Jeep's fifth generation Cherokee has been hauled right up to date, with a smarter look, advanced media connectivity and a new 2.0-litre petrol engine option. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Jeep reckons that their Cherokee was the 'car that created the SUV segment', which makes you picture the tough, rough off roader this model used to be - but isn't any more. Forget setsquare styling and agricultural underpinnings: this improved fifth generation model is very different. As part of a package of mid-term updates, it's been re-styled, offers a much smarter cabin with upgraded connectivity and is far safer. Power comes from a 2.2-litre Multijet diesel unit in two states of tune and there's more 4x4 capability than is typical in this segment.
You think you know the Jeep Cherokee, right? It's that square, fairly unsophisticated thing that you have to make all kinds of justifications for when your friends look a bit puzzled and ask you why you didn't buy a Toyota RAV4. After which they start wondering if you're about to buy yourself a shotgun rack, a bowling ball and a barbecue to cook squirrels on. Older Cherokee models always appealed to the unreconstructed redneck, offering big-hearted, honest fun. This MK5 model though, launched in 2014, was cut from different cloth, far more of a lifestyle-orientated crossover than its predecessors, yet in its 4WD forms, still retaining some of the off road ability that marks out the Jeep brand. It's the revised version of that car that we're looking at here. The good old boys with webbed feet and banjos aren't going to like this one bit. In contrast, those accustomed to a little more sophistication need to give it some serious attention, especially since the addition of an efficient 2.0-litre petrol turbo powerplant to the range.
For our market, Jeep is focusing on the familiar 2.2-litre Multijet II turbo diesel, which is offered in two outputs rated at either 150 or 195hp. The 150hp MultiJet variant comes with a six-speed manual box and a choice of either 2WD or 4WD set-ups. Offered only with 4WD is the 190hp powerplant, available only with a 9-speed auto gearbox. The Cherokee's suspension architecture still consists of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear. The Cherokee does still remain a slightly more capable choice than rivals in the RAV4 or CR-V soft roader class, 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. 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. With a push of a button on the Selec-Terrain dial, you can choose between a series of customised settings to suit the ground you're travelling over. On standard versions, there's 'Snow' or 'Sand/Mud' options if you're offroad, a 'Sport' option for on-tarmac use and an 'Auto' setting if you can't be bothered to choose. 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.
This revised fifth generation Cherokee features a series of exterior changes mainly focusing on the front end to bring it into line with the recently-launched Compass model. The bonnet, LED headlamps, daylight running lamps and fog lamps are all new. Even the classic seven-slot grille has been updated. The result is a less awkward look than than which featured on the original version of this fifth generation design. In profile, there are fewer changes, so the traditional trapezoid wheel arch shapes remain, married to a low, sleek glasshouse. LED tail lights that seem to take a bite out of the rear window glass and a curvaceous tailgate that catches the eye at the back. As an option, buyers can also have a CommandView dual-pane power sunroof which extends from the windscreen to the rear of the vehicle. Cherokee interiors always used to be tough but uninspiring. Nowadays, dull colour schemes, cheap plastics and poor ergonomics just won't wash in a market where even the cheapest Korean SUVs feature soft-touch plastics, get serious budget spent on all the touch-points in the cabin and demonstrate a laudable attention to detail. Therefore the Cherokee has had to shape up. With this updated model, the interior receives a fresh and elegant touch with Satin Chrome and Piano Black high-gloss accents, while remaining practical and comfortable environment. As before, the centre stack bezel is inspired by the outline of the front grille of the 1940s Willys Jeep. The seats are available with a memory adjustable mechanism and heated/ventilated features for the front pair. The 60/40 split second-row seats adjust fore and aft for increased passenger leg room and cargo versatility. A top storage tray is located above the centre stack on top of the instrument panel and the front-passenger seat folds flat and offers hidden storage by flipping up the passenger seat cushion.
Jeep wants to position this Cherokee above its Compass model, which is one reason why UK sales are built around the plusher 'Limited' and 'Overland' trim levels and prices start quite a bit higher than they did with the original version of this fifth generation model - from around £35,000. You can get 7-seat models in this category for that. Still, this Cherokee compensates with generous equipment levels. The 'Limited' trim offers Nappa leather-trimmed electrically adjustable and heated front seats, a 7-inch colour TFT configurable instrument cluster, 18-inch painted aluminium wheels, plus a 'Uconnect' high definition 8.4-inch Navigation System with Apple CarPlay support, Android Auto technology and a premium audio system. Also included as standard are an all-new hands-free power liftgate, Adaptive Cruise Control-Plus with Stop & Go function and front parking sensors. The top of the range 'Overland' variant adds 19-inch wheels, a CommandView dual-pane power sunroof, ventilated front seating, bold interior accents, a leather wrapped dashboard, a Zebrano wood-accented heated steering wheel and heated rear seats. All Cherokee customers can choose from more than 90 original accessories by Mopar to customise their cars. And there's 'Mopar Connect', an innovative set of Connected Services dedicated to Safety & Security and Vehicle Remote Control.
Running costs have always been something of a thorny issue for Jeep. Traditionally, the brand builds its cars for a tough life - and that means extra weight. Which in turn, has usually previously meant a less than stellar showing on the balance sheet. With this fifth generation model, the brand was determined to show that off road excellence and efficiency could be combined in one complete package. Hence the engineering effort put into this car's 2.2-litre Multijet II diesel engine. The Multijet unit is Euro 6D-Temp standard compliant and of course gets stop and start technology. As for what all of that produces, well the top 195hp 4WD auto model manages 42.8mpg on the NEDC combioned cycle and 175g/km of CO2 (again NEDC-rated). Of course, the ultimate figures you achieve will depend very much on how you drive, something you can monitor here in various ways. There's a fuel economy meter in the instrument binnacle screen. And the infotainment system's 'Uconnect LIVE' section has an 'eco:Drive' screen which monitors your driving in real time via four parameters: acceleration, deceleration, shifting gears and speed variation. What else might you need to know? There's an unremarkable three year / 60,000 mile warranty, though you do get three years of breakdown cover included in the deal. We'd want to opt for the 'Mopar Vehicle Protection' 'Freedom Pack' which extends the warranty to five years and provides competitively priced servicing and assistance plans.
Progress. It isn't always welcome but sometimes it's necessary. It's what's created this improved 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 owners unfamiliar with the 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.