30 Nov 2018

Jeep Cherokee Limited 2018 new car review

A broadly talented alternative to the usual SUV crowd
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Polarising was one word for the pre-facelifted version of this 2018 Jeep Cherokee Limited.

Perhaps, when some were being less kind, ghastly was another. Yet with lower and wider headlights, plus a smoothened-off snout, the ugly duckling of the medium SUV segment has been turned into something less stylistically startling. Or, if some were being kind, handsome.

That’s especially the case with this penultimate model grade, the Limited, which delivers a blend of black cladding and chrome detailing befitting of a one-part-luxury, one-part-rugged model grade.

Unique is another word to describe the Cherokee. Where rivals are a little bit smaller and they all utilise four-cylinder engines and ‘on demand’ all-wheel drive systems, this larger Jeep gets a big-capacity petrol V6 and proper off-road modes – complete with price and equipment comparable to ‘soft roaders’. Could it now be sitting pretty at the top of the class?

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Vehicle Style: Medium SUV

Price: $46,950 plus on-road costs

Engine/trans: 200kW/315Nm 3.2-litre petrol V6 | nine-speed automatic

Fuel Economy Claimed: 9.8 l/100km Tested: 11.8 l/100km

OVERVIEW

Not to be confused with its larger (and older) Grand Cherokee large SUV sibling, this generation of Cherokee medium SUV has just turned four years old and it continues to arrive as standard with a 2.4-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive.

Even the new Sport, at $35,950 plus on-road costs, gets all-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB), a blind-spot monitor, lane-departure warning with active lane-keep assistance and rear cross-traffic alert, most of which previously cost $2950 extra even on this flagship.

But a modest 130kW of power and 229Nm of torque, pulling a 1590kg medium SUV, is then swapped out for this mighty 3.2-litre naturally aspirated V6 engine for the Longitude model grade. It delivers a potent 200kW at 6500rpm and 315Nm at 4300rpm, includes all-wheel drive and costs from $41,950 (plus orc). Combined-cycle fuel consumption rises from 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres to 9.8L/100km, but only some 2.0-litre turbo rivals can match it for output.

Such competitors include the 188kW/353Nm, $44,290 (plus orc) Holden Equinox LTZ and 162kW/350Nm, $49,950 (plus orc) Volkswagen Tiguan 162TSI Highline. With the Limited being priced from $46,950 (plus orc), this second-from-top Cherokee slips between them. And finally, there’s the $48,450 (plus orc) Trailhawk flagship that adds off-road hardware, raised ride height and extra underbody protection – but off-roading won’t be our focus here.

THE INTERIOR | RATING: 4.0/5

Standard Equipment: Keyless auto-entry with push-button start and electric-folding door mirrors, electric tailgate, automatic on/off headlights and wipers, auto up/down high-beam, auto reverse-park assistance, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, leather-wrapped steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, leather trim, and electrically adjustable and heated/ventilated front seats.

Infotainment: 8.4-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, digital radio, satellite navigation and Alpine nine-speaker/506-watt sound system.

Options Fitted: Panoramic sunroof ($2200).

Cargo Volume: 781 litres.

Beyond the engine swap, for $6000 more than the Sport, the Longitude adds keyless auto-entry with push-button start and electric-fold door mirrors, auto on/off headlights and wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, electric tailgate, rear parking sensors, electrically adjustable front seats, and dual-zone climate control – so if that seems enough, you’re done by $42K.

However, for another $5000, this Limited further adds auto up/down high-beam, adaptive cruise control, front parking sensors with auto reverse-park assistance, leather trim, front seat heating/ventilation with memory presets, plus an 8.4-inch touchscreen (up from 7.0in) now with integrated satellite navigation, ‘one shot’ voice control and nine-speaker Alpine audio.

The latter aspects, plus a widescreen-colour driver trip computer screen, are fine finishers to the already standard Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology and digital radio (nicknamed DAB+), sealing off a clear infotainment win for Jeep in this class.

That’s right, not an Equinox and Tiguan, or the very popular Hyundai Tucson and Mazda CX-5, can match this blend of on-screen technology, seamlessness and intuition, crisp and even quite interesting graphics, plus fast response. There’s even two front USB ports, and twin rear charging ports, to round out a semi-premium experience for mainstream money.

We say ‘semi’ because there are some areas where the Jeep falls on the cheaper side of rivals. For example, there are soft-touch plastics everywhere, but they are a bit rubbery and the overall fit-and-finish isn’t as immaculate as it is in the Hyundai or Mazda, in particular.

Some dash trim panel gaps are a tad large, and the centre console bin lid is a fraction flimsy. It’s nothing major, but there is the impression that this Illinois, US-built medium SUV is a little rough around the edges – befitting of a ‘proper’ off-roader, the argument could be made.

The front seats are comfortable and fully adjustable, if lacking in side support, and the rear-seat base is a tad short, dropping legs into a space that’s competitive with rivals (less than Equinox and Tiguan, yet on par with Tucson and CX-5). Headroom is a bigger issue, with the ($2200-optional) panoramic sunroof forcing the roofline down by enough to brush the head of this 178cm-tall tester – forcing the backrest-recline function to be used.

Boot volume, at 781 litres, is more competitive, though Jeep measures that up to the roof. In reality, the broad and square space is up there with the biggest in the class, the 615L Tiguan, and it manages this with a full-size spare tyre underfloor.

ON AND OFF THE ROAD | RATING: 3.5/5

Engine: 200kW/315Nm 3.2-litre petrol V6.

Transmission: Nine-speed automatic, AWD.

Suspension: Strut front and independent rear.

Brakes: Ventilated front and rear disc brakes.

Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering.

After recently driving, and enjoying, the Tiguan’s 2.0-litre turbo, then to a lesser degree the Tucson’s 1.6-litre turbo, then to a lesser degree the CX-5’s 2.5-litre non-turbo, it’s safe to say the Cherokee’s ‘old school’ 3.2-litre V6 trumps them all for responsiveness and aural appeal.

This is an instantly reactive, and smoothly cultured engine, providing enough refinement above the four-cylinder crew to somehow feel more expensive, more premium, even indulgent. That latter word is certainly the case for fuel consumption, though, which extended to 11.8L/100km on test, where the similar-performing Tiguan/Tucson managed ‘low 10s’.

With its off-road slant, though, this Limited is the heavyweight of the segment, weighing 1806kg where the aforementioned rivals all weigh sub-1700kg. That wouldn’t help at all.

Even with an automatic tipshifter that is the correct way around (push forward to go back gears, pull to find the next one) plus steering wheel-mounted paddleshifters, however, the nine-speed automatic is a weak link next to the charming V6.

Sometimes, when a burst of acceleration is required around town, it refuses to kickdown even with the tachometer needle hovering at 3000rpm. That’s less than halfway to its 6500rpm redline, and it has nine ratios to play with. On a twisty road, it can also be reluctant, then slow, to deliver a downshift at the required time.

Which is a shame because, with the centre console-mounted rotary dial flicked to Sport and thanks to grippy Michelin Latitude tyres and all-wheel drive traction, this Jeep can be surprising fun on a twisty road. It feels even more like it’s on stilts that the soft-roader club, but it’s decently balanced plus the steering is fairly sharp and pleasantly mid-weighted.

What it does lack is some of the finesse of a Tucson and CX-5 in particular. The suspension falls in the better half of this segment, but at the outer edges – such as over big dips and heaves – it can become a tad bouncy and reactive.

Consider the multiple modes (Auto, Sport, Snow, Rock/Mud) for the all-wheel drive system, though, and the Jeep wins back points. It performed pleasantly on dirt, though the Limited’s 185mm ground clearance and catwalk-style 18-inch tyres ultimately need to be traded for the Trailhawk’s 221mm clearance and chubby 17s to best utilise that Rock/Mud setting.

SAFETY

ANCAP rating: 5 stars – this model scored 36.16 out of 37 possible points when tested by Euro NCAP in 2016.

Safety Features: Seven airbags, ABS, electronic stability control (ESC), forward collision warning with forward and reverse autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning with active lane-keep assistance, rear-view camera, and front and rear parking sensors with rear cross-traffic alert.

WARRANTY AND SERVICING

Warranty: Five years/100,000km

Servicing: Service intervals are every 12 months or 12,000km, whichever occurs first, and Jeep’s capped-price servicing plan costs $495/$495/$545/$620 each year, up until four years or 48,000km - extremely expensive compared to rivals.

RIVALS TO CONSIDER

The Equinox doesn’t quite make the top three, but the Tucson Highlander certainly does for a mix of plush cabin and safety tech matched here – plus, it offers a better ride and more space.

The CX-5 Akera lacks some boot space, and its engine some oomph, but its interior is superb and it offers the most premium blend of steering, ride and handling here.

While the Tiguan 162TSI Highline is as fast as this Cherokee’s V6, it’s also more economical though not as sweet – and it’s also very expensive.

 

TMR VERDICT | OVERALL RATING: 4.0/5

In a future update, a 201kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder is set to replace this 3.2-litre V6 in the Cherokee, for lots of sensible reasons – chiefly economy. For now, though, this engine has a real smooth, expensive (literally, to run) charm about it lacking from smaller-engined rivals, so much so that the flawed automatic is otherwise less of a problem.

Importantly, too, the Cherokee Limited has broad-enough talent that could require an extra charge over ‘soft roader’ rivals, yet Jeep only – and disappointingly – lunges for a buyer’s wallet when it comes to the extremely expensive servicing costs.

It otherwise may not have the most finessed suspension, but its steering and handling are good, and it may not have the roomiest back seat, however its semi-premium cabin and large boot volume make up for much.

Above all, it’s quite likeable, and thankfully handsome rather than polarising.

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