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.
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.