Jeep Cherokee Limited

Can US firm’s 4x4 expertise help to deliver a class-leading SUV?

As design trademarks go, Jeep has one of the oldest and most distinctive of them all. Its round headlamps and seven-slot grille are now an established part of the company DNA and recognised the world over. So are the firm’s off-road credentials, but the latest Cherokee needs to be as good on the road as it is in the mud if it’s to steal sales from rivals.

Even after a brief glance, it’s clear that the designers have looked to the past with the Cherokee’s styling. Its angular lines and boxy profile are old-fashioned Jeep, while this is a car that’s not ashamed of its go-anywhere roots, with chunky wheelarches and a blunt shape.

Its slab-sided looks are a feature inside, too, but with less appealing results. Given its large exterior, the cramped cabin comes as a shock, and its low-rent materials are evidence of cost cutting. Admittedly our test car’s light grey interior doesn’t do the Cherokee any favours, but the more appealing black cabin finish shares the same boxy layout and hard plastics. There’s barely a curve in sight, and the acres of flimsy trim detract from the smart switchgear, which is scattered around the dashboard.

Thanks to the huge transmission tunnel, space is at a premium, too. It eats into the front footwell and leaves you feeling cramped from the moment you climb behind the non-reach adjustable steering wheel. Rear space is competitive with its rivals, but the back doors are short and the seat cushions are flat and uncomfortable.

Lift the tailgate, and you’ll see that the Jeep’s 419-litre boot is the smallest on test. It’s so cramped it would be shamed by some supermini estates! You do get a reversible floor and opening rear window to improve access, but the meagre boot limits practicality.

The Cherokee line-up comes with only one engine option – the 2.8-litre CRD diesel. It delivers refined cruising, but floor the accelerator and the noise generated from under the bonnet requires raised voices inside. As you would expect, the Jeep is at its best off-road, where its tall ground clearance, short overhangs and low-ratio box (the Cherokee is the only car here that comes with one) make it a genuinely capable 4x4.

However, even here there are clues to the deficiencies that become more obvious on the road. The firm ride fidgets over the smallest surface imperfections. And if you turn into a bend at speed, excessive body roll quickly dampens your enthusiasm.

You also have to put up with low geared and lifeless steering that serves as another reminder of the firm’s off-road roots. Its vague set-up requires constant inputs and makes it hard to place the big 4x4 accurately – a real pain on narrow country roads.

The dynamic package is completed by the sluggish auto box – which becomes tiresome over longer distances – and brakes that fade quickly after one high-speed stop. Jeep has pitched prices for the Cherokee around 18 per cent below the Land Rover Freelander – but will that be enough to save it from a thrashing by its age-old rival?

Details

Price: £25,595Model tested: Jeep Cherokee LimitedChart position: 4WHY: It’s the newest model in this crowded sector. Does the US arrival have what it takes?

Economy

Only the X-Trail is cheaper than the Cherokee, and the Jeep costs the least to maintain. It’s not all good news, though – our experts say it will depreciate heaviest: after three years and 36,000 miles, the Cherokee will be worth £10,494. As we had only limited time with the Jeep, our economy figure is not fully representative of normal use. But its official figure is the worst, at 31.4mpg. High emissions mean it’s the only car here to sit in tax band G.

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