Jeep Cherokee Sport - Driven

It was launches as Jeep’s “All New, All Terrain Cherokee”. Well, they’re not all, all terrain. The model tested here is the front wheel drive only Cherokee Sport, not really designed for, or suited to off road work...

The Cherokee range was indeed all new, heralded by a dramatic departure in front end styling. This new look achieves three things. First, it moved the game forward for the corporate look, keeping it different from other models in the range. Secondly, in a sea of blandwagons, Jeep needed to stand out from the crowd somehow, which the new look has achieved.

And finally, it gets attention – and polarises opinions. Several people told me that they didn’t like the new look but were warming to it.

Fundamentally there are four versions. Starting with the 2WD Sport version, which has the 2.4-litre MultiAir 4-cylinder engine, which provides 190kW and 229Nm of torque. Next step up the range is the Longitude, which brings all-wheel-drive to the party, along with the 3.2-litre Pentastar V6 (200kW, 316Nm) and a higher level of equipment. The Limited is the next version, available with the V6 or a 2-litre turbodiesel (125kW, 350Nm) and a swathe of luxury equipment. The diesel also benefits from Jeep’s more sophisticated Active Drive ll 4-wheel-drive system.

Finally there’s the Trailhawk, designed for the serious off-roader who prefers a V6 petrol engine. At $47,500 it’s the most expensive version.

At $33,500 the Cherokee Sport is very competitively priced. Best sellers in the segment are the Toyota RAV4 GX (a 2-litre front wheel drive, with considerably less power and torque) and the AWD 2.5-litre Subaru Forester VTI. The Jeep’s 36 month, 100,000km warranty outguns what Toyota and Subaru offer. Other significant differences are that only Jeep provides 36 month Roadside Assist and  the RAV4 only has a spacesaver spare tyre…  

One of the Jeep’s big advances is a 9-speed automatic transmission, which naturally offers very smooth transition through the gears.

The 2.4-litre engine is not a highlight of the Jeep. Somehow the engineers have managed to coax a sound out of it like it’s a 1.6-litre car. It offers adequate performance, and anyone plumping for this version won’t think it’s slow – of course there’s the more sonorous V6 for those wanting more go.

Inside the Sport is a world away from the rough Jeeps of a couple of decades ago. Nice fit and finish, excellent ergonomics and decent styling are the hallmarks of this new car. The front seats are decently supportive (the rear seat is a bit flat) and offers good adjustability.

There’s a decent equipment level for an entry model, including 7 airbags, reversing camera, voice command and Bluetooth and power windows front and rear, power folding and heated mirrors, three 12V outlets, LED lights front and rear as well as electronic park brake.

The electronic systems include trailer sway damping – very useful for those who tow. The Sport’s wheels are 17-inch alloys, including the full-size spare.

The Jeep’s boot is disappointing, as with almost all small SUVs. Buyers kid themselves that they’re getting spacious load carriers, where normal station wagons offer more commodious boots. The floor of the Jeep’s boot is at waist height for the typical (mum) buyer of this car, in part due to the room the full-size spare takes up. No need for the rear seat base to flip forward so high is the boot floor when the backrests are folded. Just not clever packaging – but no worse than most similar vehicles.

Jeep offers several options for the boot area, including a kennel. 

The Cherokee Sport drives nicely (engine note apart), the transmission performing very well. The steering is a little soul-less and handling more than adequate, however there’s nothing to encourage sporty driving, in spite of the model name. I felt the brake pedal needed more of a shove than many other cars I’ve driven recently, but the brakes haul the car up well enough.

The option list is relatively small, but the Cherokee model range caters for most requirements. You need to move up the range to get features such as power leather seats, larger tough screen, parking sensors, power tailgate and Alpine premium sound system, but at its price point, the Sport offers plenty. There's word on the street about questionable quality Chinese-made components causing warranty issues - hopefully resolved before owners have to pay.

Once people overcome their initial concerns about the styling (which appears to not take too long), I can see that the Cherokee will mirror the tremendous success that its bigger sibling the Grand Cherokee enjoys.

 Jeep Cherokee Sport
 Engine: 2.4-litre, 4-cylinder petrol
 Transmission: 9-speed automatic
 Power: 190kW
 Torque: 229Nm
 Performance: 0-100km/h n/a
 Price: $33,500 at time of review
 Text & photos - Paul Blank (copyright)