Jeep’s ‘Great US Dream’ creates a well-focused Cherokee
Often regarded as the ‘significant 4WD pioneer’ and the company without which Land-Rover would never existed, states Iain Robertson, Jeep continues to serve the SUV scene with one of the best all-rounders available.
Possessing an automotive pedigree that is an appropriate country-mile ahead of all of its rivals and pretenders for the AWD crown, Jeep remains a stand-out brand of such potent marketing value that ignorance of its competence is an unpardonable excuse. The Cherokee model has been a mainstay of its production that Fiat Group’s Italian ownership will never diminish. In fact, Jeep sales worldwide have escalated since the takeover.
From the tiny Renegade icon judiciously etched into every windscreen surround of the modern Jeep, to those vital four letters emblazoned on the tailgate, there is no escape from the Great Escape promoted by the brand. Jeep represents an outdoor image that is entirely welcome and that hikes the brand conveniently above any of its perceived rivals. The simple truth is that Jeep does not have true rivals, as all are pretenders, some of which might pass muster in certain areas of delivery but none of which can match the original for sheer brilliance of overall execution.
This was never better highlighted to me than by sampling the latest Ford Kuga just prior to the Cherokee’s arrival. While the Ford is a most impressive achievement in a market sector utterly stowed by similar classes of SUV, as well as being a masterful improvement over the original edition, the Jeep leaves it for dead in overall competences. You see, this class of car is always going to be compromised. It can never hope to be both an excellent on-road form of transport, as well as performing stoically in an off-road environment. Mind you, as so few 4x4s are ever driven off tarmac, it is little wonder that the ‘lookalike’ brigade has managed to obtain such substantial market traction.
Yet, it is for the ‘less-than-one-per-cent’ that places value on ease of off-road driving to whom the Jeep will provide nirvana. This, in itself, is a limiting factor; limiting sales potential by a marked amount and thus allowing every other manufacturer and his dog to create semblances of go-anywhere capability, promising much but delivering very little in real terms, other than a steeper price tag, higher running costs and that eminently acceptable word ‘compromise’. Naturally, to be compromising, per se, is not a sin, unless you find your pride and joy up to the axles in sand on the beach at Southport, stuck fast in boggy peat on a Scottish Highlands moor, or sliding inexorably down a grassy slope at an outdoor event.
To be frank, were I in some form of administrative control, I would insist on licences for 4x4s, just as there are similar recommendations in place for operators of tow cars (for trailers and caravans). It is as a measure of its hugely successful all-round competence that the Cherokee can be hustled around bends with as much aplomb as a family estate car, while providing an effortlessly comfortable mile-eating gait for the bulk of the time, yet tackling the boondocks without trepidation also lies within its armoury of excellence.
Yes. A Land Rover Discovery can perform similarly…at one hell of a hefty price premium, while the Jeep warrants its keeper status by remaining within cost viability. A well-specified Kuga weighs in at a whisker over £34,000. Well, an equally well-specified Cherokee, in top Limited trim, only costs £1,600 more and that is with a standard 9-speed automatic transmission, a marginally greater towable weight, even better use of cabin space and an off-road capability that leaves the Kuga floundering. Value for money? In the class, absolutely!
The leather upholstered interior is lovely, complete with hide-clad dashboard and a satisfying control layout. There is zero confusion, as all switchgear is neatly labelled and even the behind (steering wheel) spokes audio remote controls are logical and intuitive. The front, heated armchairs are exceedingly comfortable, while the 60:40 split rear bench, complete with visible ISOFIX mountings for child safety seats, provides both comfort and space for all occupants. As an additional fillip, the front passenger seat folds flat, should you need to carry especially long loads. The boot is usefully large and accommodating. Vision outwards is excellent, while the commanding driving position is multi-adjustable (thanks to 8-way electric adjustment of the front seats, with 4-way adjustable lumbar support, and both rake and reach for the steering wheel).
Thankfully, Jeep still appeals to ‘traditionalists’ and a CD-player is sited within the deep bin below the front centre armrest, rather than appealing strictly to the fruit-based set (Apple et al). The sound system (by Alpine) delivers an outstanding aural performance that can be controlled by the 8.4-inch TFT touch-screen. The clear instrument cluster is formed as part of a 7-inch TFT screen. Of course, the system is wired for Bluetooth and the auto-dimming rear-view mirror contains the microphone for effective hands-free operation.
While I am not a true fan of electronic parking brakes that of the Cherokee is intuitive enough to operate, while releasing a small amount of space that a manual handbrake would normally require, although, as most US-made cars tend to rely on foot-pedal operation, I am glad that the Jeep is not thus encumbered. Mention of controls highlights the ‘Select-Terrain’ dial that has become a de rigueur fitment in the vast majority of multi-surface motorcars. It is clearly accepted by all players that drivers do not need to know what transpires beneath the platform of the car.
Equipped with masses of advanced ‘electrickery’, selecting the appropriate icon should enable untrammelled progress across the most visually daunting scenery and Jeep’s prodigious credentials ensure that ALL of its models are capable of tackling the intimidating Rubicon Trail in California, which has become an automotive graveyard for the majority of the pretenders to Jeep’s crown. If there is an occasional trade-off, it lies in the sometimes agricultural clunking of the transmission on gearshifts, notably when full-throttle is used. However, it is seldom to the detriment of an otherwise superb driving experience.
As hinted at earlier, the car’s ride quality is excellent and capable of absorbing typical road bumps with scarcely a tremor. Sudden fissures and ‘potholes’ are damped adequately by the fairly high-profile tyres, although grip, even on streaming wet tarmac, is strong. Hard cornering is met with little more than a slight initial grumble from the front tyres, although the car settles into a noiseless neutral attitude, displaying first-class body control, regardless of speed. Overall progress is refined and restful, whether driving across country, or on the motorways network.
While the steering feels meaty (there is a ‘city’ button that increases the power assistance for parking manoeuvres), the car’s responses are true to driver input. The Jeep’s brakes also provide assured stopping power, which is a blessing, when you consider that the Cherokee is hardly a lightweight, tipping the scales at almost 1.9-tonnes; good for towing capacity, not so good for overall performance.
Where the Kuga was sportingly good fun, the Cherokee just scrapes the 0-60mph acceleration benchmark in 10.0 seconds dead. Its top speed is given as 119mph. Powered by Fiat Group’s customary 2.0-litre common-rail, turbocharged diesel engine, progress is stately, largely thanks to 258lbs ft of torque, which is practical, when the transmission settles into ‘cruise’ mode, which means usually 7th to 9th of its upper ratios. While its Official Combined fuel return is given as 48.7mpg, I think that you might require the parsimony of a Tibetan monk to exceed 40mpg. I did not manage it and returned 34.8mpg in a week’s worth of mixed motoring. Ally that to a moderate CO2 figure of 154g/km, which equates to an annual VED of £180, and you will appreciate that you need modestly deep pockets to live with a Cherokee (try telling that to Sonny Bono).
Conclusion: If you desire a well-equipped, keyless access, comfortable cruiser, then a Jeep Cherokee should fit the bill. I like the look of the car and its electric tailgate and myriad driver pleasing features, including the rear-view camera and park assist, simply enhance the lifestyle appeal. The test car also featured a full-length glass sunroof (with tilt and slide front section at £950 additional cost) and ‘auto-parking’ technology that includes lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control (another £2,000 into the mix). Despite its brilliant name and all that is associated with it, when it boils down to running costs, the Cherokee is not the most cost-efficient of SUVs. Live with that factor, though, and there is none better.