New Jeep Cherokee RHD first drive

Jeep CherokeeJeep, now part of the Fiat-Chrysler alliance, is back on the right path to grow their sales with new models using the Fiat Group platforms and powertrains.

The new Jeep Cherokee is now more suited for European customer’s requirements than previous out-and-out hardcore off-roaders.

In the UK things are already looking up even before the imminent arrival of the Cherokee mid-sized SUV.  After nine months of consecutive grow Fiat Group Automobiles UK managing director Steve Zanlunghi said  at the media launch of the right hand drive Cherokee range, “Jeep’s UK sales are up 70% so far this year and we have just had the best first quarter performance for 10 years.  In May our sales were up 218% driven by the new Jeep Grand Cherokee with retail customers accounting for 107% of sales. Globally Jeep is on track to sell one million vehicles this year.”

He added we are recovering from our darkest year in 2012 when 28 UK dealers departed, nearly half the network, because they could not make enough money from a brand with an uncertain future. Since then with the Fiat-Chrysler alliance and the news of new models to come the network is growing again and getting back into profitability. We will have 72 dealers by the end of the year giving us an 82% coverage of the UK which means we can advertise nationally again to publicise our current and new models.

“I expect to see our UK sales increase by around 36% this year to around 4,000 units and 40% of these will be for the new Cherokee which is a rival for the BMW X3 and Audi Q5 said Zanlunghi adding that already pre-launch orders for the new Cherokee are running 17% ahead of our target.

“We are focussing on Jeep as a brand offering ‘affordable luxury’  remembering our core values of Jeep authenticity, freedom and adventure as we move to compete against Audi, BMW and Volvo models’ he added.

After the Cherokee the next new Jeep model will be the compact SUV Renegade range due in 2015 which will compete against the Nissan Juke, Skoda Yeti, MINI Countryman and the Peugeot 2008.

New right hand drive Cherokee – on the right track

The Jeep Cherokee with two diesel engine options offers two and four wheel models, the latter having an on demand 4×4 system where the rear wheels come into driving play as and when needed for extra grip.

Jeep CherokeeJeep CherokeeJeep CherokeeA 2.0-litre Fiat sourced 140hp turbodiesel engine is available with two or four wheel drive traction both mated with a 6-speed manual gearbox.  The 2.0-litre 170hp Fiat turbodiesel comes as standard only with 4×4 traction and is mated with a new 9-speed automatic transmission. There is a choice of three equipment levels, Longitude, Longitude+ and Limited.  The expected best selling version from the nine model range will be the 2.0-litre 170hp 4WD auto Limited priced at £35,695.  Prices start at £25,495 for the 140hp 2WD Longitude version.

Available later this year will be a more hard-core off-roader version with higher ground clearance and full underbody protection. Called the Trailhawk it will be initially only available with a 3.2-litre, V6, 272hp petrol engine with 4×4 traction and automatic transmission.

Analysis by CAP Monitor the industry’s residual value experts show the Cherokee is expected to hold 40% residual value over three years. Jeep brand boss in Britain Damien Dally added that the marque is beginning a new chapter in its UK history benefitting from the newest Fiat technology allied with a long Jeep off-road reputation and he is confident that around 25% of overall sales will be to business users. The introduction of the 4×2 version is likely to take 10% of sales with its low 139g/km of CO2 emissions being beneficial for tax purposes rated at 23% Benefit-in-Kind.

The new five-door, five-seat Jeep Cherokee sits on McPherson front struts and four-link rear suspension for optimum on-road handling and off-road flexibility.   The architecture is derived from the components used for the Alfa-Romeo Giulietta.   Four wheel drive versions have the Active Drive 1 system that provides intelligent power distribution automatically to whichever wheels need it. In the automatic versions the driver can dial in traction for road, off-road or wintery conditions and also manually refine the sporty responses. Standard technical systems include braking stability and hill start assist, traction and roll control, trailer sway damping, electronic parking brake and stop/start ignition control.

Outside there is a choice of 17 or 18-inch wheels and tyres, LED side lights with fog and cornering lights and inside off-set split back seats with slide and recline adjustment, leather trimmed tilt and height adjustable steering wheel and even a rear cargo stowage system.

Refinement reaches new heights for Jeep Cherokee owners with options including a powered driver’s seat and tailgate as well as wireless phone charging pad, reversing camera and parking assistance system and 8.4-inch touch-screen infotainment screen and enhanced sound system. The new Jeep cargo volume rises from 591-litres with five seats used to 1,267-litres with rear and front passenger seat folded down.

The Fiat sourced 2.0-litre turbodiesel 140bhp unit with 350Nm of torque from 1,500rpm emits 139gkm and is Euro 5+ compliant with a combined economy of 53.3mpg. It takes 10.9 seconds to reach 62mph in standard 2WD specification with a top speed of116mph.  The same unit with 4WD shows 147gkm, 50.4mpg, takes 12 seconds to 62mph with a top speed of 117mph.  The current top of the range Fiat unit, the 2.0-litre, 168bhp version, gives the same torque output of 350Nm but at a higher rev figure of 1,750rpm. With its standard 4×4 traction and 9-speed automatic gearbox CO2 emissions are 154gkm and achieves 48.7mpg.  It has a top speed 119mph and takes 10.3 seconds to reach 62mph.

I had briefly tested left hand drive versions of the new Cherokee in Italy at Fiat’s test facilities and that gave a valuable insight into the new way forward for Jeep as a brand wanting to sell more vehicles in the more sophisticated European markets.  But it is when we see how new car-derived models adapt to right hand drive configuration and suitability that we can see the bigger picture.

There is no doubt that the all new Cherokee with Fiat Group genes is a much improved and more sophisticated product than past versions. True it is no longer a hard-core off-roader but that is not where the modern SUV market is heading.  Car-like on-road handling refinement, ride comfort, better fuel economy and lower tax gathering CO2 emissions are now priority requirements, those and good looks and a value for money price tag also helps.

Jeep CherokeeOn UK winding Cotswold roads and a little off roading on modest rough-stuff I have just tried the 170hp Automatic and 140hp Manual models both with 4×4 traction.   On-road the performance is mixed but much better than older rigid 4×4 off-roader models. Being car derived the handling is sharper and more predictable, the ride comfort generally better although potholed and worn road surfaces can induce a choppy ride and a fair amount of tyre roar noise intrusion is evident.  Although Jeep is aiming high with their aspirations for the Cherokee to compete with Audi and BMW mid-sized SUVs, they are more likely to compete with the likes of the Ford Kuga, Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage, and Hyundai ix35 soft SUVs.

Access is straightforward, the seats are well shaped and adjust over a wide range, the load-bed is easy to use and from the high driving position the visibility is very good but some of the controls are still configured for left hand drive versions.  The space in the right hand drive footwell is limited so the positioning of the pedals is compromised.

The 170hp with the standard fit 9-speed automatic returned 42mpg on test and it was fairly smooth until driven hard when changes were more noticeable while the 140hp 6-speed manual indicated 38.4mpg, possibly reflecting the harder work it performed. Having said that the less powerful engine sounded quieter and was within a whisker of the on-road performance of the more expensive and powerful version. It would be a hard choice to make if you find yourself in that position. If you want an automatic it’s the more powerful unit, but if a manual gearbox is acceptable then it’s the 140hp unit which develops the same 350Nm of torque but at slightly lower 1,500 rpm so it is a little more responsive at lower speeds and I preferred this version although if it had the automatic gearbox option that would be an even clearer choice.  The 140hp manual towing limit is just 1,600kg but the 170hp auto is considerably more at 2,475kg, an important factor for some users of SUVs.

Off road, the Jeep Cherokee at the moment does not come with a low-ratio gearbox which will be seen in another model at the end of this year. Being a Jeep I would have expected hill-descent control to be a standard function for off-road work. It does however use its traction control systems efficiently to move grip around in slippery conditions. Ground clearance is reasonable but there is no specific underbody protection fitted as standard on the launch models and so the new Jeep Cherokee is first and foremost an on-road SUV with reassuring potential for winter or mild off-road use.

MILESTONES: Jeep Cherokee 2.0-litre 170hp turbodiesel automatic 4×4 Limited (expected best selling model). Price: £35,695. Engine/transmission: 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder Fiat MultiJet turbodiesel, 168bhp, 350Nm (258lb ft) of torque from 1,750rpm, 9-speed automatic with 4×4 traction. Performance: 119mph, 0-62mph 10.3 seconds, 48.7mpg (42mpg on test), CO2154g/km, VED road tax £180, BIK company car tax 26%. Insurance group: tbc. Warranty:    Dimensions/capacities: L 4,624mm, W 1,859mm, H 1,670mm, boot/load space 591 to 1,267-litres, braked towing weight 2,475kg. Warranty: 3-years/60,000 miles. For: Better suited to European requirements than the previous all-American Jeeps, roomy cabin, improved quality, sharp styling, good brand image. Against: Still requires more refinement to compete with premium brand Audi and BMW alternatives, some controls/layout still reflect its left hand drive heritage, no automatic gearbox option for the 140hp engine models, options will push the cost up to the levels of the Range Rover Evoque and BMW/Audi competitors.   Miles better news agency

Written by