The new Jeep Cherokee is one of the most distinctive SUVs - ever. It's destined to polarise opinion - so you'll either love it or hate it. Assuming you're in the first group, let's see how the new Jeep Cherokee actually measures up in the 'would you want to own it' stakes
I just spent three weeks driving the latest 2015 Jeep Cherokee - the Cherokee Longitude, Limited, and - personal favourite - the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk. And I still can’t decide if it’s beautiful or ugly. Is it haute couture, or faux pas? Maybe that's up to you.
You are definitely going to get noticed in the latest Jeep Cherokee. It’s designed to polarise opinion - so you’re either going to love it or hate it. There’s not much in between.
You jump in the latest Jeep Cherokee on your test drive; you drive off. The first thing you notice is: the Cherokee doors shut like bank vaults. And then you’re heading off down the road … the ride quality is excellent. It’s nice and quiet inside the cabin. You start having a feel around at all the stuff, and there’s plenty of premium materials that have been used inside the cockpit. You could be mistaken for thinking the Jeep Cherokee is actually a much more expensive SUV.
If you’re looking for the silver lining in Chrysler Corp’s failed marriage to Daimler, it’s that premium feel. There’s a touch of Mercedes-Benz DNA in every new Jeep, even though Chrysler moved on, and re-married.
Jeep Cherokees have been a salient feature of the Australian automotive landscape for two decades now. But a lot has changed. The Jeep Cherokee returned to Australia in 1994 after a bit of a hiatus. And this new Cherokee is making 53 per cent more power with 20 per cent less engine - that’s pretty impressive.
The 3.2-litre petrol Jeep Cherokee Pentastar V6 has variable valve timing and delivers 200kW and 316Nm. That’s more power than a five-litre V8 was producing, around the time the Jeep Cherokee came back to Australian shores 20 years ago. You don’t need to worry about overtaking ability - it’s got that covered.
So the Jeep Cherokee's engine delivers, and it keeps delivering. It really likes a rev - the redline doesn’t kick in until just before 7000rpm. And then you look at the specs and you say: ‘Nine-speed transmission - sensational!' And you’re expecting this silky-smooth, sort of pseudo-seamless experience. Good luck with that, because this Jeep Cherokee nine-speed transmission, for whatever reason, is actually wrong-footed on plenty of occasions and the result is: it’s just not as smooth as many Japanese six-speed transmissions.
You can live with the Jeep Cherokee transmission’s foibles. It’s not that bad. But the transmission is not the only speed hump along the road to Cherokee ownership.
COMFORT & REFINEMENT
Unfortunately I don’t think the latest Jeep Cherokee is about to win any ergonomics excellence awards. The wheel has too much of that horizontal ‘bus-type’ orientation. And there’s no left footrest for the driver, which is something of a fail in the 21st Century. And these slots down here for the SD card reader, the USB and the auxilliary input jack … they’re almost vertical, and there’s no cover over the top of them at all. How long do you reckon it’s going to take until they just fill up with junk, and stop working?
The latest Cherokee proves that Jeep is on the fast track. Maybe it’s not quite there yet, but it’s certainly trending in the right direction - compared with, say, Holden, or Honda. Or Mitsubishi.
There are four models in the range - Cherokee Sport, Cherokee Longitude, Cherokee Limited and Cherokee Trailhawk.
Jeep Cherokee Sport
The Jeep Cherokee Sport is pretty much a price leader - with a recommended retail of $33,500. Nice and affordable though - and not exactly a stripped-out special. But the Cherokee Sport is only front-wheel drive - so kiss goodbye all (or at least most) off-road aspirations if you’ve just got the budget for a Cherokee Sport.
Jeep Cherokee Sport Images - click to enlarge
Jeep Cherokee Longitude
Jeep Cherokee Longitude is $39,000, and that’s all-wheel drive (but no low range). Cherokee Longitude and Cherokee Sport both ride on 17-inch alloys and have five-inch centre displays and reversing camera standard. Jeep Cherokee Longitude adds climate control, auto wipers, auto headlamps and a power tailgate.
Jeep Cherokee Longitude Images - click to enlarge
Jeep Cherokee Limited
Another $5000 will get you into the Jeep Cherokee Limited petrol, for a total of $44,000 plus on-road costs. Also all-wheel drive (no low range). Moderate off-road ability, dirt roads, fun at the beach, towing - all good. Jeep Cherokee Limited gets a bigger seven-inch centre display, bi-xenon lamps, nine-speaker Alpine audio, leather, 18-inch alloys, and some other premium inclusions.
Here’s where it gets curly - the diesel engine is available only in the Jeep Cherokee Limited. The outputs really aren’t that staggering - 125kW and 350Nm from 2.4 litres. Not a patch on the Hyundai Santa Fe’s 2.2 twin-turbo diesel - which has 16 per cent more peak power and 25 per cent more torque. Full Hyundai Santa Fe Review >> And the Jeep diesel is - amazingly - another $5000 over the price of the petrol. That’s a lot to fork out for an engine - but you also get low range. So really, you’re getting an engine and a more advanced driveline. You’re looking at $49,000 plus on-road costs for the Jeep Cherokee Limited diesel.
Jeep Cherokee Limited Images - click to enlarge
Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
The one I really want is the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk - but I want it with the diesel, which I can’t have. Because they don’t do that. Pity. Rock crawling program built into the drive system, back to 17-inch alloys (with more sidewall, for better off-road compliance) and an improved approach angle thanks to the different lower front bumper design. And the red recovery points - gotta love them. Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is $1500 less than the diesel Cherokee Limited - so there’s a lot to like about the Cherokee Trailhawk. Except it being petrol only. Shame on you, Jeep product planners.
Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk images - click to enlarge
Here’s a trap for morons - and I’m happy to admit that I qualify here, on pole. I’m looking at the steering wheel, right, and there’s 16 buttons staring right back at me. You could re-boot the International Space Station with this Jeep Cherokee steering wheel. But all I want to do is turn the radio up. A reasonable proposition in the circumstances. The wheel’s looking back at me, like, Houston, we have a problem. You can translate Latin to Hebrew - and back with this wheel, but the radio volume is beyond its sphere of influence.
So I reach across the dash and do it the old fashioned way. With a knob. Like when messages were delivered by carrier pigeons. This goes on for a week. Anyway, after this eternity of radio-volume knob-holding, inclusive of the cone of silence, it turns out there is a button - or buttons - and they’re hidden behind the wheel, where you’d need Nostradamus - or, worse, the owner’s manual - to discover it. And using the owner’s manual is an admission of defeat, right? Anyway, now you know. How embarrasment...
Time for the elephant in the room. Can’t have a conversation about owning a Jeep Cherokee without using the R-word: reliability. And the C-word: cost of ownership. There’s no getting around it - plenty of anecdotal evidence that Jeep is dragging the chain there, not to mention JD Power’s latest US Vehicle Dependability Study. But I get the distinct impression they are improving. Rapidly. Too early to tell definitively on this latest Jeep Cherokee - yet. Buying one is going to be a leap of faith - but a lot of people are making that leap. (There’s been a 50 per cent sales boost in Jeep Down Under so far this year. So: high-fives in the boardroom there.)
SHOULD YOU BUY A JEEP CHEROKEE?
If you want hardcore off-road ability and those distinctly polarising love it/hate it looks, the upper end of the Jeep Cherokee range is certainly on the short list. But if you don’t want to conquer the Widowmaker or cross the kind of mighty river that would have put Daniel Boone off his breakfast, you’d still have to benchmark the new Hyundai Santa Fe, which is (on objective criteria) a better mainstream consumer vehicle. It also has seven seats, and a more potent diesel engine and a six-speed transmission (fewer ratios - but much better integration) and a much better warranty and sundry ownership concessions.
It’s always good to benchmark the vehicle you think you want against another similar new vehicle. So, at the risk of committing Jeep heresy, I’m saying: do hold back. At least until you’ve benchmarked the new Cherokee. And then, if you really do want one, go nuts. If you want your next new vehicle - Jeep Cherokee, or not - at the right price, visit the website: AutoExpert.com.au. Nine times out of 10, we can beat the price the dealer quotes you, drive-away. Click the link below to learn more.