Good: distinctive looks, comfort, technology, ruggedness, proper 4x4 ability.
Not so good: styling not to all tastes, clunky dynamic sensations.
Fiat-Chrysler has massive expansion plans for Jeep, but on this evidence there's still work needed if it's to compete with premium brands.
The new Jeep Cherokee and I got off to a bad start and I have to shamefully admit it was down to colour. You see, I have particular aversion to the colour generally described as 'burgundy'. Nothing to do with Will Ferrell, and everything to do with the especially nasty shade of maroon that made up the top half of my school uniform. Dear sweet Stephen Hawking, I hated that uniform and so ever since I've been un-keen on seeing a similar colour on a car. Besides which, I just don't think I've ever seen a car on which it looks especially fetching.
Jeep may officially describe the coachwork of my test Cherokee as being daubed in 'Deep Cherry Red', but it was basically the same bloody burgundy as my school sweater, so I disliked it on sight. And not just on the basis of naked prejudice, but due to the fact that the Cherokee's dramatic, different styling just gets smothered by the colour. In a steely grey, or even a pearlescent white (when it takes on the aspect of a Star Wars Imperial storm trooper) it looks exciting and different. In burgundy, it just looks awkward.
OK, I'll drop the colour thing, but many people are going to be put off by the new Cherokee's styling. After all, the original Cherokee (actually not the original in fact, but the one that first arrived in Europe in 1993) looked so generically 4x4 that it was practically an Acme of SUVs. Square, boxy, simple and yet kind of adorably American. I loved it.
This one? Still not sure. I admire Jeep for being daring with the styling of so key a model to its future, but I'm just not sure yet whether I love it or hate it. Ask me again next year.
The interior is much simpler - it's nice. The big shiny screen of the Uconnect satnav and infotainment system looks well slapped up there in the middle of the dash, there are lots of chunky buttons everywhere and an appealingly muscular-looking steering wheel. Rammed to the gills with equipment, including wonderfully comfy eight-way power adjusted leather-clad heated and cooled seats (THIS is why I love American cars!) the Cherokee felt like a nice place in which to sit.
Nice enough though? Well, that's another story. If you compare it to mass-market rivals such as a Honda CR-V or Hyundai Santa Fe, then yes, the Cherokee's cabin stands up pretty well. Compare it to an Audi Q5 though, which at this price level you have to, and it falls short - still too many cheap plastics on display, still not enough really premium cabin design elements. Even the lovely little silhouette of the original 1941 Willys Jeep etched into the base of the windscreen can't lift the cabin that high.
To drive, the Cherokee follows a similar not-quite-good enough path. It's OK to drive, but nothing more. The 170hp diesel engine is OK, and it's got pretty decent emissions considering it's lugging around a proper four-wheel drive system that can adjust to cope with just about any terrain you could meet.
But it never feels as if it's developing a full 170hp, just feeling a tad breathless and under-fed at times. It's a little noisy too.
As is the rest of the car. It cruises well on the motorway (those comfy seats really coming to the fore at that point) but it lurches and thumps over bad surfaces and you can all too easily sense a lack of finesse in the damper and spring tuning. Again, it's not terrible or anything, but against the massed might of Audi and BMW, it's lacking.
The thing is, of course, that a Cherokee would utterly annihilate either of the German poseurs when it comes to off-roading. As all Jeeps must be, the Cherokee is 'trail-rated', meaning that it can tackle Jeep's fearsome mountain trails in the towering peaks of Moab, Utah. Which is brilliant - who wouldn't want a vehicle as capable as that? Indeed, the Cherokee remained utterly and reassuringly unperturbed by the absolute worst that the Irish weather could throw at it, including floods that brought several towns and villages to an absolute halt.
But the other thing is, most people don't need that kind of capability, nor appreciate it. If they really did, they'd buy a Wrangler, and Jeep really needs to concentrate instead on making its cars drive as well as the German opposition on-road.
The fact that the smaller, cheaper Renegade does pretty much just that should be cheering to Jeep fans. The Cherokee still needs some work though, especially if it's to overcome my paintwork racism.