When we last had a Cherokee in the UK, it was accepted that the way a 4x4 drove was a fairly hefty compromise over the way a conventional hatchback drove.
Today, with the advent of crossovers and a general blurring of market lines – which the Cherokee itself embraces by employing lighter-duty architecture than it once did – the differences are less excusable. It’s a shame, then, that this Cherokee is less pleasing to drive than most of its immediate rivals – be they from the mainstream manufacturers or premium ones.
Once, Jeep’s people would have shrugged their shoulders and accepted that this was a price to pay for the go-anywhere capability. But if the Land Rover Freelander has taught us anything, it’s that, today, that’s no longer an excuse.
Compared with its rivals, the Jeep rides too choppily, yet at the same time fails to keep sufficient control of its body movements over more undulating roads. Despite the newness and car-derived nature of its architecture, it still fees like an old-school 4x4 in the way it moves.
The electrically assisted steering is accurate but retains a heft that’s uncommon in modern cars. Moreover, there’s no great benefit as a result, because it gives no greater indication than that of any other SUV as to what the wheels are up to. To that extent, the Jeep DNA has been retained. Unfortunately, in this case, we don’t mean it as a compliment.
The Cherokee is just about good enough to keep you safe should you overstep the boundaries of its grip — but that’s not difficult to do, even on the road.
The front end usually gives way first, and the car’s 4x4 system does little to mitigate the effect that drive has on the car’s cornering balance, because it makes it plough on. Usually, that is, but not always. Carry speed into a corner and the car can roll into oversteer in slippery conditions — and it takes the ESP a moment to tidy things up.
The Cherokee’s off-road stats give the lie to Jeep’s claim that this is a true, rugged 4x4. It has less ground clearance than just about every rival you could compare it with, and dipping below 19deg on approach angle is equally lightweight.
If buyers think they’re getting a more capable off-roader with this car, Jeep should hope they don’t test the hypothesis. It coped averagely well with loose and slippery surfaces and found decent grip in dry mud. But most 4x4s on sensible tyres do that.