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First drive: Jeep Cherokee. Image by Jeep.

First drive: Jeep Cherokee
Revised with looks that should win wider appeal, the Jeep Cherokee remains off the pace.

 



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Jeep Cherokee

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Jeep's most heralded nameplate, the Cherokee, has come in for its midlife update, with its previously squinting appearance drastically toned down to make it appeal to a wider audience. Sadly, it transpires that it wasn't just the Cherokee's aesthetics that required assistance...

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Jeep Cherokee 2.2 AWD Overland
Pricing: expected to be circa 40,000-45,000
Engine: 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: nine-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Body style: five-door SUV
CO2 emissions: 175g/km* (VED Band 171-190: 830 in year one, then 450 per annum years two to six of ownership, then 140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 42.8mpg*
Top speed: 126mph
0-62mph: 8.8 seconds
Power: 195hp at 3,500rpm
Torque: 450Nm at 2,000rpm
Boot space: 570-1,267 litres
* figures quoted are NEDC correlated

What's this?

The Jeep Cherokee, the American SUV firm's midsized machine that has a heritage stretching right back to the mid-1970s. It's therefore not a badge that the company is going to drop lightly, but - by Jeep UK's own admission - the Cherokee will not sell in huge numbers here, mainly because, while it might once have been one of the very few 4x4 choices customers could make on these shores, it now operates in a world awash with crossovers and SUVs from a whole galaxy of rivals. Indeed, both the much-smaller Renegade and the C-segment Compass are the models the company is pinning its stronger sales hopes on in this country.

Furthermore, there's some confusion over precisely which vehicles the Cherokee is up against. As it has to slot into the Jeep line-up between the aforementioned Compass and the Grand Cherokee, it is therefore too big and expensive to be a credible rival for the likes of the Hyundai Tucson, Peugeot 3008 and SEAT Ateca. So the next natural step up is the D-segment class occupied by vehicles such as the Skoda Kodiaq, Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento.

But those machines, and their rivals, all offer 5+2 or seven-seat capability. Which the Cherokee does not. And then there's another problem. With Jeep's UK arm confirming just high-spec Limited and Overland models will be sold here, we were advised that 40,000 to 45,000 would not be out of the question. The updated Cherokee is due to go on sale in January 2019 and exact figures will be confirmed closer to that date.

This inevitably lands the Cherokee in the hostile environment of the premium midsized SUV market, an honorific Jeep would no doubt be delighted with, but one which sits uneasy with us, as we shall come to see shortly. The facelifted Cherokee has the unenviable task of trying to tempt image-conscious UK buyers out of their Audi Q5s, BMW X3s and Volvo XC60s - in which case, you might as well replace the word 'unenviable' with 'Herculean'. About the most favourable comparison the Cherokee has is with Volkswagen's regular-wheelbase Tiguan, which is also kind of straddling the line betwixt the Kodiaq's domain and that of the Teutons/Swedes, but the Tiguan is certainly no slouch and it has some good drivetrains at its disposal, too.

It doesn't help that the Jeep's facelift is another of those sanitising design jobs that's sole aim is to appease the masses who found the preceding model too distinctive - or ugly, whatever's yer poison. The fact is, though, is that - to our eyes - the new Cherokee's appearance lacks character or any strong identity. Like the Fiat Multipla, Skoda Yeti and Citroen C4 Cactus before it, the Cherokee is a victim of a restyle that has sucked all the individuality and quirkiness from its bones. Save for its seven-bar grille and those squared-off wheel arches (which really do result in an awkward amount of 'gapping' above even 19-inch alloys), the Cherokee - with its bigger, one-piece headlamps, reshaped bonnet, contoured flanks and tailgate that now houses the number plate, instead of it being placed within the rear bumper - could be a product from any company. It has no real 'Jeepness' and no real shining aesthetic reason to pick it over the rivals above.

Ditto the interior. It's spacious within, the boot area and rear legroom deserving of real praise, and the front seats are decent and supportive, too. Most of the digital displays, the 8.4-inch Uconnect 5.0 infotainment included, are pleasing to behold and there's a general solidity to the cabin's build that is commendable. But headroom in the back isn't great for taller people and the material finishing, which is by no means shabby, is nevertheless some way off what you'd get in an Audi, BMW, Mercedes or Volvo. All of which means that, before we've even turned a wheel on the Cherokee, it needs to pull off a level of driving dynamics that are within the top echelons of the SUV world.

How does it drive?

Ah. Jeep has dropped the 2.0-litre diesels that used to be found in the fifth-gen Cherokee, instead opting to go with one 2.2-litre turbodiesel that was introduced to the pre-facelift line-up in 2015 and which is related to the unit found in the nose of the Alfa Romeo Giulia. This comes with a choice of front- or four-wheel drive, either a six-speed manual or a nine-speed automatic transmission and two outputs of 150- and 195hp. We have been advised that it's very likely the UK will only take the 195hp model and also, therefore, it's reasonable to assume that all Cherokees sold here will be 4WD and automatic.

It doesn't matter, though, because we got to drive the 195hp 2.2 as a front-wheel-drive Limited and also a 4WD Overland. And we didn't really like either of them, chiefly because of their poor ride quality. We simply do not remember the pre-facelift Cherokee Mk5 struggling to deal with large, vertical inputs to its suspension like this new model does. It's not a case of the body control being loose or the wheel control being substandard; in fact, the Cherokee has short, sharp up-and-down movements in the wake of large compressions, which are uncomfortable and feel almost as if you're in some sort of low-riding performance machine, rather than a lofty diesel SUV.

Furthermore, the suspension is noisy, so even traversing the most modest of manhole covers sounds like you've smashed into the bump stops if you hit them at anything above 40mph. This wholly unsettled primary ride nature, made worse by a road test route on some pretty abject surfaces, makes us wonder if there's still some calibration work to be done on the suspension, because we should at least offer the manufacturer a glimmer of critical redemption hope and tell you that Jeep laid on pre-production vehicles for the launch event.

We can only hope there's more work to do, because the Cherokee rides worse than anything else in its class - and that's whether you put it in the Skodiaq League or in with the heavyweight premium German tin. Similarly, that 2.2-litre diesel - which works absolutely fine in the Alfa Romeo - really does struggle with the Cherokee's two-tonne bulk. Even in two-wheel-drive format, this thing is 1,952kg, while the all-wheel-drive model is 2,106kg. And it really feels every single pound of that, because despite 195hp and 450Nm of torque (and a quoted 0-62mph time of 8.8 seconds as the 4WD), the performance is lacklustre. At no point does the Cherokee ever feel quick and, indeed, it often feels the polar opposite, stranding you off the three-quarters of vehicles you're trying to overtake and having what appears to be a narrow torque band that falls away markedly once 3,500rpm (the point of peak power) has been breached. Not that you'd want to rev the 2.2 out anyway, as it sounds coarse and agricultural at 3,000rpm and beyond. Old-skool, in all the wrong ways.

The Jeep's sluggardly performance is exacerbated by a dim-witted nine-speed automatic that can take a veritable age to respond to right-foot inputs. In its main off-road setting, the Cherokee's throttle is so long and woolly that you can plant it into the carpet at very low speeds, and the drivetrain will not hook up for entire seconds after that. This makes trying to 'nip out' into traffic something you need to think long and hard about in the SUV, because it might not actually go anywhere when you floor it. The gearbox also doesn't cover itself in glory in the midrange, either, slurring shifts and still taking too long to swap between cogs when it needs to.

With these three major black marks against its name, unfortunately the game is already up for the Cherokee. It has its merits, of course, such as fairly decent mid-speed refinement - on a motorway cruise, the 2.2 at least dies away to a background chunter and you don't have to deal with the gearbox as much, which means you can focus on well-sorted secondary-ride damping and impressive suppression of wind and tyre noise - and it also has the ability to perform to a high standard off-road, should you need it to. But as large SUVs go, this is a long way from challenging for honours.

Verdict

Regrettably, we cannot conscionably recommend the Cherokee over a single one of the competitor vehicles we have mentioned in this review - which is a very sad position to find a Jeep, of all things, languishing in. This is the company that, by its own admission, invented SUVs when it downscaled the original SJ Cherokee into the familiar, boxy shape of the XJ Cherokee in 1984. And we have driven a wide variety of its products in recent years, including the pre-facelift Mk5 Cherokee, and not thought them to be way off the pace in their respective market segments.

But that, regrettably, is our ultimate verdict on the facelifted Cherokee. It rides badly if the surfaces are anything but billiard-table smooth, the engine is mediocre by modern turbodiesel standards and its automatic gearbox is particularly dozy. Factor in a price tag that is likely to start the wrong side of 40,000, plus its notable lack of charisma now it has been smoothed off into a generic two-box SUV shape (the old one might have been a gargoyle, but at least it stood out), and the case for recommending the Jeep Cherokee in any shape or form simply collapses. While we'd be prepared to alter our opinion if the car drives better when we test it back in the UK, at the moment - on this showing - the Cherokee is simply a midsized SUV to avoid.

2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 Exterior Design

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

2 2 2 2 2 Comfort

3 3 3 3 3 Driving Dynamics

2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 10 Sep 2018









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