Driven: the Jeep Cherokee

Jeep_1935_FS

The iconic Jeep brand has its roots in World War II. As war raged in Europe, the US military realised that it required an update for its reconnaissance vehicles, and invited 135 manufacturers to submit their ideas. From this competition, a design from Willys-Overland Quad prevailed, and soon became known as the Jeep, though it’s still uncertain exactly why – some people believe it was named after the popular Popeye cartoon character Eugene the Jeep.

Whatever the reason, it was a success, and more than half a million were produced for action. The name was trademarked by the company after the war, and was first turned into an off-road vehicle for farmers, swiftly followed by a civilian version. The rest, as they say, was history, and in the following years, the recognisable brand has remained the same at least in spirit, and Jeep has become a by-word for 4x4s or SUVs in Ireland.

Redesign

Jeep_1929_FSLooking at the new Cherokee, which comes after a ten year hiatus, you sense a coming together of past and present. The iconic front grille is still there, but has been pulled over the bonnet somewhat; the boxier shape and simple headlamps replaced by flowing curves and aggressive daytime running lights. Stitched into the leather steering wheel which features voice activation control is the phrase ‘Since 1941’. It’s all very nostalgic, but not over-the-top. It’s likely a divisive overhaul in the looks department, but you really need to see it in the flesh before you make up your mind.

Jeep haven’t been the biggest sellers on this side of the pond, but they’re hugely popular in the US, similar in some way to the success of Land Rover here and moreso in the UK. My test version was the Limited 2.0L turbo diesel with FWD and 138hp, married to a six speed manual gearbox. You can also get 4×4 versions of the Cherokee with either 140hp (six speed) or 170hp (nine speed auto). Once you get behind the wheel, you’ll quickly realise that it’s a car built for comfort rather than performance. Max speed is 187, 0-100km/h takes 10.9 seconds (which, to be honest, feels a little sluggish). It’s good for overtaking, but you won’t be winning any drag races (if that’s your thing).

Annual road tax is €280, given CO2 emissions of 139g/km, and we averaged a combined 6.5L/100km (43mpg) which isn’t bad for the class, and better than rivals from BMW or Volvo. In 4×4 models, the Cherokee has a rear axle disconnect feature – basically speaking you don’t expend as much energy when you’re not using all four wheels leading to better fuel consumption, and the car does the switching for you.

Toys and Tools

If there’s one thing I love about driving new cars, it’s getting to playJeep_1980_FS with the technological toys on board. And there’s no doubt that equipment levels are one of the Cherokee’s strongest aspects. The basic Longitude trim level is actually quite impressively kitted out both inside and out; you’ll find LED daytime running lights and LED tail lights, roof rails, exhaust tips (definitely an extra 5hp there), heated wing mirrors, a 5” touchscreen media centre, a six way adjustable driver’s seat, leather steering wheel, parking sensors, cruise control and several other options. You’ll also find plenty of connections – USB, SD card and AUX, while the comfortable armrest between the front two seats is at a perfect height. There’s even an automatic boot release – perfect when it’s pouring down and you want to get your shopping out as fast as possible.

The next step up is Limited, which adds a bigger media centre, rain sensitive wipers, keyless entry, privacy glass, a nine speaker sound system (instead of six — it makes a difference we’ll have you know), automatic headlights, heated and cooled seats, an eight way adjustable driver’s seat, reversing camera, instrument cluster colour screen and quite a bit more.

There was even a spare wheel in the boot, which was a pleasant surprise, although you’ll have to pay €285 for a full size steel spare wheel.

Cabin

Jeep_1975_FSThe Cherokee is obviously designed with the family in mind. There’s plenty of storage space spread across the cabin, and lots of headroom front and back, and four adults (or two adults and three kids) comfortably fit inside the cabin, though if you’re tall and choose the optional panoramic sunroof (€1,400), be aware that your head might feel a little too close to the roof.

Though it doesn’t have a third row of seats, there are a number of cubbyholes hidden around the car, although an envelope-sized and depth compartment on top of the dashboard is too small to be useful. The boot measures 591 litres and can be extended to 714 by pushing the rear seats forward. With the seats folded flat, you’ll find yourself with 1,267L of room. The only thing I was a little disappointed with was the lack of a space beside the clutch for my foot – obviously not a problem in the automatic versions. It’s a small quibble, but a little annoying when you’re on the road, as you have to tuck your foot under the pedal, particularly if you’re long of leg.

For the driver, though, everything is very well laid out, though Jeep could do with a adding a volume control option to the steering wheel, which already allows you to use cruise control, phone functions, and also holds a voice activation button. The colour screen in the instrument cluster has nine different visuals – a speedometer, vehicle info, fuel economy and trip information, Stop/Start state, audio information, stored messages, screen set-up and a programmable speed warning.

It’s also one of the safest vehicles to drive on the road. With more than 70 safety features including forward collision warning with crash mitigation (which uses radar to help avoid or limit the impact of a crash), park assist and a reversing camera, the Cherokee was awarded five stars by EuroNCAP.

On the road

Though you might think of a Jeep as an offroad vehicle, and set upJeep_1947_FS as such, the new edition has been designed with on road driving in mind. It’s a little jumpy on the road at low speeds, particularly when moving off in first gear, but underneath are independent front and rear suspensions, and you’ll get a smoother ride and decent handling when you get moving, particularly at motorway speeds.

Considering our test model was the 4×2 version, I opted against taking it off-road. But when you think of Jeep you do tend to think of a rugged beast bouncing about on a dirt trail and you can, if you have the money, pick out a 4×4 (manual or auto). The 4×4 version has a turning circle of 11.6m, 4WD can be engaged or disengaged at any speeds, and balanced torque distribution delivers or restricts power to individual wheels as necessary, supplied (or denied) via a variable wet clutch and all regulated through the car’s computer. A dial provides five traction control options – Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud and Rock – and if you’re towing a trailer, the 170hp 4×4 version tows 2,475kg (1,800kg for the 140hp 2.0 FWD; 1,600kg for the 140hp 4×4).

Price start from €36,000 for the Longtitude 2.0L 4×2 model, and rise to €50,900 for the 170hp automatic 4×4 version with several options in between. It all depends on where you live and drive. The latter options are undoubtedly pricey, though competitors like the Audi Q5 (2.0TDI 150hp for €42,730 rising to the 3.0TDI245hp for €65,450) or the BMW X3 are none too cheap, although they do offer a greater range of engine options. Given the choice, I’d opt for the 170hp automatic. The extra toys you get with the Limited trim level are nice, and then there’s the increased power and off-road capabilities – where the Jeep was originally born to roam.

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2 thoughts on “Driven: the Jeep Cherokee

  1. With respect, the Cherokee doesn’t have ties to World War II, except insomuch as it carries the Jeep name.

    The Cherokee originated in 1984 and gave birth to the modern SUV segment. And, while this latest iteration is no doubt a competent vehicle, it is nothing more than a rebadged Fiat. It bears no resemblance, above or below the sheet metal, to its namesake or any other Jeep.

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