Taking a justified ‘Jeep of faith’, with essential new Cherokee
If, like Iain P W Robertson, you are thoroughly fed-up with an endless array of Land Rover ‘this and thats’, an American solution is now on our shores and it is a car that sets important new benchmarks in several key areas.
In my book, there are only two iconic producers of proper 4x4s: Land Rover and Jeep. Both had origins in WW2 (although the Willys General Purpose vehicle was the true pioneer). All other makers of 4x4s are usurpers, keen to latch onto a male-dominated bandwagon that appears to have grown with a need for greater bonnet length (if you know to what I am inferring).
Naturally, neither brand, despite being able to trace their lineages, has become what their ‘inventors’ intended and both have, by happenstance, transmogrified into their present, all-encompassing SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle) forms. While ‘sport’ might have some relevance for certain models, ‘utility’ is a factor left behind some years ago. However, the classification remains as a convenient marker buoy.
Fully aware that I am not alone in feeling sad about Land Rover ownership departing our shores for the Indian sub-continent, I admit that the lease of life provided to a company that had been systematically raped by BMW, prior to hiving off the remnants, in a convoluted barn sale, to a conglomerate headed by the Tata Corporation, has been remarkable for the Solihull and Gaydon-based manufacturer.
A not dissimilar fate awaited Jeep, which had already been absorbed by American Motors, then the Chrysler Corporation, prior to its disastrous partnership with Mercedes-Benz. No way was Merc about to allow the US volume champion an opportunity to sneak a few goals past its Teutonic defence (don’t you love the World Cup footy reference?). Instilling major budget slashes across all of its production, Jeep would never be on ‘fast-track’ development again…at least until Fiat Group made its most recent, fruitful bid.
Yet, new owners all-round also equates to major focus shifts all-round. Those for Land-Rover, in my opinion, have been questionable. How any brand can employ the ‘brand ambassador’ services of a pouting, non-smiling, self-aggrandising, non-singing ex-singist has always been beyond me. Yet, Posh Spice, for it is she to whom I refer, a sometime member of a shouty, pushy cadre of pop princesses, was thus linked to Land-Rover. Oops! Along with that comes its ex-footballing hubby, who already receives free cars from other carmakers. Good God! They all jump on the flaming bandwagon. I only wish it were thus engulfed.
Just over two years ago, Jeep (as part of the Chrysler group) had filed for bankruptcy. Thanks to the Italian Connection, note here that I have no desire to awake to a horse’s head sharing my bed, the defibrillator was attached and it has been beetling away feverishly to take the brand to where it should have been more than a decade ago. If the Grand Cherokee gave us a clue, trust me, the new, smaller model Cherokee whisks Jeep onto another, significantly higher-flying plane.
The big question is, is it better than the equivalent L-R offering? Hell, yes, and by a long chalk! Here’s the statement, with which to juggle…‘This is the best SUV ever from the world’s original 4×4 icon!’. Land-Rover read it and weep. Do I not feel in the least bit ‘unpatriotic’? No. Why should I? Neither of these brands are homeboys any more.
Here is the deal. The new Cherokee starts at £25,495 in a range that rises to £35,695, through three trim levels (Longitude, Longitude+, Limited), with a choice of two engines, two transmissions and two drive-trains. If you cannot find the right variant in that little mix, then consider a Grand Cherokee instead. Price-wise, Jeep has the market licked.
Recognising that the business vehicle sector has a demand for SUVs that do not possess a go-anywhere remit, a 4×2 variant kicks-off proceedings. Personally, I think that introducing such a model is a masterstroke that might be underplayed by the brand. A lot of buyers want the look but not the hefty hardware and potential on-costs of all-wheel-drive. At 139g/km on the CO2 emissions chart, it equates to a mere £125 per annum for the VED. An Official Combined fuel figure of 53.3mpg (a ‘true’ return will be around 42-45mpg) hints at its costs-shaving potential. Fleets will love it.
Available to test were the 140 and 170bhp alternative 4×4 versions of the 2.0-litre, Fiat-derived turbo-diesel power unit. Both are exceptionally refined, although the 140 is attached to a deliciously weighted six-speed manual gearbox, while the 170 introduces a gear-head’s delight of nine forward ratios in automatic form. Initially not keen on the idea, I soon became a fan of the seamlessly slick and reactive 9-speeder.
Although not talked about, the multi-ratio auto-box is intended to aid the emissions’ figures but, with the 170 engine driving it, its performance is hardly slow. With a slug of torque in the important mid-range, progress is inestimably zesty (0-60mph in 10 secs; 119mph max), although the 140 with manual is not far behind (11.7s; 117mph). However, cars in this category are not intended to be road-burners and astonishingly high cross-country averages can be maintained thanks to the Cherokee’s raft of other surprises.
It truly does appear that the days of roly-poly biliousness are no longer part of the pre-eminent 4×4’s armoury and possessing outstanding body control is very much elemental to the new Cherokee’s appeal. Brake dive, cornering stability and, yes, body roll are all maintained within taut and sinuous boundaries. Its steering responses are more than merely class leading. The brakes are superb. Of course, there are electronics to help but not insistent enough for even the least handy to notice.
The cabin is spacious for up to five occupants, with much to delight the eyes and fingers. Driving environments are very subjective, normally determined by usage, but that of the new Cherokee is first-class in every respect and no corner has been left unturned to ensure that tactility levels are on a pinnacle that is unquestioningly excellent. The small TFT screen ahead of the driver allows most parameters to be observed, as well as providing clear instrument displays, while the switchgear is positive and feels good to operate.
In case you wondered, the new Cherokee having passed muster so magnificently on-road, its off-road prowess is majestic. Well. What would you expect? It is a Jeep, after all. While a more focused off-road version is due by year-end, which will feature Hill Descent Control in its packaging, the more road-biased models now on sale are no less competent, no less tractive than any other Jeep has ever been. You would have to be a comprehensive ‘klutz’ to get a Jeep stuck.
The bottom line is that the all-new Cherokee not only features individualistic looks but it also leads on the useful technology front. Incidentally, its keyless-start and stop-start technology works well too.
Conclusion: If you had believed that ‘living the American dream’ meant driving loads of preformed grey plastic, readjust your perceptions now. The all-new Jeep Cherokee is a splendid 5-door family estate car possessing outstanding all-road manners and real world liveability. Handsome, well-specified and right for market, Jeep has created a new standard worthy of its iconic status.