x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Jeepers creepers

Apart from its silly face, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee is a safe, reliable 4x4 with plenty of power

While the Cherokee’s exterior styling is challenging, its off-road abilities and a five-star safety rating make it more of an attractive proposition. Courtesy Jeep
While the Cherokee’s exterior styling is challenging, its off-road abilities and a five-star safety rating make it more of an attractive proposition. Courtesy Jeep

It’s a face that not even a mother could love, and you have to wonder at what stage in the design process did the team responsible sit back and say: “Yes, that’s it. That’s the look. That’s gorgeous, that is.”

Now I’m all for being individual, standing out from the crowd and going your own way, but the new Jeep Cherokee is taking things too far. The side profile and the rear end are totally inoffensive, even handsome if you’re so inclined, but that nose is, and I put this as politely as possible, a challenge. Overly fussy headlamp detailing conspires with that angled grille, composing of Jeep’s vertical slat heritage, to form a mishmash look that, even after two days of testing, I still can’t get my head around. Jeep says that it’s “futuristic”, but for the life of me I can’t envisage a future when cars all look like this.

But when did ugliness ever put people off buying any vehicle? The masses seem not to give two hoots about pleasing aesthetics and, if you’re able to live with the new Cherokee’s face, there’s a huge amount to like here. It’s a truly excellent machine and furthers Jeep’s commitment to bring capable and desirable cars to a market that’s more demanding by the second. It’s incredibly safe, it’s sensibly laid out inside, it’s blessed with quality cabin materials and it excels at tackling terrain that would have anything else this side of a Land Rover running for the safety of a perfectly smooth, ripple-free highway.

Four trim levels are offered here: Sport, Longitude, Limited and Trailhawk, powered by either a new, 271hp, 3.2L, V6 Pentastar or a new, 2.4L MultiAir engine and either unit is hooked up to a new, nine-speed automatic ­transmission.

Jeep is keen to point out more than 70 safety features on the new Cherokee, including rear cross-path detection, blind-spot monitoring, lane assist and plentiful airbags. It’s safe enough for the Euro NCAP test to grant it a full five-star rating. Another star attraction is the “rear axle disconnect”system, available on models with four-wheel drive, which cuts power to the rear wheels, allowing them to free wheel when all-wheel drive isn’t required. This, says Jeep, reduces emissions while increasing fuel economy.

Exterior looks aside, it’s entirely obvious that Jeep has pulled out all the stops in the pursuit of perceived quality. The materials used to trim the Cherokee’s cabin are evidence of the company’s new-found zeal in catering to a global, rather than the United States market – it all looks and feels lovely. At last. But attention has also been paid to the instrumentation, which is clear, modern looking and easy to use. The central touch-screen and the infotainment system that it fronts could teach Jaguar Land Rover a thing or two, as well.

There’s intelligence displayed in the way that space has been utilised, too, with storage cubbyholes liberally sprinkled about the place. Lift up a front-seat cushion and there’s space for a towing rope, for instance. Or there’s a lid in the centre of the dashboard, under which is another recess for storing your phone, wallet, whatever you like. And it’s this design philosophy that proves the Cherokee is serious about being used as a genuinely practical everyday car, no matter what kind of driving its owner ends up using it for.

On the road, it has to be said that the car does struggle to feel lively. Even the V6 feels lethargic unless you put it into Sport mode, and I can’t help but form the impression that the pursuit of economy has resulted in something that’s at odds with the Cherokee’s purpose. It gets there eventually, but I always feel like I’m having to thrash it to get it to move. The driver assist functions, too, prove to be cumbersome, with the steering in particular feeling like it’s being wrestled with unless the lane-departure warning system is disabled.

Fortunately, these criticisms don’t apply to its performance off road, where any vehicle sporting a Jeep badge should shine like few others. When I first venture onto the rough and tumble surfaces of the Northern Emirates, I reason to myself that if the car is damaged as a result then at least the looks might be improved. But there’s no need to prepare for that eventuality, it seems, because the Cherokee tackles everything I throw it at with aplomb.

According to the spec sheets, the car has an approach angle of 29.8 degrees, a departure angle of 32.1 degrees and a “breakover” angle of 23.3 degrees, while running ground clearance is 220.98 millimetres. So it doesn’t run aground unless you really are an idiot. And when the terrain looks a bit tough, you simply select the appropriate driving mode, take your feet away from the pedals and let the car do the hill climbing and descending all by itself. And yes, it excels on sand, too.

Actually, apart from its silly face, I quite love this car, what it can do and the way in which it does it. It’s truly excellent and fully deserving of the badge and, I suppose that while you’re driving it, it doesn’t really matter what the thing looks like, does it?

khackett@thenational.ae