Jeep responds potently to consumer demand
Never in any doubt that Jeep is a brand displaying an air of enhanced viability, Iain Robertson was in a select group of testers to gain first access to a much revised (mechanically) version of the latest Cherokee model.
Referencing one’s dying granny is a guaranteed turn-off for me in reality TV programmes. It is a ‘trick’ pulled by budding starlets in a feckless attempt to make soar-away progress in the ‘performance arts’, intended to tug at heartstrings and is usually accompanied by floods of tears. While I am not hard-hearted and I can be swept along on an emotive tide in relation to the motor industry, I am firm in the belief that should a brand, or a specific model, not be performing at its very best, then it ought to be ditched at the earliest opportunity.
It needs to be said that, when American General Motors first invested in Swedish carmaker Saab, back in the late-1980s, completing the deal with a 100% takeover in 2000, I was not alone in being highly concerned about the marque’s future survival. GM’s repute for brand perpetuation was not a good one and Saab’s eventual demise a couple of years back came as no surprise, even though I was greatly saddened by it. The same US giant’s moronic attempts to diminish the value of both Vauxhall and Opel (in Europe) left me in no doubt that GM, once the world’s largest selling car company, was on a downwards spiral. As it happens, despite its failed attempts to unsettle Toyota from the top spot, both makes have now been usurped by the immense Volkswagen Group. To the victor the spoils.
During the mid-1990s, when every carmaker and its dog was desperate to acquire any marginally smaller rival to create an automotive ‘super firm’, Chrysler-Jeep was being bandied about like a puppy’s favourite toy. The troubled carmaker, while retaining its third place in the US Top Three, had seemingly been bounced from pillar to post, its character and products becoming largely amorphous ‘blobs’ to the rest of the new car scene. However, Mercedes-Benz (actually the parent company, Daimler) managed to peer through the wreckage and acquired the topsy-turvy player in a slightly strange, if strategic partnership. While I had always felt that Volvo might have been its better European partner, had Ford not snaffled up the conservative Swede, I was worried that Merc would have its reputation dented, if not destroyed, by the association. It looked like and proved to be the marriage made in hell.
Fortunately, Merc eased its way out of the relationship, bruised and more than slightly bloodied, a situation from which it has emerged almost a decade later somewhat stronger. However, Chrysler-Jeep was on the sidelines and desperate for a new affair, which arrived somewhat shakily in the form of an Agnelli-free, post-GM malaise, much-chastened Fiat Group. Again the destructive ‘GM Effect’ had done for Fiat precisely what it had done for Isuzu, Subaru, Suzuki but mostly Saab. Fiat’s domestic market share had suffered immense damage since the GM involvement. Yet, to hop into bed with another US ‘giant’, albeit one from which a few others had been warded off severely, might have looked like formulating another unmitigated disaster.
Instead, the programme does appear to be working, even though I have very little faith in the Sergio Marchionne management brief (he is the FCA Group‘s CEO). However, I shall admit that the concept of a Canadian-Italian running a US-Italian automotive conglomerate does harbour some promise, however minuscule. Fiat’s woes do appear to be turning around slowly but surely, while the Jeep side of Chrysler Corporation is running up that hill with somewhat greater vigour than the Indian-directed alternative at Land-Rover, which might as well turn its ‘style-centric’ back on the traditions of the SUV sector that would never have existed without Jeep.
As part of an aura of ‘continuous improvement’ at Jeep, the company has been enjoying the fruits of its labours. The current Cherokee is a model in the ascendant. Embodying everything that is utterly tremendous about the go-anywhere brand, at a time when the market’s fascination with 4x4s is at an all-time high, is central to the Cherokee’s success. However, while I am not one of the detractors, believing that the 140bhp (manual)/170bhp (automatic) 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine is a perfectly adequate installation in a mid-size SUV, it seems that a combination of some sectors of the motoring media and, perhaps more importantly, a sizeable proportion of Jeep’s customers desire a greater amount of punch.
The result is what you see here. Packing the power is a new 2.2-litre turbo-diesel unit that shares a useful blend of VM-Motori and Fiat engineering nous, which results in a 200bhp output, allied to the firm’s 9-speed automatic transmission. I can tell you that it is an impressive concoction, due predominantly to the 324lbs ft of torque, that vital ‘twist’ energy, which warrants tremendous towing and clambering capabilities. Naturally, the rest of the car is little more than what has been around for the past year or so, which highlights that this is a story of an engine and not much else but, what an engine!
Now capable of logging a 0-60mph benchmark dash in a mere 8.2 seconds, before topping out at a maximum speed of 127mph, which is not at all bad for a 1.87 tonne machine, it is accompanied by a manly, if muted, growl on hard acceleration, even though it remains a refined and surprisingly elegant installation. However, the biggest surprise, which is as much due to the existing 2.0-litre striking its ‘tipping point’ on the power-to-weight performance graph, as it is its ‘meagre’ delivery figures, lies in its marginally improved frugality (stated as 49.6mpg on the Official Combined cycle) and even slightly improved CO2 emissions figures (now 150g/km), all of which is good news for the corporate buyer.
In truth, I returned a moderate 37.4mpg on a mix of town and country roads around Thames-side Oxfordshire that had been blighted by a summer downpour (this equates to a full-to-empty 60-litres fuel tank expectation of around 500 miles). While exhibiting a typical slump from the government return, I remain impressed by the eminently attainable, enhanced fuel economy, when contemplated against the weight of the car and its modest power increase. While I am quite sure that Jeep could have stretched the envelope further still, as a measured increase that does not carry a massive price hike (the Limited specification test car costs £36,795, which places it comfortably below several of its key rivals), it more than passes muster.
Featuring no less than nine forward ratios in its automatic gearbox, it should be highlighted that, left in ‘Drive’, the changes are largely imperceptible and the unit also features ‘fuzzy logic’ that takes environment into account and shifts downwards without fuss on downhills (to provide some valuable engine braking), while meeting all throttle demands of the driver elsewhere. It is a neat set-up and its shift-lever can be slotted typically across to the left to effect greater manual control, when desired. Kick-down response is instant and the shifts are speedy. In case you wondered, this type of multi-ratio fitment is going to become more de rigueur in manufacturers’ pursuit of lower emissions and to fill gaps that a manual ‘box cannot.
The rest of the car is as I have reported before. Lovely Nappa hide covers the interior, from dashboard to seats and door trims, while the electric adjustment of the driver’s seat ensures a roomy and comfortable place to observe the rest of the world from a semi-lofty position. A well-proportioned boot, accessed through an electrically-powered rear door, will transport the golf, or sporting, accoutrements for five adults with ease.
While the Cherokee’s ride quality is best described as firm, long travel , independent suspension, mounted on lightweight aluminium sub frames, aids with compliancy. The electric power steering is well-weighted and precise in operation, while grip from the modest (by comparison with over-tyred BMWs and Landies) 225/55×18 tyres, mounted on attractive alloy rims, is first-class, a factor more than well-proven on the slippery surfaces of the test route.
Conclusions: Jeep is a brand for which I hold tremendous respect. What the company does not know about four-wheel-drive and off-road competence is scarcely worth mentioning. Yet, its on-road duplicity is equally impressive and more than up with the best performers in the breed. The Jeep Cherokee’s greatest benefit lies in its outstanding affordability in the sector, as most of its price rivals are from a class below, while it extols the virtues of products a purported class above. Let’s face it, it is a predominantly business proposition and, as such, it soars to the top of the chart in my book and all without shedding a tear.