Since my experience with the Jeep Renegade, I have been interested in Jeep’s European venture and twinning with the Fiat brand. From a personal point of view, I’ve also always had an affinity with the American manufacturer, and appreciated its no-nonsense, characterful approach to making cars that get the job done. Sitting between the playful, youthful Renegade and the grown up, tow-anything Grand Cherokee, the new Jeep Cherokee seeks to re-establish Jeep’s prominence in this mid-range sector with practicality, affordability and true off-road capability.
The very tip of the Black Mountains were to be my destination for my time with the Jeep Cherokee. Having already visited north Wales with the Renegade, it was only fair to put its bigger brother through its paces in some driving conditions outside native Bristol. It made sense to head into the countryside, and I arrived at Newcourt Campsite at a comfortable pace, and actually, very comfortably indeed. With all its 4×4 capabilities, the Cherokee has always been a true off-roader, but this version never shies away from the open road and the Jeep have made it very clear that this was one of its objectives with the new version. In my test model, the well-equipped ‘Limited,’ ventilated seats softened the long journey, a charging mat for my phone a’la Kia Optima ensured I had charge at the other end, and an uprated sound system made for comfortable riding. The driving position is good, and the amount of light that enters the cabin from the excellent panoramic glass roof is impressive. The controls are the same found in the Renegade and Fiat 500X, but are integrated well, and the overall impression from the driving seat is very positive. The only downside is the car’s inbuilt inertia – the body roll on the twisty stuff isn’t as controlled as its rivals and this dampens the fun on long journeys somewhat.
This version comes equipped with the 2.2 200hp diesel powerplant, twinned with the excellent 9-speed auto that I experienced in the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk. Unline the Renegade however, there is no denying this car’s ‘always on’ 4×4. It certainly, as you’d expect, feels more planted, steady and heavy, and the car’s impressive load carrying capabilities are noticeable – the amount of torque is excellent and the crawling gears on the auto box give the impression that slow movement over almost any rocky terrain wouldn’t be a problem at all. Bags of grip, too.
The Jeep Cherokee is a good SUV to look at. It’s well proportioned and striking, and imposing with just enough heritage styling to hold its own compared to previous Cherokees. The trademark grills have been bent over the bonnet, the headlights given a facelift and the corners have all generally been smoothed out. Looks wise compared to its rivals like the BMW X3 and Audi Q5, its nice to see that Jeep has had the confidence to step out on its own and make the Cherokee something that just feels a little different
The most basic of the bunch comes with a six-speed manual and a 2.0 diesel, but considering the size and extra weight it would be foolhardy to spend your money on this version. The 2.2 comes with the nine-speed auto box as standard, and although I would have loved to have seen some flappy paddles (come on Jeep, surely this wouldn’t bee too much of an ask?) the box is silky smooth and controlled enough not to change gear at any opportunity, even when it doesn’t need to. In fact, it’s remarkably well controlled and makes for good progress, improving MPG to the high 30s. Needless to say, this combination of engine and gearbox is the one to go for, it doesn’t need me to say that the 3.2 V6 petrol option is almost pointless on British roads.
This is a big car, and the boot size is excellent, far surpassing most family cars. It can’t quite compete with Land Rover’s Discovery Sport, and it would have been nice to have seen seven seats, but the rear does fold flat and you can get large items in pretty easily. All versions come with the automated rear tailgate too, which is a godsend if your hands are full. Inside, there are lots of cubbyholes and the rear legroom is good – centre console space is good too and the feeling of roominess is excellent. The uprated 8 inch touchscreen on the Limited model I took to Wales could put some premium manufacturers to shame in terms of ease of use and resolution – the sound system’s excellent too and nice premium features such as adaptive cruise control are things that you really can get used to, and also of course score points on the safety front too.
In all, it’s fair to say that Jeep’s prominence within the sector as the reliable, go-to, agricultural 4×4 maker seems to be fading with the new Cherokee. As other brands, Audi and BMW specifically, up their game in the 4×4 sector, as they have done for many years, Jeep’s wealth of competition at this level is the only worry. Similar to the Renegade, you do wonder if this car is only excellent stood on its own – for the price of the test car I drove you’re very nearly pushing Land Rover Discovery Sport territory, and that’s a worry.
There is a but though. I would still rate this car hugely off road. I’d rate its confidence when it comes to styling and ambition and I am impressed by its attitude and on road comfort. It’s got a good amount of space, comes with some lovely extras, and makes a great companion for a Welsh field.
There’s something about driving a Jeep. Maybe it’s the heritage and the brand’s commitment to its past, but if you’re serious about being outdoors and tackling off-piste territory, there’s something that just feels right about it.