I've always been a big Jeep fan. I own a Grand Cherokee Limited and have been driving Wranglers and Cherokees for years, on and off the road, so have a pretty good idea of what makes a Jeep tick.
Well, actually I'm telling a slight porkie here, because I haven't always loved Jeeps. I really disliked the previous Cherokee. When the powers that be at Jeep decided to mess with its styling and created that ugly lump of metal with its ugly round headlamps and bulbous front wings, I was distinctly peeved.
So this is why I had a big smile on my face when I jumped into Jeep's brand new revamped Native American and felt, yup, the Yanks have scored with this baby. Revised suspension - all lovely and independent at the front - translates into a more refined on-road ride that is less like a lateral bucking bronco; and the new 2.8-litre diesel unit can muster up a top speed of 112mph with 0-62mph racked off in an acceptable 11.5 secs. Available in both manual and auto, the new mid-size Cherokee has well and truly scored a touchdown and deserves to sell well.
Apart from the vastly improved exterior styling with the reintroduction of square headlights and a big, bold square front end and aggressive, butch wheelarches, the interior is a hit. The two-tone instrument panel looks neat and resembles the cool Wrangler, and is practical, although still a tad too much grey plastic, but that's the SUV life these days. The 'Limited' - the only spec available - is launched as a direct competitor to Jeep's perennial dreaded arch rival Land Rover, in this case the impressive Freelander 2, and the Limited is seen as the only model that the UK really needs. With the usual bells and whistles you'd expect - auto option (£1000), cruise control, alloys, parking sensors, heated front seats, leather etc etc - it has a price tag considerably lower than Freelander, with similar equipment, at £24,595. Load volume is pretty good too at 1404 litres and plenty big enough for a lengthy road trip.
So if you did want to get down and dirty during your trip, then you darn well can, and in some style. But remember, if it's serious stuff you're into make sure you remove the lower air dam. Looking at it you'd think that deep front bumper isn't going to let you get very far, but once the dam has gone, the approach angle is improved. The real feather in this Jeep's headdress is the new Selec-trac four-wheel drive system. Full-time, active on-demand it anticipates wheelslip and offers 4WD Auto for on-road driving, redirecting torque between front and rear axles. This does result in a more stable drive over the old more cumbersome model. As for the '4WD Low' mode - now that's where it really gets clever. With hill descent control activated, every gear has a maximum speed - even neutral. So if you accidentally knock the shift into neutral with your knee while adjusting your hair in the rear view mirror on a particularly rough descent you won't go any faster than about 2.5mph - very safe and very clever. There's also a Hill Start Assist System (HSA) which is new and gives the driver enough time to move from brake to throttle with no slippage - the system holds the brake pressure for two seconds after the brake is released. I experienced both amazing systems off-road while towing the most unwieldy pieces of equipment you'll ever likely to lug off-road - a despicable old caravan. I did my best to try and break the foul thing, honest, but the Cherokee's superb 4x4 system and HSA just wouldn't let me, damn it…
Of course, few people in the UK will actually test the Cherokee's impressive rough credentials, despite being one of the very few in its class that has low-range gearing (Freelander doesn't). No, it will be the highway experience that gets most attention. It pumps out 177bhp at 3800rpm and a massive 302lb ft of torque at a nice low 2000rpm is extremely useful. Fuel economy isn't the best at 32.8mpg (30.1mpg auto), plus it's C02 emissions at 228g/km aren't going to make your neighbours green with envy.
Out esteemed Ed, Rich, loved the new Wrangler, and got all unnecessary about its removable roof panels. And now, like its iconic sibling, the Cherokee will also turn a few heads in the High Street, thanks to a new option. If you're into open top motoring, you can actually achieve that with this latest Cherokee - cue the full-length Sky Slider fabric sunroof (£950). It all works electronically at various different touches of a push button in the roof. Damned clever and we are assured it won't leak… as someone who has experienced moist motorways in torrential rain with ageing rag-top Wranglers I look forward to proving this theory.
For just under £24,600 you get a fair chunk of Jeep for your money and now it more resembles its butch big brother the Commander, it cuts a mighty fine dash on the highway.
Way to go Jeep.
Guest Written by Hils Everitt