While right at the top of the new Cherokee range sits the 3,2-litre V6 4×4 Trailhawk with low range and diff lock, at the lower end is the base-model Longitude (driven here) with a 2,4-litre, four cylinder petrol engine producing 130 kW at 6 400 r/min and 229 N.m at 3 900 r/min. This Multi-Air powertrain has been tuned by Fiat to incorporate variable valve timing design to improve driveability and fuel economy. This means the torque down low is sufficient and higher up the rev band it can cope with needs such as towing.
But what’s with the new styling?
Yes, the looks have been painted with a totally different brush using different war paint, and some kemosabes are not very happy. But it had to happen someday. There is a time to move on and a time to be bold and, after all, there is still the Wrangler that sticks to the straight-up, rugged, old fashioned Jeep traditions with their straight lines and hard corners. The Cherokee design team has taken that decision to modernise so, apart from the curved grille (still retaining the trademark seven slats and the enhanced curves), what sort of package have we been presented with by the Italian American consortium of Fiat and Chrysler? Most prominent is the triple layer of lighting, signature LEDs on top, round spots in the middle and foglamps (doubling as cornering lights) down below. The sides have soft curves, following a general trend by other manufacturers, while the rear is also reminiscent of many others. Successful? Time will tell, but at least the front is still obviously a Jeep.
When it comes to the interior, we have a welcome revelation – the cramped interior of older Cherokees has at last been redesigned to allow much more foot space. Additionally, the old American problem of cheap and merely functional detailing has given way to a much more upmarket feel, thanks to head of interior designer at the Chrysler group, Klaus Busse. This is a man with his head in the clouds (both in stature and in his forward thinking) but his feet firmly planted on Earth. A great sense of humour, too. In fact, the Cherokee is now very close in upmarket appeal to the Grand Cherokee. Seating is super comfy and soft-to-the-touch leather abounds with contrasting stitching. Note, however, that the leather seating is part of an optional pack – the standard upholstery is good-quality cloth. A handy storage bin is placed under the front passenger seat, with additional large bins in the armrest and glove compartment.
There is no keyless entry and drive as standard, and the key is positioned to the left of the steering column. Also inherited from the Grand Cherokee is a 3,5-inch touchscreen for most controls (8-inch screen optional) plus the neat trip computer and related info screen between the main dials. For music lovers, there are two USB ports and an SD card slot. Now why can’t other manufacturers simply do the same?
Most 2,4-litre engines are decidedly unimpressive, but this one works well, sounds sporty when revved and has enough torque to impress. This is mated to the latest nine-speed automatic transmission from ZF. While it is an impressive ‘box with quick gear changes, it still has to jump a number of ratios whenever you need rapid acceleration after coasting and is a bit annoying. Manual shifting is possible by moving the gear lever forward and aft, but sadly no paddle shifts are supplied, nor is there a sport mode option that will hang onto gears for longer.
The steering is now electric but works well and displays good feel through the chunky leather-bound steering wheel. Another plus is the suspension. Gone is the over-sprung and under-damped setup, typical of American cars, to be replaced with absorbent springing with decent suspension travel. The Jeep team took a risk in taking us to a cattle farm to show us that the front-wheel-drive cars could still perform. Being in the rain-soaked district of Knysna, the ground was wet, strewn with cattle dung and mud and the fine grass was soaked and obviously very slippery. No sooner had we selected drive than we started slipping and sliding. So we had to improvise by choosing zig-zag routes up the grass slope. Later we switched off traction control and selected second gear to reduce wheelspin. Fuel consumption for the day was 11,6 L/100 km, including some off-road excursions.
Wheels are 17-inch alloys and a full-size spare is included, which is a must, but reduces luggage space as the placement is under the boot board, not under the vehicle. Seven airbags form part of the safety package.
Look out for the July issue of CAR in which we put the Trailhawk through our extensive test programme.
Model: Jeep Cherokee 2,4 Longitude 4×2
Engine: 2,4-litre, four cylinder petrol
Transmission: nine-speed ZF automatic
Power: 130 kW at 6 400 r/min
Torque: 229 N.m at 3 900 r/min
0 to 100 km/h: 10,5 seconds
Fuel consumption: 8,3 L/100 km
CO2: 260 g/km
Towing capacity: 2 200 kg
Maintenance plan: 6 years/100 000 km
Price: R479 990
*According to Jeep