Pat Devereux19 September 2013

First Drive: 2014 Jeep Cherokee

Once you’ve got past the radical new looks, there’s a lot of good stuff going on here...

What is it?

I know, not obvious from the looks, is it? This is the 2014 Jeep Cherokee. The nameplate hasn't featured in the UK line-up for more than four years now, but it's going to make a reappearance next Spring. It's been built off a widened version of the CUSY platform that underpins the Alfa Giulietta and the Dodge Dart, and is powered in the US by slightly modified versions of the 2.4-litre four cylinder Tiger Shark and 3.2-litre Pentastar V6 that power the smallest Dodge.

While that, and the new Cherokee's unibody design, should herald good road manners, it's also caused some gnashing of teeth among the Jeep faithful. They are worried that the new car, based off a front-wheel drive platform, won't be able to hack it in the off-road stuff.

The reply to those concerns is that the car is drenched in so much new tech it could make a bar stool climb a mountain, never mind a car. There are three levels of all-wheel drive available, plus systems like Select-Terrain - a Land Rover-style dial that lets you choose the terrain and lets the car sort out the settings - and Selec-Speed, which keeps the Jeep moving up or downhill at exactly the right speed, plus may other things besides.

The extreme off-road Trailhawk version, which has a raft of spec designed to help it dodge rocks and vault up hills, has completed the 22-mile Rubicon Trail and a circuit of the off-road moon-like surface at Moab in Utah, all without incident. So it's earned its spurs. But only a handful of cars will ever face that challenge, so it's good to know that just as much time has been spent on making the Cherokee a useful road car, too.

There's a completely new, comfortable and informative interior bristling with bright screens, soft-touch materials and good storage space in the front and rear. Nothing truly exceptional about any of it other than the nine-speed automatic gearbox. A manual gearbox option will be available on UK models, along with a diesel engine, but we haven't got final details on those yet.

What's it like?

Once you've got past the radical new looks, which you are going to have to make up your own mind about, there's a lot of good stuff going on here. The Cherokee feels safe and well planted on the road, with nothing other than understeer waiting for you if you push it. The nine-speed gearbox is fine for regular stop and go town work, but gets a bit upset when you ask it to change gears quickly. It would either wait a second then change or not change into the gear I wanted at all, the computer saying no.

Off-road it scuttles and scrambles up anything you aim it at with barely a pause for thought. We didn't get to try it in deep mud, which is always a true test of an off-roader, but on the trails, loose rock piles and narrow canyons we drove, it genuinely didn't seem even slightly troubled once.

Should I buy one?

If you like the way it looks, need a mid-sized crossover with serious off-road ability and good road manners, it's definitely worth putting on your shopping list alongside the Kuga 4x4, Q5 and X3. It's not going to be here until April, though.

The numbers
3239cc, 6cyl, AWD, 271bhp, 316Nm, 22 mpg, 1,834kg, From $29,995

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