sample the entry-level Sport and luxury-focused Limited on some challenging canyon roads, with a gnarly off-road session reserved for the more capable Trailhawk.
Almost instantly, the updated Cherokee feels more convincing than its predecessor, with new-found levels of suspension composure, particularly in urban settings.
Big undulations are dealt with confidently, though the Cherokee can still struggle to absorb sharp, high-frequency bumps. Steering is well weighted, and there’s a noticeable step-up in refinement on the road.
Both engines utilise the wide spread of ratios in the nine-speed automatic transmission to good effect, and gear shifts have been smoothed out though there’s still a tendency to constantly swap cogs to keep the engines in their respective sweet spots, and from time to time the Cherokee can still find itself the wrong gear for the situation.
Where the Cherokee really stands out from its rivals is at the top of the range with the Trailhawk, which features a unique four-wheel drive system with a low-range transfer case, a locking rear differential and additional electronic driving aids, as well as unique bumpers and raised suspension that give it extra ground clearance and dual-purpose tyres for more grip off the beaten track.
The multi-mode drive selector is easy to use, with tailored settings for snow, sand and mud and rocks, while override functions for hill descent control and speed control virtually take over the controls, reducing driver effort on more challenging surfaces.
To go with the sweeping design overhaul which brings a totally revised front end, new tailgate and rear bumper, engineering changes contribute to a 68kg weight reduction for all variants. Equipment also improves, safety systems have been bolstered plus modified suspension settings, revised calibration for the nine-speed automatic and improvements to the engines make for a more cohesive and enjoyable vehicle.
The Cherokee Trailhawk also proved it will go further than most owners will ever consider taking it. Over a seriously rugged four-wheel drive course, the flagship version was able to cross rocky outcrops, climb a series of rutted and steep inclines, and tough its way through a set of moguls with individual wheels hanging high in the air.
At the end of the day, the updates to the 2018 Jeep Cherokee make it a much more convincing machine, not just in eliminating its polarising appearance but also improving its on-road manners. However, apart from the Trailhawk which is genuinely the most capable off-roader in its class, it doesn’t reset any benchmarks in one of the most competitive segments of the market.
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