Latest Cherokee boasts radical styling but the seven slatted grille still gives the game away.
Latest Cherokee boasts radical styling but the seven slatted grille still gives the game away.
Power in our test Trailhawk model was provided by a 3.2-litre V6 petrol engine.
Power in our test Trailhawk model was provided by a 3.2-litre V6 petrol engine.
Cabin is plush and luxurious.
Cabin is plush and luxurious.

Johannesburg - Somewhere, an olive drab Willys rolled over in its box-shaped grave when Jeep unveiled its latest Cherokee.

It’s not up to me as a car reviewer to say what’s attractive and what’s not, but I’m certain many a fan of Jeep’s heavy gauge heyday winced when first they saw this round sprout on what’s quite a square family tree.

One thing’s for sure. The new Cherokee, with its squinty eyes and pointy snout, is designed to appeal to a very different crowd than its army issue ancestors. Jeep’s tap root might burrow right down to WWII when men wore burlap underpants and petrol tanks were mounted underneath the driver’s seat for protection from bullets, but the only homage this newcomer pays to its rough and tumble forefather is that trademark vertical slat grille.

Two of the four new Cherokee models sold in our market also pay the ultimate disrespect to original Jeeps in that they come in two-wheel drive, but the version on test here, the 3.2 Trailhawk, at least honours its great grandpa with some genuine mudplugging ability. And by genuine I mean it’s quite the badass offroader.

KITTED FOR THE RUBICON

Stylistically the Trailhawk blends in with the ever-growing softroading crossover clan, but under its soft-looking shell is some hardcore 4x4 running gear that Jeep says was tuned and tested on the notoriously rugged Rubicon Trail in the US. A set of meaty 245/65R17 tyres with dik sidewalls gives a hint of terrain tackling capability from the outside, and inside a knob marked with five drive modes (Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud and Rock) offers easy electronic aids for pretty much every imaginable surface out there.

Then there’s hill descent and ascent control, a locking rear diff, low range gearing (down to 2.92:1), and approach, departure and breakover angle specs that 1940s Willys Jeeps would fist bump for. All four Cherokees in SA come with new nine-, yes nine, speed automatic gearboxes which first and foremost are designed to keep engines operating at their most efficient revs, but when paired with a low-range transfer case there are effectively 18 gear ratios to play with. Like I said... badass.

In normal on-road driving conditions, where most Cherokees (including the Trailhawk) will spend most time, you’d never know such a fancy transmission was at work. It changes gear much like any other old-school torque converter gearbox, and can even be a bit clunky from time to time. It spends most time hunting between third, fourth and fifth like most auto ‘boxes, and reserves its most extreme ratios for extreme situations such as rock crawling or fast highway speeds.

RESPONSIVE V6

The Trailhawk comes with Jeep’s latest 3.2-litre V6, which is a slightly downsized version of the bigger 3.6 Pentastar motor doing duty in other Jeep models. Power is rated at 200kW and 315Nm, and because it’s naturally aspirated, pedal response is sharp, strong and immediate.

Jeep claims average fuel consumption at around 10l per 100km, which we actually saw on a long highway journey, but in mid-town traffic expect this figure to settle at around 13l/100km.

Being an American brand, the Cherokee takes a very different approach to luxury and where similarly priced rivals like X3, Q5 and Evoque will woo customers with pure quality and class, the Jeep does the same with comfort and convenience. Leather seats are especially soft and cosseting, and the suspension pairs with those balloon-like tyres to give a nice floaty ride. Nothing like “sporty” European competitors with ultra-thin rubber and super-firm springs.

Storage solutions include a two tier centre console, bottle holders in the doors, and a front passenger seat bottom which flips up to reveal a handy hidden tray. One colleague commented that the electronic tailgate closing button is mounted low where his kids can reach it (although I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing), and I loved the optional eight-speaker Alpine sound system coupled to an excellent and also optional UConnect infotainment hub with an 8.4” touchscreen.

But, there’s a problem. The very fact that I mentioned “similarly priced” and “X3, Q5 and Evoque” in the same sentence poses a pricing predicament. The Trailhawk comes in at a hefty R607 990 without options, and our test unit chock full of extras like panoramic sunroof, two prong power outlet, radar cruise control, lane-departure warning, and a self-parking function among many others, tips scales at almost R680 000. Remember, the old Cherokee was priced at just over 400 grand... ouch.

VERDICT

I doubt if the original Willys Jeep would approve of the new Cherokee’s softy styling, but in Trailhawk trim I’m sure it would get the nod of approval for offroad ability. A superbly comfortable, hi-tech and well thought out SUV. Pity about the astronomical price which the South African public and its penchant for European status symbols will have a hard time accepting. -Star Motoring

Follow me on Twitter: @PoorBoyLtd

FACTS

Jeep Cherokee 3.2L Trailhawk

Engine: 3.2-litre, V6 petrol

Gearbox: Nine-speed automatic

Power: 200kW @ 6500rpm

Torque: 315Nm @ 4300rpm

0-100km/h (claimed): 8.4 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 180km/h

Consumption (claimed): 10.0 litres per 100km

Price: R607 990

Warranty: Three-year/100 000km

Maintenance plan: Six-year/100 000km