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What's the difference?
So, you’ve seen the mainstream mid-size SUV players, and you’re looking for something… a little different.
Am I right so far? Maybe you’re just curious to find out what one of Jeep’s main models offers in 2020. Either way, I spent a week in this top-spec Trailhawk to find out if it’s the semi-off-roader it looks to be, or if it stands a chance against the mainstream players.
The Jeep Wrangler is a very capable 4WD with real bush cred, but the all-out glory is usually reserved for the hard-core Wrangler variant, the Rubicon.
The Overland is often disparagingly referred to as the city Wrangler. But is that really the case? After all, it’s 'Trail Rated', as well.
We tested the four-door Overland over a seven-day period to see how it’d perform on-road, but most of our focus was on its comfort and capability in an off-road environment.
The Cherokee is perhaps not going to tempt anyone set on a mainstream mid-size family SUV. But, to those on the periphery who are genuinely looking for something different, there’s a lot on offer here.
The proposition is boosted by the Cherokee’s unique off-road equipment and compelling price tag, but just keep in mind it’s old-fashioned in more than just one way…
The Overland is (surprisingly) not atrocious on-road and (not surprisingly) very capable off-road. It costs a lot but, geez, it's a barrel of laughs.
If your heart is set on a four-door mid-size 4WD that's a whole lot of fun to drive, but rather impractical for daily life, then it’s difficult to over-look the Overland.
If you’re really gung-ho about hard-core off-roading – rock-crawling etc – then perhaps you should focus on the Rubicon, but for everything else the Overland, even on standard tyres, is more than capable.
Part of me wants to like the Cherokee. It’s a refreshingly modern take on the mid-size formula from Jeep. There’s another part of me which thinks it’s a bit soft around the edges with a little too much influence from the likes of the last-generation RAV4, especially around the rear. A smaller, heavily opinionated, part of me says it looks like the kind of car the Hamburgler would drive.
But you can’t deny the black paint with black and grey highlights looks tough. The raised plastic bumpers, small wheels, and red powder-coated recovery hooks speak to this SUV’s off-road ambition. And the package is nicely rounded out with LED light fittings front and rear which cut nice angles around this car’s edges.
The Wrangler's appearance has been tweaked throughout the years without ever sacrificing any of the ol’ Wrangler spirit.
It has stuck to its traditional roots and, as such, retains its old-school chunkiness, which is good, but the Overland is less of a hardcore-looking 4WD and more of a lifestyle-suited off-roader than its Rubicon stablemate.
Though the Overland version has a certain blocky appeal, I reckon the Rubicon is better for having fully embraced the all-out off-road look and feel, tyres and all.
The plushness makes for a comfortable environment, particularly for front passengers who benefit (in this case) from power adjustable seats, telescopically adjustable steering column and faux-leather trimmed padded surfaces pretty much everywhere.
The floor in our Trailhawk was carpeted, and a luggage cover comes standard. Worth noting is how high the boot floor is off the ground. This limits the space available, but is required for the full-size spare hidden under the floor, a must for long-distance drivers.
What can you say about a vehicle that has a “wash-out interior with drain plugs” listed in its specs?
This is a purpose-built off-roader and the Overland’s five-seat cabin is a basic but functional space, in which it’s easy to immediately feel comfortable.
All dials, knobs and switches are easy to locate and chunky enough to operate while skipping over corrugations or climbing up steep rock steps.
There's leather everywhere – seats, steering wheel, shifter knob – but durable outdoors-tough surfaces also abound.
What always strikes me about the Wrangler interior is the fact that it’s abundantly clear Jeep designers regularly experience – or at least are familiar with – the type of life that Wranglers are aimed at: fun, dirty, rough-and-tumble adventures in the great outdoors.
There isn’t a lot of storage space inside but there are a few small, deep, and textured receptacles – ideal for keeping your bits and pieces in the same spot while you bounce around off-road – as well as grab handles, including a big sturdy one in front of the front-seat passenger.
There are also tensioned net pockets on the doors so you can throw stuff in there, but beyond those there aren't a lot of storage options.
There are air vents, two USB-C ports, and a 230V inverter in the centre console.
Rear cargo space is listed at 898 litres; with the rear seat stowed away, there is a claimed 2050 litres of room.
Does it represent good value for the price? In a word: Yes.
Let’s take a look. The Trailhawk is the most expensive Cherokee you can buy, yet at $48.450 you’ll get stacks of gear. In fact, you’ll get more stuff than is packed in to most of its mid- to high-spec mainstream rivals.
The question is whether you’ll even want it. This is because while the Cherokee might tick key mid-size spec boxes, its real advantage is in the off-road gear sitting underneath it.
If you’re keen on one of these Jeeps you’ll have to be ready to sell one of your organs – and I don’t mean your church keyboard.
This five-seat vehicle as tested has a manufacturer suggested retail price of $86,950, excluding on-road costs.
Exterior paint includes 'Bright White' (on our test vehicle) and black (both standard), and optional colours such as 'Silver Zynith', 'Sting Grey', 'Firecracker Red', 'Punk’n' (orange), 'Earl' (blue-ish grey), 'Hydro Blue' and 'High Velocity' (yellow).
If you opt for the 'Sky-One-Touch Premium Package' (which includes the 'Sky-One-Touch Power Top', and body colour fender flares) that’s an extra $6450.
The Cherokee shows its star-spangled heritage here with a rather old-school drivetrain.
Under the bonnet is a 3.2-litre ‘Pentastar’ non-turbo V6. It produces 200kW/315Nm which you might note isn’t much more than a lot of turbocharged 2.0-litre alternatives these days.
The engine is perhaps at odds with the modern nine-speed torque converter automatic transmission, and the Trailhawk is one of the few front-biased, non-ladder chassis-based vehicles to have a low-range crawl gear and locking rear differential.
This Jeep has a 3.6-litre 'Pentastar' V6 engine – producing 209kW at 6400rpm and 347Nm at 4100rpm – and an eight-speed automatic transmission.
It's an effective engine-and-auto pairing for driving on sealed surfaces and well suited to high- and low-range 4WDing.
In the spirit of keeping the hard-done-by fuel conglomerates in business, this V6 is as thirsty as it sounds. This is compounded by the fact that the Trailhawk weighs in at close to two tonnes.
The official claimed/combined figure is already not great at 10.2L/100km, but our week-long test produced a figure of 12.0L/100km. Not a good look when many of the Cherokee’s mid-size competitors are at least in the single-digit range, even in real-world testing.
In a small concession, you’ll be able to fill up (annoyingly frequently) with entry-level 91RON unleaded. The Cherokee has a 60L fuel tank.
Official fuel consumption is listed as 9.7L/100km on a combined cycle.
Actual fuel consumption on this test, from pump to pump, was 13.6L/100km, largely attributable to the fact I did a lot of low-range four-wheel driving on this test, as always.
The Wrangler Overland Unlimited has an 81-litre tank so, going by that fuel figure above, you could reasonably expect a driving range of about 595km from a full tank.
Note: Drop 30km to 50km from your total calculated fuel-range figure for a better idea of your vehicle’s safe touring range – so that figure above would be 565km.
Also, remember that numerous other factors affect your fuel consumption and so impact your touring range, including how much extra weight you have onboard (passengers, camping gear etc), whether your vehicle is fitted with any aftermarket equipment (bullbar, spare-wheel carrier, etc), whether you are towing (a camper-trailer, caravan, or boat etc), your vehicle's tyre pressures and the conditions.
The Cherokee drives pretty much exactly how it looks, soft and ‘murican.
As thirsty as the V6 might be, it’s fun in a kind of retro way to be behind the wheel. It makes lots of angry noises and flies up the rev range (into fuel-drinkin’ town) all too easily, although despite that you might notice you’re not going particularly fast the whole time.
This is largely down to the Cherokee’s overbearing weight. Not great for fuel usage, it does have benefits for comfort and refinement.
The Wrangler Overland is a fun, go-kart style drive and yields a real driver-direct experience you get from few other contemporary vehicles on the blacktop and the dirt.
But while it’s nowhere near as atrocious as you might expect on sealed surfaces its planted, squared-off stance gives it a definite composure on bitumen. It’s certainly no sports car in terms of ride and handling.
It’s quite soft on-road, soaking up most imperfections with ease, but it also takes quite a lot of effort and concentration to keep this Jeep in line on the open road because it tends to float around on the blacktop if not constantly reined in.
Also, its steering has a lightness about it that can sometimes be a bit disconcerting.
The V6 is a gutsy unit, capable of punching the Overland along at a fair clip, all while the eight-speed auto handles clever and nicely controlled shifts.
Because it’s so blocky, straight up and down, with big wing mirrors and the like, the Overland is rather noisy on sealed surfaces.
But it remains one of the few modern vehicles that deserves to be driven with the windows down, because it offers that kind of visceral driving experience – as the LC70 Series, or Suzuki Jimny do.
So, how does the Overland perform off-road? Bloody glad you asked.
However, this is a purpose-built off-roader with a wide wheel track and low centre of gravity, so it feels planted no matter how rough and bumpy the terrain gets.
On the gravel track to our off-road testing site, there are numerous steering-wheel-jolting corrugations but overall the Overland – with a coil spring at each corner – soaked them up.
Our 4WD loop included the aforementioned gravel tracks, light to medium corrugations, undulating mud tracks and mud holes, and some very challenging low-range 4WD sections (in particular, a steep rocky hill), and a few other set-pieces to see if the Overland was able to do everything safely and comfortably.
As a true 4WD worth its weight in gold, the Wrangler is immediately more at home taking on low-speed 4WDing than it is negotiating suburban traffic.
Again, the V6 engine comes into its own, delivering smooth, even torque when needed, but not ever over-working to achieve that.
Considered driving is necessary as is slow and steady throttle, but that's easily achieved in the Wrangler as its go pedal is none too sensitive to a bouncing boot.
It’s refreshing to note that switching to 4WD High or 4WD Low range is still done via a stubby stick to the left of the auto shifter, rather than the push of a button, or the turn of a dial.
Low-range gearing is very good and the Overland has a well-calibrated off-road traction control that seamlessly launches into action when required, and wasted wheelspin is kept to an absolute minimum.
This Wrangler has 242mm ground clearance and a standard wading depth of 760mm, and was never troubled on climbing steep rock steps, traversing deep ruts or punching through mudholes.
It’s supremely sure-footed during low-range work but visibility can be an issue: over-bonnet visibility has improved slightly over previous generations but the driver’s view to the front and side is still a bit squeezed, making it at times difficult to visually pick correct wheel-placement, especially when driving steep terrain at sharp angles.
It can go hardcore, no worries, but it simply requires a bit more thought and you know what? That’s fine with me because it makes the off-roading experience an even more engaging one.
The Overland has approach, departure and breakover angles of 35.8, 31.2 and 20.4 degrees, respectively.
With live axles front and rear, the Overland has plenty of wheel travel to keep moving and under control through truly off-grid country.
The only real compromises in the Overland’s 4x4 set-up are its standard Bridgestone Dueler (255/70R18) highway tyres and, even on those, the Overland walked up and over our toughest off-road challenges.
Though the Overland is not historically regarded as a towing platform, it’s handy for you to know that it has listed towing capacities of 750kg (unbraked trailer) and 2495kg (braked).
In its last update the Cherokee acquired an active safety suite consisting of auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert, and active cruise control.
The Trailhawk Premium Pack adds distance control (via a button on the steering wheel).
Only four-cylinder Cherokees have been ANCAP safety tested (and scored a maximum five stars in 2015). This six-cylinder version does not carry a current ANCAP safety rating.
The Wrangler Overland Unlimited has the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating from testing in 2019.
Standard safety gear onboard includes four airbags (driver and front-seat passenger only), AEB, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning, rear-view camera, and front and rear parking sensors.
Jeep has upped its ownership promise in the past few years with what it calls the “there and back guarantee”. This consists of a five-year/100,000km warranty and matching capped price service program.
It’s a shame the warranty is distance-limited, but time-wise is on par with Japanese makers. While the capped price service program is welcome, it's almost twice as expensive as an equivalent RAV4.
According to Jeep’s online calculator, services varied from $495 to $620 on this particular variant.
Roadside assist is offered beyond the warranty period provided you continue to service your vehicle at an authorized Jeep dealership.
The Overland Unlimited is covered by a five-year/unlimited km warranty.
Servicing is set at 12 month or 12,000km intervals at a total cost of $1995 over five years, with servicing capped at a maximum $399 per appointment.