The mid-size SUV market isn’t short of options: Germany is represented by the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, Japan has the excellent Nissan Qashqai, Seat has just released the Ateca to fight Spain’s corner, and America has the Jeep Cherokee.
The Cherokee has been around since 1974, although its current form of crossover SUV was only introduced in 2014, but the thing that’s remained constant is Jeep’s heritage for proper off-road performance.
Can a go-anywhere, tackle any terrain attitude help the Cherokee stand out amongst its peers to deserve a spot on your driveway? We spent a week with one to find out.
Jeep Cherokee review: Design
Being a review model, we were loaned a Cherokee with all the bells and whistles attached in the Overland version, which sits at the top-end of the series, just below the fully rugged Trailhawk edition. It gets a wealth of kit as standard, including full Nappa leather interior, dual-pane panoramic sunroof, Jeep’s Active Drive 1 4WD system (more on that later) and an 8.4-inch touchscreen display with pretty much every conceivable connection you could wish for.
The Overland edition is essentially a more luxurious version of the Cherokee, to help it better rival cars such as the Q5 and X3. It’s Jeep adjusting to the market’s demands. While it looks similar to the other models in the series, it gets a few aesthetic changes, namely in the form of body coloured bumpers and a new set of 18-inch wheels.
It’s an imposing looking car, coming in at just under two tonnes on the scales, 4.6m (4,624mm) in length and 1.8m (1,859mm) in width. But in spite of that, it’s surprisingly simple to manoeuvre around town and park, thanks to good visibility all round, plus a rear reversing camera which displays on that 8.4-inch screen.
We’re pretty happy with the Cherokee’s looks overall – but that face is clearly going to split the pack. It’s a big, statement car. Our personal niggle is with the front grille and how it bends over the front of the bonnet – it lacks the boldness of its Grand Cherokee sibling.
Jeep Cherokee review: Interior
Those leather seats offer heat and ventilation capabilities as standard – meaning cool air can be pushed out the perforations in the leather – complete with Overland logo stitched into them, and carpet floor mats (which on occasion we had to run our feet through as they’re incredibly deep and soft), and a leather-covered dashboard (at first we thought the dashboard was plastic, but some stitching along the top shows there’s more to it than first meets the eye).
The chunky steering wheel, which has a plethora of buttons, has a small segment of wood at the top, which, while nice to hold onto as you’re cruising along, feels slightly out of place considering there’s no wood anywhere else inside.
To some, the number of buttons on the steering wheel could be a bit intimidating. There’s certainly a lot to get your head around. Volume and track skip buttons are on the other side of the wheel, where you fingers rest if you hold your hands in the “10 and 2” position. We’re used to them being on the front side in other cars. Instead, the front hosts buttons to navigate the 7-inch multifunction display, adaptive cruise control, phone calls and voice commands.
Flanking that centre 8.4-inch touchscreen is a full colour 7-inch driver’s instrument cluster display. It’s not going to rival Audi’s full Virtual Cockpit, but it’s certainly a step up over the 3.5-inch monochrome display on lower-specced models.
We always felt relaxed and comfortable when driving the Cherokee. The seats – which coupled with the armrest almost emulate an armchair – can be electronically adjusted to virtually any position you wish. Finding a comfortable driving position shouldn’t be too difficult, although we would like the steering wheel to feature reach adjustment, instead of just height.
Jeep Cherokee review: Interface and connections
The 8.4-inch display dominates the front of the cabin and runs on Uconnect, an operating system used across the FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) group.
This means the Jeep Cherokee doesn’t have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto – however, it does have Siri eyes-free, which means you can press a voice command button on the steering wheel to activate, then voice commands such as sending messages or navigating to a destination (provided you have an iPhone connected, of course).
Uconnects is still a simple-to-use system and you’re not left short of ways to connect to it. There are two USB inputs (one by the gearstick and one in the armrest), an SD card slot, CD player (retro, but there you go), AUX input and Bluetooth.
There are seven quick-access icons along the bottom of the screen, which can be switched out for others depending on the ones you think you’ll use most. We left ours with the default settings of radio, media, controls, apps, climate, nav and phone.
The system is quick to respond to commands and flicking between menus is a breeze. Everything is clearly laid out and we like how all the information we need is given a place, no matter which sub screen you’re on.
However, sun streaming through the passenger window can make the screen hard to see. We tried turning up the brightness up as far as it could go to get around this, but it’s more down to the angles at play – it would be great if the screen could be angled slightly towards the driver.
The 7-inch multifunction display is a little more irksome, though. It’s quite slow to scroll through the 10 different screens and we felt that only a few of them were genuinely useful. The media screen only shows you what input you’re using, but no song or radio station information, so you can’t use it to select different tracks, for example. We left ours on the fuel economy screen most of the time, but we would’ve liked to be able to rearrange it so the average MPG was more prominent.
When using the built-in satellite navigation – the Overland comes with it as standard – it prompts a pop-up on the 7-inch display so you only have to glance down. These are clear and detailed, too. We did find the sat nav didn’t always take us on the best route though. We spent some time in Devon with our test vehicle, and rather than take a main route to a small town, it took car-width back roads instead. Perhaps the car just wants to show off its all-terrain abilities.
Jeep Cherokee review: Performance
Our Overland was fitted with a 2.2-litre MultiJet II engine (200bhp), mated to a nine-speed automatic gearbox and Active Drive 1 system. There’s only one other option for the Overland edition: the same engine, but with Jeep’s Active Drive 2, which includes a low-range mode for the gearbox if you’re really going to put its off-road credentials to the test.
It’s certainly punchy, put your foot to the floor and all 200 horses will gallop to 60mph in just over eight seconds, which isn’t bad considering the car’s weight. If you do put your foot straight down then the automatic box is a little slow to respond though; it has to think about your request before coming up with the goods.
As is common with big, burly off-roaders, fuel economy isn’t the greatest. We managed to average around 42mpg on a five hour drive to Devon, but it still used a full tank of diesel. We’ve seen worse from some others, though, so it’s not a major sticking point.
The standard acoustic front windows and windscreen help keep wind and road noise to a minimum when behind the wheel. We had our music turned up for most of our driving time – hard not to, as the Overland edition comes with a nine speaker Alpine sound system that can go loud and low, thanks to an included subwoofer – so didn’t hear much anyway. But we muted the tunes when on the motorway and could only hear a whisper of wind (it was actually the air vents on our review model providing a more annoying whistling sound when pushing out cold air, so we quickly turned them off).
There is a bit of body roll in the bends, so the Cherokee doesn’t always feel completely planted to the road, but steering is nicely weighted and pretty precise. Driving around twisty Devonshire roads put this Jeep to the test, and we found ourselves smiling at the performance a lot more than we expected to.
Jeep Cherokee review: Active Drive
The Active Drive 1 system fitted to our model is represented by a dial next to the gear stick that lets you choose from four settings: Auto, Snow, Sport and Sand/Mud. Auto intelligently assess the road conditions and whether you’re going up an incline to adjust the power being sent to all the wheels.
Sport disengages traction control – though you can turn it back on – and makes the Cherokee that little bit more fierce, by making gear changes a little quicker and sending 60 per cent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels.
The other two modes don’t make much difference on normal road conditions, but they work by sending power to different wheels as and when required.
If you’re someone who loves or needs greater off-road abilities and will be buying a Cherokee for that very reason, you’ll want to check out the Active Drive 2 system which has the low ratio mode – ideal for ascending and descending hills with much better skill (but that we didn’t test in this review vehicle).
As an everyday SUV the Cherokee offers unconventional looks without neglecting its off-road hook. Visually it’s not going to be for everyone, but that’s a matter of taste.
Our Overland model came with the wealth of kit as standard, plus the technology pack, all totalling just under £45,000. An equivalent Audi Q5 or BMW X5 would cost nearer to the £50,000 mark or more. But for that extra £5k the German brands offer a slightly more luxurious interior and complete package when it comes to tech controls.
As a multi-purpose vehicle the Jeep only really has competition in the Land Rover Discovery, as both these companies have true expertise when it comes to off-roading. Again, the new Discovery gets little to nothing wrong, which makes the Jeep a trickier proposition. We would’ve liked the Cherokee to feel more planted to the road, again putting it slightly behind its rivals.
If you know you’re going to find yourself stuck in the mud on a regular basis, or want to go green-laning as a hobby, the Jeep Cherokee earns a place on your considerations list. It’s just less likely than the more obvious competition to come out on top as first choice.