June 2, 2013

Jeep takes a different track with the next Cherokee

Despite the presence of the off-road-ready Trailhawk (above and below), Jeep seems to have abandoned the Cherokee as a true off-roader, leaving only Wrangler and Grand Cherokee to carry on regardless. My, how things have changed at Jeep, where everything used to be “trail ready”. Well, that’s not quite right; you can’t completely blame the 2014 Cherokee for Jeep’s new, soft, direction because the company has been dumbing down for years with such vehicles as the Compass and, heck, there were even 2WD versions of the original XJ Cherokee. But this is the first time they’ve taken an off-road-roady model and remoulded it into a soft off roader. Instead of boasting about being trail tested, Jeep’s talking about engineered “benchmark capability, world-class on-road dynamics, and top fuel economy (about 6.3 litres per 100km overall)". Despite the black-wheeled Trailhawk, most of the marketing will be aimed at the crossover set. The new Cherokees are expected here next year.

There’s even more to upset purists; the new Cherokee’s underpinnings, including the all-independent suspension, were designed by fellow Fiat corporate member, Alfa-Romeo. That doesn’t bother me particularly, especially in this new world of the global car; if it does the job, who cares where it came from? No doubt the Cherokee will be great on road; Alfa has proved over many decades it can build vehicles that handle and ride superbly. Its off-road credentials, not so much. The new shape looks good, but in a generic sort of way; still, if the original Compass didn't ruin Jeep, nothing will.

The Cherokee will be sold with three new 4WD systems (but maybe not all will find their way to New Zealand) and Selec-Terrain with five customised modes; Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud and Rock. Seems almost every new SUV has a version of this “electronic off roader” pioneered by Land Rover. I’m assuming Selec-Terrain won’t be on all models. It’s also the first SUV with a nine-speed automatic transmission. They’re also touting an “industry-first” rear-axle disconnect to improve fuel economy by cutting energy loss when 4x4 capability isn’t needed. We used to call that “disconnecting the hubs” back in the day, but it was done on the front wheels, not the rears.

The base engine is a 2.4 litre four-cylinder, but there’s also a 3.2 litre Pentastar V6, derived from the 3.6 litre Pentastar in the Wrangler and other products. Those who have seen early samples say that interior quality is good, the instrument panel dominated by a giant Uconnect touch-screen. Outward vision is compromised to the rear because of a high beltline and rear window and some have criticised passenger and cargo space.

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