Jeep Cherokee review
The Jeep Cherokee is a crossover that offers something a bit different to the usual small SUVs
The new Jeep Cherokee proudly displays a ‘Since 1941’ motif on its steering wheel, and while the American 4x4 icon isn’t short of heritage, its UK offerings have never really cut it.
The new Cherokee is at last a huge step in the right direction, offering stand-out looks and strong equipment levels in a crowded class. Were it less dull to drive, it could be an outright winner, rather than an interesting also-ran.
The Cherokee is priced between £25,495 for the 138bhp diesel front-drive manual car, and £35,695 for the range-topping 168bhp automatic 4x4. That pitches it directly into one of the most hotly contested car segments, facing high-specification version of the Nissan Qashqai and X-Trail, Ford Kuga and Kia Sportage, plus premium offerings like the Audi Q3 and BMW 1 Series.
Our choice: Cherokee Limited 2.0-litre 170
Engines, performance and drive
It only takes a few minutes perched behind the wheel of the new Cherokee to realise this is a car aimed at being as comfortable as possible.
Jeep has made big boasts about this car moving away from agricultural handling to more road-biased manners, but it’s focused so heavily on a plush ride that can handle the worst British tarmac, the chassis is rather inert and disappointing. There’s lots of body roll and extremely light steering even at higher A-road speeds.
While the 2.0-litre diesel engine manages to cope well with the hefty 1900kg kerbweight, the general inertia of the car robs the driver of any fun or interaction. Certainly, the new Nissan Qashqai or Ford’s Kuga strikes a better balance between family-friendly ride quality and a modicum of composure in faster driving.
Special praise must go to the nine-speed automatic gearbox however, which is optional on the 138bhp model and standard with the 168bhp version (both variants share a 350Nm torque output). We’re often wary of gearboxes with eight or nine speeds for changing gear too often in the name of a meagre saving in consumption.
However, not only is the Jeep’s gearbox smoother and more predicate than Land Rover’s own nine-speeder, it also contributes to a claimed 16 per cent improvement in efficiency versus the old Cherokee.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Ignore the thirsty V6 petrol Cherokee (as 86 per cent of British customers are expected to do) and the Cherokee’s 2.0-litre diesel engine makes a case for erasing Jeep’s gas-guzzler reputation.
Claimed consumption of between 48.7mpg and 53.3mpg is around par for the class, though of course the lighter, less friction-prone front-wheel drive model is the one to go for if running costs are the main worry. That car also has the lowest CO2 emissions of any Cherokee, at 139g/km. A 168bhp 4x4 version sits two tax bands (£50 dearer) higher.
Interior, design and technology
You won’t confuse the new Cherokee with anything else on the road. Jeep’s gone radical with the looks, and while the trademark seven-bar grille is present, it’s been overhauled. Rather than being upright, the bars are folded over the leading edge of the bonnet, while the lights have been given a Nissan Juke-style makeover, with high-set daytime running lights and large main lights and foglamps set below. The final result isn’t that attractive, but you can’t fault Jeep for daring to be different.
The rest of the Cherokee’s shape is standard compact SUV, with simple lines and a rakish tailgate. Squared-off wheelarches add a chunky touch, and roof rails are standard, but some of the details look a bit odd. The window sills of the front doors are curved awkwardly and the tailgate has a vast expanse of metal because the number plate is set into the bumper, while the Limited model breaks this up with an unsightly lump for the reversing camera.
Inside, the Cherokee makes a good first impression, thanks to the crystal clear TFT screens used for the touchscreen and trip computer. But again, this is offset by some frustrating touches. The infotainment and climate controls are mixed up on the centre console, while most functions are controlled via the touchscreen menus. The rev counter features a huge hatched area to signify the red line – it’s not really needed as you get nowhere near this ‘danger zone’ in normal driving.
It’s a real Marmite design, just as controversial in the metal as in pictures, but we applaud Jeep’s confidence for trying to stand out in such a crowded market.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The Cherokee has a 591-litre boot, or you can slide the back seats forward to create 714 litres. This obviously minimises legroom, but flip-over panels cover the gap between the boot floor and the seatbacks. Whichever setting you choose, the load cover droops at the tailgate end, which can leave items exposed or reflecting in the rear window. You also get a removable metal bracket on one side of the boot which features a set of handy bag hooks.
Fold the seats flat, and there’s 1,267 litres of space, and you can fold the front seat to fit extra-long items in.
Plus, an underfloor stowage bin offers 77 litres of hidden storage for valuables or delicate goods. The boot meanwhile can be electrically opened and closed if you spec one of the options packages, which groups convenience features like rain-sensing headlights and wipers.
Back seat space is also tight. Headroom is fine, but legroom could be better, although you do get air vents and a 12V socket. Up front, storage is reasonable, with an armrest cubby, deep door bins and a handy iPod slot on the centre console, but the glovebox is small and the shallow dashtop cubby seems pointless.
Standard on entry-level Longitude models is a five-inch main touchscreen, while Longitude Plus and Limited models upgrade to an 8.4-inch display. It’s a colourful, crisp and intuitive system that could shame a few premium carmakers’ interfaces, and works well with the optional seven-inch TFT display in the instrument binnacle.
Reliability and Safety
The new Cherokee uses a platform similar to the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, so many of the parts are proven. The electronics are also shared with other Fiat Group models, while the sat-nav is from Garmin, and should be trouble-free.
Jeep garages don’t have the best reputation for customer service, though – they finished a lowly 29th in our Driver Power 2014 dealer survey.
The Cherokee earned a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, and has seven airbags, stability control and switchable four-wheel drive that can be tailored to suit off-road conditions.
Top-spec models feature a wealth of safety tech included lane-departure warning assistance, blind-spot monitoring, and even a system that’ll automatically apply the handbrake when reversing if an obstacle appears behind the car.
Considering there’s also a clear reversing camera view displayed through an impressive 8.4-inch touchscreen, manoeuvring the Cherokee should be a doddle, despite its gaping turning circle.