Jeep’s on the comeback trail with 2018 Cherokee Trailhawk
IT'S easy to forget the deeply seated roots of the Jeep Cherokee. As I creep down a gnarled rocky descent and then crawl back up the deeply rutted dirt on the other side, over terrain where I would struggle to walk without twisting an ankle or worse, I'm getting a full-fat reality check.
This Cherokee Trailhawk is rugged and real and about as far from suburban SUV life in Australia as you can get.
Yet the updated and facelifted Cherokee is most likely to be compared to a Mazda CX-5 and win praise for a boot that's had an 85mm stretch to comfortably fit a golf bag cross-wise.
It's coming soon as the spearhead to a massive new-model offensive intended to bury the customer complaints, and sales slump, that hit Jeep so heavily in the past two years.Its four-wheel drive ability is massively impressive but barely rates as the majority of people would prefer to pay about $40,000 for the basic front-drive Cherokee Sport.
Full details of the 2018 sales plan are still secret, including the model mix and pricing, but Jeep has high hopes and intends to hold the current price line from $35,950 to $49,950 with the five-year warranty that's key to a program to rebuild confidence Down Under.
"Cherokee is obviously one of the key models as far as our comeback in Australia. We think we'll have some really good pent-up demand," says Fiat Chrysler Automobiles local boss Steve Zanlunghi.
The global preview, run about an hour north of Hollywood, combined canyon curves with high-speed freeways and a rugged off-road course to check the performance of the Cherokee with its 2.4-litre and 3.2-litre V6 engines, front- and four-wheel drive, and the Sport, Limited and Trailhawk packages.But the first thing to notice on the '18 Cherokee is the front end. It has a more upscale look with LED headlamps that throw more than 50 per cent more light into the night.
Cherokee chief engineer Paul Smith says: "We tried to make it a better vehicle all-round. We took the time to go back and revise, retune."The work by his team includes trimming 68kg, retuning the troublesome nine-speed automatic gearbox and even a cap-less cover for the fuel filler.
"We also took the opportunity to retune the suspension in all models. We wanted more refined ride and handling," he says.
Smith also promises a full suite of safety equipment for Australia. The Cherokee already has a five-star ANCAP rating, including auto emergency braking on all models.
ON THE ROAD
The visual changes to the Cherokee make it more like the Grand Cherokee. There are the more urban Sport and Limited, while the Trailhawk gets less bodywork below the bumper - and prominent red tow hooks - to aid off-road clearance.
The updated Jeep is quieter and smoother, with a more substantial feel. The infotainment screens - two sizes, depending on model - are bigger and clearer, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring. The cabin quality is good, for both materials and the fit and finish.
Cornering grip and balance are also good. The brakes are fine and there is more feedback through the electric power steering.
The low-speed ride is a bit sharp, feeding small bumps into the cabin, but things smooth out beyond 80km/h over all sorts of undulations.
But the automatic, even with the retuning, is still easy to wrong-foot and does not provide much response unless you switch it to Sport mode. That makes the car thirstier, especially with the V6 - on that front, the 2.4-litre four is nothing special and gets noisy if you push towards the redline.
OFF THE ROAD
The Cherokee Trailhawk is awesome off the bitumen. Well-sorted electronics, low-range gears and a locking rear differential mean it will go almost anywhere. The hill descent does it all for you - I don't brake or accelerate, just steer. It saves the time that most drivers waste with spinning tyres or locked brakes. People who shop the Cherokee against a CX-5, Hyundai Tucson or Kia Sportage are unlikely to venture into such terrain but they get the bragging rights that come with a Jeep.
VERDICT 3 STARS
Despite the update work, the Cherokee still only rates in the good range, not great. It's also not going to win a head-to-head comparison with a CX-5 or VW Tiguan. But it is an improvement and, with the visual lift, that might be enough for people who are ready to take a chance on a Jeep.
PRICE From $35,950 (est)
WARRANTY 5 years/unlimited km
SAFETY 5 stars, 8 airbags
ENGINES 2.4-litre 4-cyl, 180kW/234Nm; 3.2-litre V6, 199kW/316Nm
TRANSMISSION 9-speed auto; FWD/4WD