The three levels of preference in life are basically love, hate or indifference. When it comes to the new Jeep Cherokee, I find myself falling into the 'indifferent' category, but I don't mean that in a bad way at all.
What I mean is that, if you were to offer me one to drive as my everyday car, I certainly wouldn't say no. The Cherokee does have a lot going for it, and if you're the type who cares not for snob appeal, and merely want a capable off-roader that can do the job in urban confines as well, then you'd do well to take a closer look at Jeep's new offering.
Straight from the off, the Cherokee hits hard, with its pretty extensive level of standard equipment. The usual stuff are here, such as keyless entry, automatic headlights and so on But there are a couple of other nifty features too, such as the remote start which allows you to turn on the car's engine using the keyfob, the purpose of which is to set the car's air con system just so before you step in. The only other car we know so far that had this feature was the Chevrolet Malibu, so it appears to be quite an American thing, this.
More impressively, Jeep has opted to kit out the Cherokee with a whole host of safety features, perhaps in a demonstration as to what the brand can do. There's adaptive cruise control (something that's only really commonplace on Mercs), Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Path Detection (which detects traffic as you reverse out of a parking lot), Lane Departure Warning to help you stay in your lane, and park assist, which can do both parallel and perpendicular parking. Now that's a long list.
And they're all nicely-integrated into a fairly well-designed interior, although the dashboard does seem to have a touch too many buttons. But otherwise, the layout is simple and generally intuitive, and the 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system is easy to understand and navigate. Quality is a bit hit-and-miss though, with an odd mismatch in plastics. The materials used for the main dash area appear to be of pretty decent quality, but the bits around the gear lever surround, for example, still has that slightly nasty cheap feel. Pity.
On the move, the Cherokee impresses with its general all-round refinement. It moves along smoothly and quietly, and the ride quality is excellent, soaking up bumps and potholes superbly, leaving occupants with an undisturbed journey. Of course, this is no sports car, so there is still a touch of body roll in the corners, but for the most part the Cherokee acquits itself well, generally feeling poised and neutral in its handling. In town the car is pretty easy to manouevre, with its quick steering rack, and it feels more like a hatchback to driver rather than a large SUV.
Performance-wise, the Cherokee is adequate, and nothing more. The 2.4-litre Fiat-derived MultiAir four-cylinder engine produces 174bhp and 229Nm of torque, which are not exactly heady figures, so don't expect the Cherokee to outrun taxis. But for the urban sprawl, the unit performs well enough for everyday use. The accompanying nine-speed gearbox is a bit of a novelty, and truth be told you'll never really get out of seventh here on our small island, but it does the job, although it does seem a bit hesitant in the lower gears. And like all Jeeps, the Cherokee does have excellent off-road capability, with its Selec-Terrain system allowing one to switch modes to adapt to different situations.
Overall, the Cherokee is a car that you can afford to neither love nor hate, unless you're talking about its polarising looks. Get past that though and you'll find a car that you can really live with, regardless of whether you actually go off the beaten path, or stay on the urban trail.
Ben Chia contributes to various automotive publications locally, such as CarBuyer Singapore, Top Gear Singapore, and Yahoo! Singapore, among others. And now, he's on CarBuyer.com.sg too. You can't escape his automotive ramblings, even if you try...