Less po­lar­is­ing face still has an eye for rough stuff

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents - RYAN LEWIS

Dishes the dirt on off-road pretenders; now gets a look in

THERE is only one mid-size SUV on sale with proper off-road chops: the Jeep Chero­kee Trail­hawk. No other ve­hi­cle in the seg­ment is avail­able with a low-range trans­fer case, and that rut-rid­ing abil­ity, and its V6 en­gine, give the rugged Amer­i­can a dis­tinct point of dif­fer­ence. But this gen­er­a­tion has had a hard time find­ing favour with Aussies, a prob­lem that Jeep ad­mits came down to its looks.

The 2019 facelift ditches its squinty, dou­ble-decker head­light de­sign and brings an equip­ment up­grade as well. All four vari­ants carry over ex­ist­ing en­gines rather than the 2.0-litre turbo four­cylin­der in­tro­duced over­seas.

Chero­kee Sport runs a petrol 2.4-litre atmo four pro­duc­ing 130kw/229nm sent to the front wheels only. Lon­gi­tude, Lim­ited and Trail­hawk use Jeep’s 200kw/315nm 3.2-litre Pen­tas­tar V6, which is an en­er­getic (and thirsty) per­former with a like­ably throaty sound­track. All ver­sions get a nine-speed auto, though only Trail­hawk has tricky off-road in­ter­nals (light­ened by 8kg), an ex­tra drive mode and me­chan­i­cal lock­ing rear dif­fer­en­tial.

Jeep has tweaked Chero­kee’s gear­box calibration to im­prove shift­ing re­fine­ment, and it gives no cause for com­plaint other than some lag when us­ing the new pad­dle shifters. Cabin re­fine­ment as a whole is im­pres­sive. Mea­sures were taken to fix NVH is­sues and it’s now no­tably quiet in­side.

Dy­nam­i­cally, it’s still a lit­tle off the pace of class lead­ers. There’s head-toss over lumps in the road from the tough sus­pen­sion, and its light steer­ing isn’t Cx-5-ac­cu­rate, but these com­pro­mises aren’t new and won’t seem so bad if you plan to use its off-road ap­ti­tude.

Time will tell whether the styling changes are enough to lure the masses, though the re­vised fas­ciae are an im­prove­ment. Boot space be­hind the slid­ing rear bench seat is 76mm wider thanks to re­vised trim on ei­ther side, still with a full-size spare un­der the floor in ev­ery vari­ant.

At launch only the two range­top­pers will be in show­rooms; the pre­mium Lim­ited and ro­bust Trail­hawk, priced from $46,950 and $48,450 re­spec­tively. Sport and Lon­gi­tude will fill out the range in early 2019 from $35,950.

All models take on ad­di­tional safety aids and Ap­ple/an­droid smart­phone in­te­gra­tion, but it’s the Lim­ited and Trail­hawk that have the most to boast about with full ac­tive safety suites, a large, re­spon­sive in­fo­tain­ment screen and LED light­ing front and rear.

Jeep’s rugged rep­u­ta­tion is held up by Chero­kee’s per­for­mance, and with its more main­stream ap­pear­ance and an at­trac­tive five-year war­ranty and servicing plan, it should be much harder for prospec­tive buy­ers to ig­nore.

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