2014 jeep cherokee
There are some Jeep tragics who might see the new Cherokee as a sellout. But the people who have it on their shopping list, and there are plenty of them, do not remotely care that the newest and smoothest from the off-road icon has its roots in Milan and not the American badlands.
Their buy-in is more likely to be a suburban grind than the Rubicon Trail, because they love the idea of a Jeep more than they care that it's built up from the mechanical package of the … wait for it … Alfa Romeo Giulietta.
This Cherokee shows what can be done in the Fiat-Chrysler empire, even when the target is a surprising reinvention of a serious SUV that was previously unlikely to be shopped against a Toyota RAV or a Honda CR-V for family work.
It's quiet, comfortable, performs well without guzzling, is nice inside, and comes with the sort of surprise-and-delight stuff that makes you smile. I'm thinking now about a front passenger seat that folds flat if you need to carry a surfboard, but also has a lift-up base with a nifty hidden storage space.
The Cherokee has everything from a nine-speed auto to suspension that creates a sublime ride, and a body that's tough without turning truck, as well as plenty of five-seater space for a family. The range runs from a front-drive Sport starter below $35,000 to a fully-loaded 4x4 Trailhawk at almost $50,000 In either case it's a long, long, long way ahead of any Cherokee in the past, and I've driven plenty since my first unpleasant experience in the early 1990s. At the time I was the PR chief for a Jeep comeback to Australia, and people flocked to the Cherokee even though it put the rattles into rough.
The new-age Cherokee comes after the Grand Cherokee that was the first Jeep I would happily recommend - despite niggles over rear-suspension - to a friend.
It's well designed and covers a lot of ground, as the Trailhawk is seriously credentialed for real off-road work while the rest of the range uses everything from classy engineering to a reversing camera, full Bluetooth, five-star safety and more to satisfy families.
My time with the Cherokee starts with the Limited, which is not cheap at $44,000 but comes with leather, 10-speaker sound and an 8.4-inch infotainment touch screen. The design and assembly work is good, it gets along nicely with a petrol V6, and the comfort means it does everything from stop-start city running to highway work in a way that puts it towards the top of the class.
But there is a niggle, as low-gear shifting in the nine-speed auto is recalcitrant and I'm reminded of the delay in early Cherokee deliveries during the search for a fix. Jeep says this one is due for a -flash' of new software.
Switching to a Trailhawk, the body gets jacked up and the firmer suspension, together with an upgraded 4x4 package including crawler gears, tells me it will deliver on any off-road promise. But the ride is too rugged for me, and there are some minor squeaks and rattles, and I know I'd be happier to spend time in the Sport.
But the Cherokee moves the Jeep story a long way into the future, building on everything I experienced in the Grand Cherokee. Unlike its bigger brother, it feels more like a car than a truck and that's a good thing for people who want the look of an SUV but really only need a station wagon.
Price: From $44,000
Warranty: 3 years/100,000kms
Service Interval: Six months
Safety: 5-star ANCAP
Engine: 3.2-litre V6-cyl petrol, 200kW/316Nm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Spare: Full-sized steel