From £27,5453
Coarse and unresponsive, poorly engineered and executed. A premium SUV? Pull the other one

What is it?

A second chance for the new Jeep Cherokee. Our full road test on the Jeep was about as bristling with praise for this troubled compact SUV as you’d expect of a two and a half star verdict.

Among very few causes for hope was the more powerful diesel version, available exclusively with a nine-speed ZF automatic transmission, which is the car under inspection here.

It's a good two seconds quicker to 60mph than the 138bhp manual version and capable of towing half a tonne more on a braked trailer. It's also fitted with no fewer than four overdrive ratios for economical cruising.

So the Cherokee JTDm-2 170 automatic certainly appears to present stiffer competition to other premium SUVs. But it isn’t. In fact, it’s got greater failings than the cheaper, slower manual.

What's it like?

A lack of apparent substance and thoroughness in the car’s engineering is its chief failing. The 168bhp diesel is every bit as clattery and coarse as the cheaper oil-burner and offers little more overtaking pace on the road. It’s short on torque compared with most of its competition, and it feels like it. 

The first time you press the brake pedal, you’ll also realise that Jeep’s right-hand drive conversion has left the brake servo on the opposite side of the car. It's connected to the pedal by a steel bar that crosses the bulkhead, which thuds in a dull fashion every time you release the pedal, while the servo’s hisses and shudders can clearly be heard.

Hardly the stuff of premium-brand meticulousness, that, although it’s a particular ‘Heath Robinson’ solution still used in other Fiat Group products, among them the two-pedal, right-hand-drive Fiat 500.

With the exception of marginally improved motorway economy, the nine-speed transmission singularly fails to enhance the Cherokee’s performance. The powertrain is slow to auto-restart, slow to kick down, unresponsive in manual mode, indecisive when left in D and delivers hurried gearchanges with all the smoothness of an angry van driver.

Hold the car stationary on the aforementioned brake pedal and you can also feel that the driveline doesn’t fully disengage, but strains gently against the driveshafts, making the body shimmy and shake with every few crank revolutions. 

The car’s other dynamic shortcomings are shared with the cheaper version. Its steering feels leaden, inert and full of unpleasant friction, the handling is competent but soft and remote and the ride is quiet but poorly resolved, with lots of initial body movement and poor rebound damping. This is dynamic deportment done as was common in 4x4s two decades ago – and not done well even by that mark.

Inside the cabin the Cherokee is fairly roomy, comes with plenty of kit and is adequately well appointed and constructed. Its off-road capability is far from exceptional, though; there’s just 157mm of ground clearance here, which is barely enough to cope with a rutted track.

Should I buy one?

Do whatever it takes to avoid one. While the Cherokee makes a mediocre car at £30,000, it’s downright poor at £35,000.

Back to top

There isn’t a car like it that delivers a less refined or competitive powertrain, or a less well mannered driving experience – in return, let’s not forget, for a proper premium SUV price.

If Jeep expects to be taken seriously by buyers who can afford a Land Rover, BMW, Audi or Mercedes-Benz, it simply must do better

Jeep Cherokee Limited 2.0 JTDm-2 170 4x4 Automatic

Price £35,695; 0-62mph 10.3sec; Top speed 119mph; Economy 48.7mpg; CO2 154g/km; Kerb weight 1878kg; Engine 4 cyls, 1956cc, turbodiesel; Power 168bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 258lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 9-spd automatic

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Add a comment…
Oilburner 5 November 2014

A little harsh..

For instance: "The first time you press the brake pedal, you’ll also realise that Jeep’s right-hand drive conversion has left the brake servo on the opposite side of the car."

That's true of a lot of cars, including practically every French car I've ever driven. Are the driveline issues and handling problems enough to justify a very stern 1.5 stars?

Even the incredibly primitive and underwhelming Ssangyong Rexton W was given 2.5 stars by Autocar.

What's up here?

CX 7 driver 31 October 2014

A bad Jeep? No way!

I can't believe that the new Cherokee can really be as bad as your reviewer claims it is!! A Jeep tends to have a character different from run-of-the-mill SUVs, by which I mean BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Land Rover et all….call it Americanism if you like! I know this new car is essentially a Fiat, but it must have had more than a little design/development influence from the US for it to be accepted as a Jeep? Jeeps have always stood for….good value for your buck! This new one does seem costly if it is competing head-on with an X3 3.0litre, perhaps they need to realise that Jeep will never be premium brand in the real-world sense of the words…more Daihatsu than Toyota! Long live the Fourtrac!!!
Morty 30 October 2014

DEFENDER of the realm

Congratulations! You have just stooped to the level of Auto Motor und Sport.. Ok for news, but a tireless and often pathetic DEFENDER (hm.. there came this word again, l wonder why?) of domestic products.