The new Jeep Cherokee is stuck between a rock and a hard place – and that’s nothing to do with its off-road ability.
The American brand is still something of an outsider in the UK, not premium enough to rival Audi, BMW and Land Rover, but a cut above the likes of Nissan’s Qashqai.
It’s a problem that Jeep hopes to fix with this new 2014 Cherokee. First things first; the Cherokee is not going to be winning any beauty pageants against the likes of the Range Rover Evoque anytime soon. Just look at those eyes squinting back at you, with a gaping set of glitzy dentures for a grille – it’s wearing a very forced “say cheeeese” smile.
Still, you have to acknowledge Jeep’s efforts in targeting the higher end of the market – it has the Audi Q5 square in its crosshairs. Inside things are posh enough, with lots of soft leather smothering the dash. After a bit of a break in the UK, the Cherokee has come back stronger and less plasticky.
The problem is, it’s now under fire from below, with cars like the new, slicker-looking Nissan Qashqai offering as much in the way of style and practicality for a lot less money. Unless you really need the Jeep’s clever, computer-controlled off-road wizardry to mount a particularly stout kerb on the King’s Road, what does the Jeep do that the Nissan doesn’t?
Then there’s the Range Rover Evoque to contend with. The Cherokee nameplate certainly doesn’t shine as brightly as the Evoque’s boot badge, but the big American has brought with it plenty of technology from across the pond.
The Cherokee gets a nine-speed automatic transmission that’s smooth and silky, shuffling between gears with little fuss and plenty of refinement. Don’t get too excited before you’ve seen the engines, though.
There’s a choice of two Fiat-sourced diesels – one is slow, the other is slower – as well as a 3.2-litre petrol V6 with a serious drink problem. It returns just 28.3mpg according to Jeep and will cost you £485 per year to tax (£200 more than a Porsche 911).
The higher-powered, 170hp, diesel is the one to opt for: 48.7mpg with 154g/km CO2 which translates to £180 road tax and just about acceptable performance. If you want the nine-speeder auto, it’ll have to be this or the petrol.
An equivalent Audi Q5 puts the Cherokee’s significant bulk in the shade when it comes to performance. If you try and use some of what the Jeep engine has to give, you might wish you hadn’t, such is the droning, diesel clatter that bustles its way into the cabin. It’s a niggle you don’t get in the Jeep’s rivals. Though to be fair, it is much more hushed around town when you don’t ask too much of it, allowing you to appreciate the sophisticated, super-sized touchscreen and, for rear seat passengers at least, a decent amount of legroom. Boot space is still nearly 10 per cent behind the competition, though.
Despite its flaws, the Jeep offers something a bit different to its austere German rivals. It’s slick, but still feels warm and inviting.
It could win on price, too. Jeep is yet to announce figures for the 2014 Cherokee, but expect the mid-level Limited trim with the better diesel and nine-speed gearbox to cost £30,000. A few thousand more will get you an Audi Q5 – that’s the price the prestige badge commands. You pay your money, you take your choice.
Sean Carson works for motoringresearch.com
THE FACTS: JEEP CHEROKEE 170HP 2.0 TURBRODIESEL AUTOMATIC
PRICE: £30,000 (est.)
0-62MPH: 10.3 secs
TOP SPEED: 129mph
CO2 G/KM: 154g/km
MPG COMBINED: 48.7mpg
DESIGN Two Stars
PERFORMANCE Two Stars
PRACTICALITY Three Stars
VALUE FOR MONEY Three Stars