Its chassis is more car-like and, in diesel form anyway, its off road credentials are less pronounced, though there’s still a clever Selec-Terrain traction control system to offer more capability than most rivals can provide. This won’t be a car for everyone but it’s a different, welcome contender if you’re looking for a RAV4-class compact SUV or shopping at the upper end of the Qashqai-class family-sized Crossover segment.
So, what’s it like on the move? The looks suggest this car to be more ‘Qashqai-like Crossover’ than ‘SUV-style 4x4’ – and so it proves on the tarmac where this Jeep feels most at home. That might sound an odd thing to say about a Jeep, a brand of car you’d normally expect to be designed to master the Rubicon Trail. This one hasn’t been though. In fact, the only Cherokee variant the brand advertises as what it calls ‘Trail Rated’ is the rugged ‘Trailhawk’ version that almost no one in Europe will buy as it comes with a thirsty 3. 2-litre Pentastar petrol engine.
That car gets a 38mm ground height increase, features an underbody skidplate and a rear differential lock, plus bumpers designed for sharp inclines – all the things you’d think a Jeep would offer. But there’s none of that in the much more ordinary diesel models the brand wants European customers to actually buy. It’s all surplus to requirement in the RAV4/CR-V segment in which this Cherokee must now compete. To be fair, this model does still remain a slightly more capable choice than rivals of that sort, though that’s not really because of its standard ‘Active Drive I’ 4WD system, this simply shuttles torque from front to rear in response to slip, just as you’d find elsewhere in this segment.
No, what makes this car a little more effective in the slush than the unremarkable class norm is the way this set-up combines with Jeep’s clever ‘Selec-Terrain’ system – designed to be like having an off road expert sitting next to you as you drive. For a car that could manage a bit more than that, you’d have to opt for Jeep’s extra cost ‘Active Drive II’ 4WD system that adds a low range gearbox and Hill Descent Control to ease you down slippery slopes.
The ‘Active Drive II’ set-up though, isn’t even available unless you’re buying at the priciest top-spec end of the diesel range, specifically a car with a 170bhp version of the Fiat-sourced 2. 0-litre Multijet II unit that all mainstream Cherokees must have. This is a variant only supplied with a nine speed automatic gearbox.
If you don’t want it, you have to have a variant with the 140bhp version of the 2. 0 diesel and here, there’s a choice of either an entry-level front wheel drive variant or the 4x4 version, both mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox.
There's no doubt that the fifth-generation Cherokee is distinctive – and rather radical. Though the trademark trapezoidal wheelarches and the seven-bar front grille remain constants, there’s not much else that links this model to its predecessors.
The styling concept is delivered in two parts, with a smooth and flowing top half that extends down to the kink in the beltline that visually transitions you into the tough, durable lower body. Even the styling flourishes have practical application – take the slim daytime running lights positioned above projector headlamps: they sit high for water fording.
The styling at the rear, though less controversial, is equally neat, based around these big LED tail lamps and a tailgate that extends right down to a rear bumper that incorporates fog lights and reflectors. Raise it and you’ll be lugging your packages over a low loading lip into what is one of the largest cargo areas in the class, 591-litres in size.
And up-front? Well, apart from the branded three-spoke steering wheel, there’s nothing that’s especially Jeep-like, which is perhaps why that wheel feels the need to parade its ‘since 1941’ motif. Still, it’s neat and reasonably up-market thanks to a design approach shared with the company’s bigger Grand Cherokee model.
Pride of place in the centre of the fascia is reserved for this ‘Uconnect’ TFT colour touchscreen, five inches in size in entry-level versions but a biggest-in-class 8. 4-inches in plusher versions.
Progress, it isn’t always welcome but sometimes it’s necessary. It’s what’s created this fifth generation Jeep Cherokee, a car that’s simply had to evolve under the twin pressures of very different brand ownership and market demand.
Long time Cherokee users unfamiliar with the unusual looks will also be unfamiliar with the tarmac-orientated driving experience. Still, there aren’t many people like that still about and the new brand converts Jeep is hoping to target will find this car easier to adjust to than any model it’s made to date.