Overall rating: 3/5
This new Jeep Cherokee is technically brilliant, yet likely to have limited appeal because of that. The demand for 'proper' SUVs like the Cherokee just isn't what it used to be with buyers preferring on-road manners to off-road capability.
In the metal 3.5/5
Jeep says it designed the new Cherokee to be more athletic looking while reasserting its claim to the 'car that created the SUV segment' crown (Jeep's words, not ours). We suspect however that the designers spent a little too long on the 'taut surfacing' and aerodynamics and not enough time on making the front end look in any way attractive. Google 'Leonardo diCaprio squinting' and tell me you cannot see the similarities. The split headlight is not new of course, but this is perhaps the least successful implementation of the idea in a while. That said at least the nose gives the latest Cherokee something that has been missing since the original model way back in 1984 - presence. The two models that sit in between were instantly forgettable, but this one stands out.
At the front at least, as the further back you go the more generic the looks become. There are signature Jeep touches such as the seven-slat grille and trapezoidal wheelarches, but those aside you could be looking at any mid-sized SUV in profile, while the rear end has more than a touch of the Kia Sorento about it.
Jeep says it has benchmarked the interior against the best that Europe has to offer, and it shows. Supportive Nappa leather covered seats (on Limited models anyway; Longitude car gets cloth and Trailhawk a mix of both) are complemented by a leather covered dashboard and door cards. The seats themselves offer ample levels of support but are also softly padded, allowing you to sink into them and while away hours on the motorway.
All of the touch points are impressive; from the leather clad steering wheel to the 8.4-inch touchscreen. It is when you begin to move away from these components that you begin to notice some cheaper materials that do not sit well with the otherwise well finished cabin. And despite the overall quality it is missing some of the panache and styling flourishes you get in rivals from Audi and BMW.
It does offer a lot of space though, which is hardly surprising when you park it beside a conveniently placed Audi Q5 and see the size difference, with legroom both front and rear being positively vast. Seating a pair of six-foot-plus adults fore and aft will not be a problem, nor will accommodating five adults in the cabin. For the times when you are not carrying a full complement the rear seats can be slid forward to create more boot space, which stands at an impressive 412 litres.
Driving it 4/5
Apparently the Cherokee is the first SUV of its size to feature a nine-speed automatic transmission - or at least it will be if it can beat the Range Rover Evoque into the showroom. Either way it is a hugely competent gearbox and the stand out feature of the car's drivetrain. Particularly so if you drive it back-to-back with the six-speed manual; the lack of ratios in the latter means you have to work the engine that little harder resulting in a din that is unnoticeable in the seamless-shifting nine-speed auto model.
Unfortunately the six-speed manual gearbox is the only option available on the 140hp front-wheel drive model that is likely to be popular with private buyers due to its lower emissions (139- vs 154g/km) and fuel consumption (5.3- vs 5.8 litres/100km). However, the way in which the nine-speed automatic improves the refinement, drivability and enjoyment of the Cherokee almost makes theses 'penalties' worthwhile. Jeep reckons a new rear-wheel decoupling system that allows the Cherokee to utilise front-wheel drive until required means the difference between drivetrains is not too much in reality.
What you get for your money 3/5
Final pricing is yet to be full signed off , but it's expected to undercut the premium offerings in the segment and come with a lot of equipment for the money. As standard, Longitude models come equipped with a five-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth and media hub for USB and SD card connection, dual-zone climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels and LED daytime running lights and tail lamps.
Limited models bump the screen size up to 8.4 inches while also adding a seven-inch TFT unit to the dials. Limited cars also gain heated and vented Nappa leather seats with power adjustment and a handy wireless charging pad in the armrest for charging phones capable of accepting QI charge. Outside, the wheels grow to 18 inches in diameter and the halogen headlights are replaced by bi-Xenon units, while the boot gains a rear view camera.
The Trailhawk is unique in that it is, in some aspects, of lower specification than the Limited (it has to make do with part-leather seats for instance), but it has been designed as the rugged off-roader and wears unique parts. It rides 5cm higher for better ground clearance while its redesigned front and rear bumpers give it better approach and departure angles. It also has an underbody skid plate and comes as standard with Jeep's most advanced all-wheel drive system that features a rear differential lock and low gear function for when the going gets really tough.
When Jeep says that the Trailhawk is the most rugged iteration of the Cherokee line-up, it means it. It is the only model of the new range that is 'Trail Rated', which means it has undergone numerous changes and tests compared to a Longitude or Limited to ensure it can tackle the likes of the Moab Desert, where Jeep tests its vehicles. It wears this 'Trail Rated' badge on its front wing.
But what exactly does this all mean? Well how about the ability to scale a 70 per cent incline using its new Hill Ascent mode? Many will be familiar with Hill Descent (which Jeep claims to have invented), which limits power and applies the brakes automatically while going downhill. Well Hill Ascent is the same only for going uphill. Set the speed at which you would like to progress and the car does the rest; you just have to keep the steering wheel pointed in the right direction.
Jeep is proud of its heritage and while it parentage of the SUV segment may be debatable, the first generation Cherokee was certainly there early. Unfortunately for Jeep, the world has moved on since then with 'crossover' and 'on-road manners' being the latest buzzwords. With Jeep pushing the car as a 'true' SUV in the original sense it somewhat feels as if the Cherokee is at a party that others have long since left. Against mainstream rivals like the Hyundai Santa Fe or Kia Sorento it stacks up. Against premium competitors, not so much.