When I think Jeep, I usually think of an American wearing a bandana driving the legendary Rubicon Trail with a shotgun in the boot and a cold beer in the cup holder.
A Jeep is rugged in its looks and in its attitude. It cares not for fuel consumption or CO2 emission figures, it just cares that it can climb that mountain and park in front of a fire surveying some Colorado valley.
At least, that is how it used to be and still is with vehicles such as the iconic Wrangler and even the slightly more upmarket Grand Cherokee. A number of years ago, Jeep strayed a little from its traditional roots — customers around the world complained and it quickly put on its rugged persona once again. So what on earth is this new Jeep Cherokee?
Styling is subjective and the new Cherokee will be a love it or hate it car in terms of its looks. I am in the latter camp. It has gone all effeminate to look more at home outside a shopping mall instead of the great outdoors. There is a version with black plastic cladding that aims to address this issue slightly but the bulk of the styling is still not what I would typically expect of a Jeep.
The front has lost that in-your-face slatted chrome grille which now has curves to it and the rear is just odd. Is it the influence of new owners Fiat? Possibly. The design has gone all Eurocentric and you could just as easily place an Alfa Romeo badge on the front. In fact they might do that with an Alfa SUV on the cards.
As much as the new design might ignore the heritage, it could be a good move for the brand. After all, it has to compete with the likes of the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Nissan X-Trail and others. None of these could be described as rugged in their appearance and they sell in droves and Jeep needs to grab a bigger slice of the market. Only time will tell if this paradigm shift in design works.
I have always said that exterior styling is for the people who look at the car; it is the interior that matters to the owner because that is what they see the most of and here the new Cherokee has not lost its way. It boasts a thick multifunction steering wheel, the seats are like armchairs and the materials include masses of leather and padding to give the interior a truly solid Jeep feel.
The driving position is excellent and the whole feel is of something quite upmarket. The same goes for the infotainment system which now looks more integrated than previous generation versions and it offers a host of features including the ability to link to your smartphone and stream your favourite American tunes from your phone or the internet.
The electrically operated tail-gate is not the fastest in the business and occasionally I got frustrated with it and tried to slam it manually. You definitely cannot push the button and walk away from it in the supermarket car park because someone would easily have enough time to jump into the boot.
Our test model was the 3.2 Limited 4×2 which also shows its intent to tackle the urban market. The power is channelled to the road through the front wheels only but with reasonable ground clearance it should be at home on the odd gravel road. It is not going to relish the thought of doing anything more serious than that but there is a four-wheel drive version for those who want to put their urban warrior through a few muddy or rocky tracks.
Despite the 3.2l V6 with its 200kW and 315Nm, the power seems to take a little while to come in. It is progressive rather than instant and the new nine-speed automatic box can be a little jerky at low speeds. Get up to cruising speed and it is great and will be a superb option for those who occasionally like to do a long-distance road trip. Manage the power efficiently and you could get close to the claimed 9.5l/100km consumption figure, but in the urban environment in which we tested it the figure was closer to 12.
The ride was very comfortable with the days of soft suspension long gone. It still has a little bit of that American wallowiness but this is a much more European vehicle and while I would stop short of calling it dynamic, aside from a bit of gearbox hunting, it can push well into corners. If it is dynamic you want, then you will have to look at the Germans. The Cherokee is all about comfort and in that regard it is brilliant.
The boot space is also decent and you can fold the seats down for that moment when you need to shift the kitchen sink. In spite of its flaws and my dislike of the styling, after a week with the Cherokee I became quite fond of it. It worked well as a relaxed and comfortable urban commuter and while it might have lost some of its traditional Jeep character, its new image could attract a new audience.
It is a little pricey compared to models from the east but it stacks up well against the Germans on specification levels. t has left behind the days of the trail-rated Jeep that has such an illustrious history and pedigree. The company did a brilliant job with the Grand Cherokee and maybe the market is ready to adopt a major change with the Cherokee. Only time will tell.
Engine: 3239cc, V6
Power: 200kW at 6500rpm
Torque: 315Nm at 4300rpm
0-100km/h: 8.1 seconds
Top Speed: 209km/h
Fuel Consumption: 9.5l/100km
Price: R505 990