2018 Jeep Cherokee review

The polarising front end is gone, but the same two engines remain. The 2018 Jeep Cherokee is 'same same but different'. It still has the chops, though, to appeal to buyers in the medium SUV segment.

Here it is, the ‘revised’ 2018 Jeep Cherokee. The Americans are calling it the 2019 Jeep Cherokee, but don’t let that fool you - it's only January 2018, after all…

Regardless of styling being subjective, the previous model - first released overseas in 2013 - was nothing if not polarising. And after a few years of repeatedly telling us there was nothing wrong with the avantgarde styling, Jeep has completely redesigned its front end.

Here’s our first taste of the new update from the canyons outside Malibu, California, with a hefty off-road course thrown in for good measure.

The term ‘new’ isn’t wholly correct for Australia either, because while the styling is new, we’ll get the same two engines as the outgoing model: a 2.4-litre four-cylinder and the more inspiring 3.2-litre V6, which is undoubtedly the option we’d choose.

The 2.4 makes 134kW and 230Nm, while the V6 generates 202kW and 324Nm, numbers that are much more appropriate for a medium, family SUV. We’ve found in testing that the V6 can be a little thirsty around town, but it’s much more engaging than the smaller engine and is worth the extra fuel usage.

On face value, it's a shame that it appears unlikely we’ll get the new 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, which pumps out a chunky 201kW and 400Nm. All engines are mated to a quality nine-speed automatic, though, and we've found that gearbox to be excellent both on and off-road.

The Cherokee’s styling changes are obviously the most noticeable, especially up front where the ‘shark snout’ of the previous model is gone, replaced by a more conventional front end. Designers are so often in a no-win situation when you really break it down: keep things the same and they’re lazy, change things up too much, and they're crazy. You can see what the Jeep design team was trying to do with the previous model, bringing a genuine point of difference to an otherwise bland segment - medium SUVs are hardly style icons, after all. And yet, the styling was never well-received.

So, the split headlight design is gone, and the overall visage is much more conventional - much more befitting of the rest of the segment in real terms. It’s not as pointed either, more bluff-faced and tall, with fog lights that now reside where the main headlight beams used to be, while the LED DRLs have been enlarged to house the full headlight unit.

The bonnet has been redesigned, as have the LED tail-lights. The tailgate handle has been relocated, too, allowing Jeep to shave some weight out of the whole deal. It's also electrically operated, via a foot sweep on some model grades.

There’s a range of different wheel options in the States and we liked the 19-inch rolling stock fitted to the range-topping Overland model, as well as the tougher, more block-looking rims fitted to the off-road-focused Trailhawk.

The changes inside the cabin, like the exterior design, have been directed at delivering a more premium feel to the Cherokee. There’s more insulation and better noise isolation, making the Cherokee much more pleasant at freeway speeds and around town.

While there’s still a tough, hard-wearing feel to the cabin, the new Cherokee is absolutely more premium, especially with the V6 in front of the firewall, which never has to work as hard as the smaller engine. We haven’t tested old and new back-to-back of course, but from our recollections of the outgoing model, the cabin of the 2018 Cherokee is notably more refined.

There’s the latest Uconnect infotainment system with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. We tested all connections and interfaces at launch, and, as expected, they all worked seamlessly. Audio streaming was excellent, as was the phone connection either via cable or Bluetooth. Uconnect is generally a fast, reliable interface between driver and vehicle, and rarely ever experiences glitches when we are testing the system at home or abroad.

The cabin is comfortable, with good visibility, and feels better for the added storage that Jeep has incorporated into the design tweaks. We tested everything from the base-model cabins right up to the top end of the pricing spectrum, and there’s a step up in quality as you go higher up the pricing list.

Storage wasn’t always a Cherokee strong point, and subtle tweaks to the centre console, for example, have made it a little more user-friendly. The luggage capacity out back is also up, partly as a result of listening to owners who wanted more room for big items like golf bags. They will now fit across the back section with a little bit of room to spare.

There’s also a full suite of driver assistance technology and safety electronics, including automated parking, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

On-road, the smaller engine is fine so long as you don’t need to really get it cranking. Work it too hard and it sounds a little harsh up high in the rev range and not especially refined either. Lower down, around town and at sub-80km/h speeds, the smaller engine is not an issue for the budget-conscious buyer.

The bigger V6 really is the pick, mainly for the effortless way in which it generates its power and torque. That’s despite the aforementioned thirst for unleaded. On road and off, it is beautifully matched to the nine-speed auto, and is the pick of the two engines in lieu of the new turbocharged 2.0-litre, which we don’t think will land locally.

While various trim grades will be available in Australia when the line-up is finalised, currently the range has Sport (2.4/2WD), Longitude, Limited and Trailhawk (3.2/AWD). The most unique vehicle in the range is undoubtedly the Trailhawk; there’s nothing else in the medium SUV segment that will get anywhere near a Trailhawk off-road and that’s what Jeep’s DNA is all about.

If you want a medium SUV and it needs to be capable off-road, the search effectively starts and stops at the Cherokee Trailhawk. Pushed through an extremely demanding off-road course at launch, the Trailhawk barely raised a sweat, cruising through with consummate ease, and only touching down twice on the sharpest part of the rock crawling section. Switch to a set of all-terrain tyres, and there’s almost nowhere you couldn’t go.

We tested the crawl function, hill-descent control, low range, and a variety of modes as well as the approach, departure and ramp over ability of the Trailhawk and it’s capable of doing way more than the average owner will ever demand of it.

There’s no doubt the new Jeep Cherokee is more accomplished, more refined, and better equipped to tackle the competitive medium SUV segment than the model it replaces. It also seems, on face value (no pun intended), to have the styling it needs to appeal to more buyers.

That’s what it’s all about, too: sales. The new Cherokee should make some inroads there.

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