Two-wheel-drive SUV a neat pack­age

With two-wheel-drive, four-cylin­ders and a lower spec­i­fi­ca­tion, the en­try-point Chero­kee is nev­er­the­less a spir­ited per­former and a com­pelling buy, writes DAVE MOORE.

Central Otago Mirror - - CLASSIFIEDS -

Two-wheel-driven SUVs are a fairly re­cent phe­nom­e­non in New Zealand. Car dis­trib­u­tors now recog­nise that many buy­ers of th­ese ve­hi­cles are af­ter room with a view more than rock-bust­ing off-road tal­ent. Thus two-wheel-drive op­tions are in­cluded in most SUV line-ups th­ese days.

The choice of two or four-wheel drive has been the norm in the United States since pickup trucks be­gan, and even the three­tonne big-bore ‘Sports Util­i­ties’ can be had with­out the weight, com­plex­ity and fric­tion losses as­so­ci­ated with 4x4s’ ex­tra dif­fer­en­tials, drive­shafts and re­duc­tion gear.

The ad­van­tages in terms of fuel econ­omy and per­for­mance are very real, not to men­tion the sticker price, and Jeep’s new Chero­kee, al­ready use­fully placed with its fresh mono­coque de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing can be had in en­try-point 2WD from $44,990. In fact, we’ve seen them ad­ver­tised for $39,990, which puts the Chero­kee right in the thick of Ford Kuga, Toy­ota RAV4 and Honda CR-V coun­try.

The Jeep Chero­kee Sport – as the least ex­pen­sive model is known – is very much a main­stream of­fer­ing now, and while it might lack one or two niceties from the rest of the Chero­kee range, like sat nav, roofrails, and aux­il­iary lamps, it has very smart al­loy wheels as stan­dard, the same amount of space as its posher range-mates and con­nects and plays mu­sic rather bet­ter than its sim­i­larly priced com­peti­tors.

It also comes with the only nine-speed trans­mis­sion in its seg­ment, with the ra­tios so well-sorted that progress from sprint off the line to cruise seems al­most as step­less as a CVT. It also al­lows a cruise at 100kmh in top gear with un­der 1500rpm on the clock, which re­sults in gauge-tap­ping fuel con­sump­tion lev­els – you just don’t ex­pect an SUV to be this fru­gal. Es­pe­cially an Amer­i­can-badged one.

The Sport es­chews the bril­liantly smooth, flex­i­ble 200kW 3.2-litre Pen­tas­tar V6 that fea­tures in the top Chero­kees, but it doesn’t take long to re­alise the benefits of the 2.4-litre Tiger­shark four. Af­ter our week in the Sport, we man­aged a bet­ter-than-fac­tory 7.9L/100km, while the Pen­tas­tar re­quired (a still im­pres­sive, con­sid­er­ing the per­for­mance) close to 10-litres for the same job.

The Sport is no slug, ei­ther. The weight­sav­ings and that slick nine-speeder con­spire to al­low the 137kW four to hus­tle the Chero­kee to 100kmh in un­der nine sec­onds. While we haven’t put the whole mar­ket’s C-seg­ment SUVs head-to-head on the dragstrip, the Sport only feels slower than its own range’s six-cylin­der Trail­hawk.

Just as the Trail­hawk’s own­ers won’t be rock-hop­ping all-day, ev­ery day, the Sport won’t be tyre-peel­ing very of­ten, if at all, but it’s nice to know its chas­sis can cope. It con­sists of McPher­son strut front sus­pen­sion, and a trail­ing arm, four-link rear set up, while steer­ing is taken care of by a speed sen­si­tive elec­tri­cally as­sisted sys­tem.

The car feels well-bal­anced with faith­ful re­sponses when be­ing turned into a cor­ner. There is some gen­tle wash-out rather than se­vere un­der­steer and thanks to sus­pen­sion whose damp­ing is well sorted through­out its long travel, the Chero­kee Sport is able to shrug-off mid-bend bumps with­out be­ing moved off line.

The car can get caught-out when drop­ping into squared-off holes – the earth­quake cre­ated type – but it’s not a raw-boned or hard-edged re­ac­tion and it’s good to see that even with seven­teen inch al­loys wheels, there’s enough bluge in the tyres to pre­vent crunch­ing rims on stones and kerb­ing.

For the time-be­ing there is a sin­gle­wheel­base choice for the Chero­kee and like the rest of the Jeep line-up five-seats are all you’ll get.

How­ever, those five oc­cu­pants are well served, with two big long-squabbed chairs up front and three across the rear. The lat­ter can be moved fore and aft to al­low some flex­i­bil­ity in terms of hu­man and non­hu­man cargo, and some items can be stowed in the rear side pock­ets and un­der the floor.

Even with­out the top mod­els’ stitch­work and leather, the Sport’s fab­ric seat­ing and vinyl sur­faces are not a let­down.

We went through the usual dog hair and beach sand sce­nar­ios dur­ing the sum­mer and damp tow­els and a coarse brush were all that was needed to bring the en­try-point Jeep’s in­te­rior to its for­mer state.

With a good, strong sound sys­tem, easy to set-up phone con­nec­tion, cruise con­trol, ef­fec­tive air con­di­tion­ing and plenty of pock­ets and cub­bies, the Chero­kee is a well or­gan­ised fam­ily/busi­ness four cylin­der wagon, with plenty of that ‘room, with a view’ we men­tioned ear­lier.

It does lack sat nav, but that would be solved if Jeep could of­fer higher-spec ver­sions of this will­ing en­try-point four.

Oth­er­wise this cheap­est Jeep is an at­trac­tive fam­ily buy, whether you want an SUV or not.

Jeep Chero­kee Sport: It might be the en­try point model but even with­out roof rails and ex­tra driv­ing lamps, it doesn’t look un­der-equipped.

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