While the Cherokee remains one of the most likeable and distinctive SUVs around, and the new 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine has plenty of poke and decent economy, there's no getting away from the fact that it needs a major refinement and quality upgrade to allow it to compete with the Germans and Brits.
In the metal
Many, many people will hate the way that the Cherokee looks. As my colleague Paul Healy described it, it looks like Leonardo DiCaprio, squinting. Certainly, the Cherokee looks no less challenging now than it did when it was launched two years ago, but I think it's kinda cool all the same - at least it doesn't blend into the background as do some of its rivals.
Inside, you get a very American cabin (in spite of the car actually being built in Italy), which includes a dash with lots of big buttons and a big, sparklingly clear uConnect touch screen infotainment system. The front seats are also big, and enormously comfortable, while in the back there is decent legroom and behind those seats a well-sized 591-litre boot (which can be expanded to 714 litres if you slide the rear seats forward a bit).
Behind that squinty grille, the Cherokee is also packing a new engine, albeit only for now on the top-spec Limited version with the nine-speed automatic gearbox and four-wheel drive. The old 140hp 2.0-litre engine still does its duty in the basic models, but here we have a new 200hp, 440Nm 2.2-litre unit. It's a brand new engine, and will also see service in such key models as the forthcoming Alfa Romeo Giulia saloon. In this form, the Cherokee comes in what you might call 'mild' off-road form - in that it has a Land Rover-style terrain response system, called Active Drive I that allows you to tweak the throttle, gearbox and traction control for sand, mud, rocks and more, but it lacks the full-on low-ratio gears of the more expensive Active Drive II.
There are, essentially, two Cherokees in one car here. On the one hand, you have a big, bluff comfy thing that rolls along nicely and which can really surprise you with its capability. To experience that Cherokee, you need to be driving on either really perfectly smooth tarmac or, conversely, serious off-road terrain.
In amongst the rocks, sand and mud of Mount Etna (liquid-hot magma a speciality) the Cherokee really came into its own, tackling with insouciant ease the sort of rough ground that would have some soft-roader rivals weeping quietly and hopelessly in the corner. Honestly, the Cherokee is so capable off road that it's almost laughable. You'd have to really be trying to get this thing stuck.
On smooth roads, it's also lovely. The cabin is roomy and comfy and, once it has warmed through a bit, the 2.2 engine's rather intrusive clatter and rattle does fade into the background and the Cherokee lopes along nicely.
Bumps though are its undoing, exposing suspension that is too noisy and too choppy in a class where glassine smoothness has become the norm. Put simply, the Cherokee really needs a good, long visit to a suspension tuning guru before it can compete with the likes of the Land Rover Discovery Sport and Honda CR-V, let alone the Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLC. Those cars (Land Rover excepted) can't match the Cherokee off-road, but who actually drives their SUVs in the mud these days?
What you get for your money
The Cherokee is very well equipped right across its range and in Limited form comes with just about every nicety and option you could hope for. The problem is that it's kicking off at a pretty steep price. The cheapest Cherokee is €38k, while our test car (for which Jeep Ireland has not yet revealed prices) will be around €55k. Now, premium-brand rivals will cost a lot more equipment-adjusted and you do get the Cherokee's amazing off-road prowess thrown in, but that's still going to be a tough sell for a brand, which, while globally famous, is still very much trying to find its feet in Ireland.
Personally, and in spite of its faults, I rather like the Jeep Cherokee. It has compromised its on-road refinement and comfort in the pursuit of off-road prowess appropriate to the badge and, perversely, I admire that commitment. There are rivals that are far, far better cars on-road, but the sheer charm of the Cherokee's off-roading ability can work its magic on you if you let it.