Bing. Bing. Bing. The new Jeep Cherokee's tyre pressure warning bell announces itself in typical American car fashion as soon as we turn the key. Gladly, it shuts up after just a few repetitions, and since the psi reduction is deliberate we set off. Jeep is about to prove just how effective its latest Selec-Trak II system is by allowing us to put the Cherokee through a demanding and rather damp off-road course. On road tyres. Whilst towing a caravan.
Admittedly, it is quite a small caravan. But that hardly makes this demonstration of the new Cherokee's Hill Descent Control any less impressive. And it's a clear reminder from Jeep that first and foremost it builds effective off-road vehicles. Not namby-pamby lifestyle accessories...
Off-road caravan towing, eh? Sounds like a hell of a PR stunt of this new Jeep Cherokee.
Those with suspicious minds are probably already wondering what Jeep is trying to distract us from. Could be the looks. Traditional Jeep or just old – you decide. Doesn't matter much once it's muddy, of course, and make no mistake, with or without caravan it is excellent off-road. Anyway, it’s more likely Jeep is concerned about the Cherokee's on-road experience. It shares a platform with the Dodge Nitro...
Click 'Next' below to read more of our Jeep Cherokee first UK drive
Ah. The Nitro. A paragon of on-road refinement.
Your sarcasm is duly noted. But the thing we should immediately point out about the Jeep Cherokee's handling is that it does actually have some. This is not an old-school off-roader in the sense that it fears tarmac and will run miles across country to avoid corners. Jeep has done plenty of work on the Cherokee's all-new suspension to redress this past shortcoming.
This doesn’t mean a luxury cruising experience. Even on the motorway the ride feeds back tiny vibrations of disgruntlement through steering wheel rim and seat base – a relaxing long distance companion it is not. But it is a competent one. The steering is well weighted – never a given in a Chrysler Group product – and you get plenty of information about exactly what the chassis is doing via your backside.
And when the road starts to get twisty…?
It rolls a bit round corners, sure. But with an on-road choice of rear-wheel drive only or intelligent 4x4 with a rear bias it does a decent job of winding roads. Unless you start acting like a total hooligan every movement is controlled, and there are no nasty surprised – the heavy 2.8-litre turbodiesel up front pushing gently into understeer if you start getting carried away.
Since Jeep expects 85 percent of customers to opt for an automatic that's all we were given to drive; only the auto gets Hill Descent Control, so that was handy. The five-speed ‘box isn't brilliantly intuitive but is far from awful – proving smooth even where it isn’t decisive. Emissions and economy aren’t great at 31.4mpg and 242g/km CO2, and suffer compared to the six-speed manual – which is down to Band F with 222g/km.
But happily the auto handles more torque: 339lb ft compared to 302. Combined with 174bhp, that's good enough for 62mph in 10.5 seconds, and sensible overtaking. The brakes are a slight concern, however – 1985kg of Jeep seeing them soften distinctly over Welsh mountain roads.
Click 'Next' below to read our verdict on the Jeep Cherokee
How's the interior?
There's only one trim level – Limited – and this includes lots of leather and plenty of gizmos. This isn't enough to completely avoid mention of the scratchy plastics in places, but compared to the opposition – Freelander, X-Trail, X3, etc – the Jeep is well specified and offers good value: £24,495 for the manual, £25,595 for the automatic.
In fact, there are only four things on the options list: metallic paint, sunscreen glass, MyGIG infotainment system, and 'Sky Slider' roof. This is a massive rollback (or rollforward; your choice) canvas roof – 18 seconds open or shut at speeds up to 85mph, and aluminium ribbed to Thatcham's full security approval. Passenger space is slightly cramped by the transmission tunnel, and the boot floor is rather high but features a waterproof bin, perfect for wellies.
Jeep is bringing just 500 new Cherokees into the UK this year, so we aren't talking massive numbers here. In a full year, it expects to sell maybe 2000. With improvements in every department, genuine off-road pedigree and capability, we can easily see it stealing that number of customers away from Freelander buyers looking for something not necessarily as good but different. And that's before you get into Jeep's hardcore following. It isn’t for everyone, but while it remains an outside choice it certainly isn’t an insane one