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

Our Verdict

Jeep Cherokee

Can Italian tech put this once-rugged off-roader ahead of the pack?

What is it?

A second chance for the new Jeep Cherokee. Our full road test on the car 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.

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

29 October 2014
It could be the best car in the world, it wouldn't matter. It looks atrocious.

29 October 2014
It's as bad as it looks then......

"Why is http://www.nanoflowcell.com not getting more media attention? It could be the future... Now!"

29 October 2014
Good to see some straight forward journalism that doesn't appear to be influenced by a press launch in some exotic location. In fact I can't think of a more damming review of a £35,000 plus aimed at the general public vehicle.

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

29 October 2014
I quite like the looks. The rest of the car sounds awful though. It will be interesting to see if its much better with the 3.2 V6. However i imagine Jeep will overprice that version too, so it will also fail

29 October 2014
It might not be great, it's defo overpriced but this is the third time I have seen a first drive review on the Cherokee and every time you pick on another point.
Vehicle aside either you are being particularly dogged with this one or your initial reviewers missed an awful lot which begs the question about the accuracy of other reviews...

MrJ

29 October 2014
RIP

29 October 2014
Funny how your review back in April was positive enough to award the Jeep Cherokee 3.5 stars out of 5. Just what is the matter with your reporting? I agree with fatboyfat, somebody at Fiat really has upset you.

Euclid

29 October 2014
I can't recall when Autocar last awarded a new model such a low rating. Back in 1998 I owned an original 4.0 litre Cherokee Sport auto for a couple of years. It was primitive in its engineering, drank lots of fuel, had little space inside and could be a bit wayward in the wet, 4WD notwithstanding. However, it was a strong, honest and endearing car and I rather enjoyed it. If this is the best that the combined engineering talent of Fiat and Chrysler can achieve, then I really fear for their future. There are, thankfully, few really bad cars around these days (at least in Europe) but this looks like a dud. Oh, and it looks just awful!

29 October 2014
For me if you have enough cash for one of these why not just get the grand cherokee - which is a far better car. Ok its bigger but for 37K for the lowest spec is what I would do if you really had t have a jeep

29 October 2014
I really can't believe that Autocar and I drove the same car. But, I suppose I was only test-driving it from curiosity, and I don't have a very close working relationship with its Anglo-Indian competition.

For what it's worth, I found the Cherokee to be extremely quiet, refined car/SUV crossover, with a very decent ride-quality, but a ride that gets a little wallowy if you try to chuck it (why on earth you'd want to, though?). The driving intent was definitely to isolate you from the road, and it does that well. You can tell it was originally engineered for long drives on open US roads, rather than the short loop from the gated estate to Waitrose and back.

I'd put it far above the Hyundai or Nissans, on par with the likes of the Volvo XC60 (more capable, but interior not quite as nice), less refined but a lot cheaper to buy and run than an Evoque; cheaper and more off-road-worthy than the likes of the X3/Q5.

The one thing I would never say is that it was a bad car. But I have no agenda.

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