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Jeep Cherokee 2013 Review

EXPERT RATING
8
Building Jeep's iconic brand name on an Italian family-car chassis is the automotive equivalent of RM Williams subcontracting for Victoria's Secret lingerie.

Building Jeep's iconic brand name on an Italian family-car chassis is the automotive equivalent of RM Williams subcontracting for Victoria's Secret lingerie.

It doesn't seem to fit and for Jeep, now part of the Fiat Group, it could have gone horribly wrong. But on the dusty, hilly terrain around California's Canyon Creek, Jeep shows that its new Cherokee is every bit as competent in the dirt as its big brother, the Grand Cherokee.

That's the first surprise. Most of you are unlikely to buy a compact SUV with off-road expeditions in mind. But you do want comfort, space for the family and economy. The US-made Cherokee is now built on the platform of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta sedan and is ready to launch in Australia from May with a price tag from about $31,000.

It will be marketed against entrenched SUV wagons such as the Subaru Forester - a car Jeep freely admits was one it used as a benchmark - and the Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage and Nissan X-Trail.

On test this week, the Cherokee shows it rides as smoothly and quietly as the Alfa on which it's based and yet ticks all the SUV boxes - roomy, versatile, tall seating height, economical and affordable. Fiat Chrysler Australia expects it to be a major contributor to accelerate its 2012 record year but pulls short of saying it will outsell the enormously popular Grand Cherokee.

There will be four models - Sport front-wheel drive, Longitude AWD, Limited AWD and Trailhawk AWD - available with up to three engines and two transmissions and ranging in price from about $31,000 to about $55,000. The AWD has a low-range transfer case - one of only two SUVs in its class with this gearbox - and is the first with a nine-speed automatic transmission designed to stretch the ratios for brisk performance and fuel economy.

Fiat Chrysler spokesperson Karla Leach says final prices and specs won't be confirmed to closer to the 2014 quarter-2 launch but that costs should follow the previous model that left showrooms in January. Jeep aficionados who think the 2014 model builds on the old Cherokee should prepare for a complete attitude change.

The next model appears to be a soft roader but is agile and powerful enough to hit the trails with its big brother and the Trailhawk version will go most of the way with the Wrangler. So the Cherokee is a quandary, attempting to suit a very broad audience of shoppers and off-road enthusiasts with a car chassis borrowed from a sister company. And yet though that sounds like a hard ask, the SUV manages not only to pull it off but create a car that is practical yet fun to drive.

VALUE

Hard to tell until pricing is released but if we estimate that $50,000 will buy a V6 petrol AWD with leather and sat-nav, then it's a good buy. Add into that the ability to hit the dirt and scare some "proper" 4WDs and it becomes better value. The Italian-made 2-litre VM Motori turbo-diesel engine wasn't available for testing but it would be the choice for country buyers and enthusiasts.

The 2.4-litre is smooth and fuel efficient but the V6 strikes me as a very refined and enjoyable powerplant that perfectly suits the Cherokee's character. For those who want it all, the Trailhawk model gets more ground clearance and a shorter nose, big wheels and skid plates.

All models get the new nine-speed automatic transmission (a six-speed manual is optional only on diesel versions) and - in Australia - the choice of front-wheel drive, an on-demand all-wheel drive system called Active Drive 1 or the Active Drive 3 with low-range, rear diff lock and a five-mode terrain mode that changes the drivetrain and braking characteristics to suit varying road conditions.

DESIGN

The folded seven-slot grille has been used in a similar fashion in the 1974 Jeep model but today looks very distinctive and deliberately unlike the big-brother Grand Cherokee. The side windows are lower than rivals so the driver has a good view of passing off-road obstacles.

Cabin features suit the versatility hallmark of Jeep with lots of storage space, simple switchgear, a big touch screen (AWD models) for infotainment, a higher rear seat so kids have a better view, a split-fold rear seat that folds flat and lots of optional safety features. Base models have a tyre repair kit while upmarket versions get a space-saver. Tyres for Australian-spec models have yet to be decided.

TECHNOLOGY

The ZF nine-speed automatic is unique, as is its attachment to a two-speed transfer case. It will be used in future Fiat-Chrysler cars. The 3.2-litre V6 petrol is a rebored 3.6-litre V6 Pentastar found in the Wrangler, Grand Cherokee and Chrysler 300 sedan.

The 2-litre turbo-diesel is from Fiat's associate VM Motori engine maker and is from the same family as found in the Holden Captiva and Cruze, Jeep Wrangler and Kia Sportage. The five-mode all-terrain assist is an electronic box that changes the engine, transmission and stability-traction controls to maximise off-road performance. Cherokee also gets a new front and rear suspension to suit its monocoque chassis. The platform is based on the Giulietta and also used in the Fiat Viaggio and Dodge Dart. It is being modified for a future small SUV.

SAFETY

It has yet to be crashed by Fiat Chrysler expects a five-star rating. Standard kit is 10 airbags and all the electronic aids. For offroaders, there's the terrain assist plus downhill descent and crawler systems as well.

Mid and top-spec models have a rear camera though this may be extended across the range. It is likely we will get a space-saver spare though there may be room for a full-size spare. Optional equipment includes parallel and perpendicular park assist, lane monitor, active cruise with auto braking and forward collision warning.

DRIVING

On the road it is as smooth and comfortable as most rivals but gets extra points for its solid feel and well-weighted electric-assist steering. American hosts apologised for the softer suspension and steering feel but it wasn't as bad as some SUVs now on the market. Australia will get European settings that makes it a slightly firmer car to drive.

The front-drive model with the 2.4-lire engine is a good drive - helped enormously by the generous nine-speed auto - and will be the stable-mate model. The auto isn't perfect with sometimes hard upshifts and a reluctance to downshift - the latter to maximise fuel economy - but generally is a boon to the average output of the 2.4-litre engine.

Pushed hard, this engine is noisy and the front-drive design exposes understeer. Tyre choice on the US test cars was poor and Australia will definitely get better rubber. But as a budget family SUV it is a safe and solid drive with all the panache that the Jeep brand now holds. By comparison, the all-wheel drive V6 is a gem.

It charges hard and handles with confidence, only revealing understeer when pushed a bit too quickly through a bend. The engine is far more torquey than the four and this makes driving it easy and the engine noise is reduced. It sounds great when on heat, too. Seat comfort is very good - cloth and leather were tested - and ergonomics of switches makes it a simple car to get to know. The diesel was not available to drive.

Off the road the Trailhawk version of the SUV was thrown at some ghastly trails and yet pulled it off with ease. The low-range box makes the difference here but most of its competency comes from a sophisticated electronics package that brakes wheels without traction. Then there's the downhill and terrain assist and the crawler unit that acts like a cruise control able to be stepped up in 1km/h speed increments.

Ground clearance is up almost 50mm on the other models, now 222mm, and a stubbier nose and higher front spoiler help clear forward humps. It has the best off road performance in its class by a long shot.

VERDICT

Better than you'd think but final specs and pricing will be Cherokee's acid test. Personally, the Limited V6 will be the best suburban plaything.

Jeep Cherokee
Price: from est. $31,000
Warranty: 3 years/100,000 km
Resale: n/a
Service interval: 6 mths/10,000km
Safety rating: 5-star
Spare: space-saver
Engines: 2.4-litre 4-cyl petrol 137kW/234Nm; 2-litre turbo-diesel (no data available); 3.2-litre V6 petrol 199kW/316Nm
Transmission: 9-spd auto, 2WD or on-demand 4WD with 2-spd transfer case; optional 6-spd manual (diesel)
Body: 4.6m (L); 1.9m (w); 1.7m (h)
Weight: 1712-1862kg
Thirst: 9.5L/100km; 228g/km CO2 (2.4); 10.8L/100km; 259g/km CO2 (3.2)

 

Pricing Guides

$15,455
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$10,560
Highest Price
$20,350

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Jet 3.7L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $13,420 – 17,600 2013 Jeep Cherokee 2013 Jet Pricing and Specs
Limited (4x2) 3.7L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $12,100 – 16,060 2013 Jeep Cherokee 2013 Limited (4x2) Pricing and Specs
Limited (4x4) 3.7L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $12,760 – 17,050 2013 Jeep Cherokee 2013 Limited (4x4) Pricing and Specs
Sport (4x2) 3.7L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $10,560 – 14,520 2013 Jeep Cherokee 2013 Sport (4x2) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Neil Dowling
Contributing Journalist

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