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“Hold that Evoque”. Really?
We jest a little, but Jeep is serious about its cars having a premium edge to them. The company is on real high right now; last month was its best ever for UK sales, while 2015’s total registrations here outstripped those of 2011, ’12, ’13 and ’14 combined. This poshed-up Cherokee Overland aims to ride that wave of positivity.
So what’s new?
It has what Jeep calls ‘sophisticated styling’. So body coloured bumpers replace more rufty tufty black ones, there are swankier, bi-xenon headlights and a set of 18in polished alloys so bright you can use them to do your hair.
Those wheels also house a little Willys motif, a frivolous extra that fits with Jeep’s current philosophy of sneaking little Easter Eggs into the styling of all its cars.
And it’s posher inside, right?
It certainly is. There’s a heck of a lot of leather, with Nappa heated and vented front seats and the option of leather cladding for the dashboard. There is also some actual wood on the steering wheel, delighting Rover 75 and Jaguar S-Type buyers the land over. As should the brown and cream two-tone colour scheme of the whole thing.
Yup, though that probably won’t be mandatory. And there’s shiny new stuff, too. Chiefly Jeep’s poshest infotainment system, which has an 8.4in touchscreen to operate all manner of things, including sat nav, internet radio and other gubbins. It’s really very nice, and being closer to a square than a rectangle, it’s not dominatingly large like some systems can seem.
It’s a shining beacon from an otherwise prosaic dashboard. Jeep may have raided its most expensive parts cupboard, but when you’re pushing buttons and operating the more sensible stuff, it’s clear this is a standard car that’s been tarted up, as opposed to one that’s naturally posh in the first place.
It’s a Jeep. Does it drive like one?
It certainly does. The road stuff is most relevant, particularly for this swankier trim, and on the smooth Utah tarmac we drove it on, the Cherokee proved relaxing and effortless. It instils its driver with no desire to hurl it around, but short of a Jaguar F-Pace or Porsche Macan, very few SUVs do.
Off-road is where it takes on a new lease of life. It rides too low and its wheels are too shiny for it to feel like a proper tool, one you can throw wantonly at obstacles like a Wrangler. Yet it will largely keep up with its older sibling, clambering up and down implausibly steep hills and only starting to ground out its bodywork when you encounter particularly rocky surfaces.
Is there lots of tech to help out?
Naturally. Spec the more involved Active Drive II four-wheel-drive system and you’ll get a low-range mode for the transmission, hill descent control, and a dial that toggles between Auto, Sport, Snow, Sand and Mud settings.
In truth, it gets itself around most surfaces fine without you ever switching from Auto, and we only opted for low-range once things got really hairy. With our cynical hats firmly on, we suspect many UK-bound Cherokees will never encounter such terrain.
What about engines?
Sampling the Cherokee in America, we drove it with Jeep’s 3.2-litre Pentastar V6 petrol, which has 268bhp and an 8.4sec 0-62mph time. It is not a V6 that majors on sound or response, though, and the fact that UK buyers will get a turbodiesel in their Overland is good news.
That engine is a 197bhp, 2.2-litre four-cylinder. We’ve driven it here, and very nice it is too. Mated to a nine-speed automatic, it’s smooth, punchy and refined, mirroring the Overland’s oasis of calm inside.
So, how much?
Sales start in the summer, but Jeep hasn’t picked a price yet. Our best guess - adding a couple of grand to the car it’s based on, basically - put it just shy of £40,000. That throws it into a world of Discovery Sports, BMW X3s and Mercedes GLCs. Cars it struggles to compete with.
And yet… driving the Cherokee across (and through) rocky Utah, a place thronging in Jeeps that regularly scale the state’s scenic trails, this wasn’t our first concern. We can forgive those who find charm in bringing a bit of that lifestyle to misty, drizzly Britain, even if it means forgoing more objectively talented rivals. But with Cherokees starting below £30,000, you might want to do it cheaper.