Mention Cherokee to any off-road enthusiast and one would immediately think of the much revered XJ chassis. Rugged, brutish and relatively simple, the XJ Cherokee saw a long production run in the US (i.e. 1984 – 2001) thanks to a loyal following and purposeful pedigree.
Compared to traditional body-on-frame SUVs, the XJ had a rigid ladder frame fused directly onto the body, making it a unibody SUV. With it, the XJ was able to hold its own out in the elements, as well as being comfortable in everyday city driving. It left such a lasting impression that many regarded the XJ Cherokee as the precursor to the modern SUV / crossover of today.
Fast forward to the 21st century, the all-new KL Cherokee follows in the footsteps of the well-known XJ. Now built as a proper crossover, the new generation Cherokee is now underpinned by a car-based platform from Fiat, as part of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). But mind you, it still has all the goodies that you would find in a 4x4, and then some.
Yes, the all-American Cherokee is now part Italian, sort of. While the crossover is still being built at Jeep's Toledo, Ohio facility (to be moved to Belvidere, Illinois by 2017), its engine and chassis are actually derived from the Italian auto giant. We'll get to that portion later because we need to check out the Cherokee's eye-catching exterior first.
Fans of the boxy XJ Cherokee and the later KJ and KK models (called Liberty in the US) may find the 2016 Cherokee's exterior as too far out. But for me, it still oozes Jeep styling but gets a new sense of aggression. The front fascia still carries the signature grill design but is now flanked by strips of LED daytime running lights, along with the turn signals.
Where are the HID headlights? Down below just above the foglights. While it may look unconventional, the unique styling does give the 4x4 more pizzazz. The 18-inch polished aluminum wheels give the 4x4 more flair but I do find them out of place in the Cherokee. They're great for prowling the streets, but look a bit out of place when going off-road. Completing it all are the high-mounted taillights that feature LED lighting.
Climbing aboard, the 2016 Cherokee has plenty of in-car tech to keep most technophiles entertained. Dominating the center dash is the brand's infotainment system called Uconnect. Chanelled through an 8.4-inch touchscreen, it manages all of the onboard controls including Bluetooth, AM/FM radio, DVD, Aux, USB and navigation. Audio quality on the Cherokee was perhaps one of the best I've heard in a long while I might add. The touchscreen even has its own set of controls for climate apart from the traditional switchgears.
It also doesn't hurt that the interior of the 2016 Cherokee looks and feels very modern despite its utilitarian roots. It's also comfy, featuring leather upholstery, 8-way power adjustable driver's seat with 4-way lumbar support, heated front seats in case one is in cold weather, dual zone climate control with rear vents, tilt/telescopic steering rack, power tailgate and soft touch plastic all-around. Being a utility vehicle, it also has plenty of storage bins and cubby holes found throughout the cabin. But perhaps the most ingenious of them all is the hidden in-seat storage space beneath the front passenger seat. Needleess to say, we've come a long way since the Willys in terms of amenities and in-car comfort.
Propelling the all-new Cherokee is a 2.4-liter Tigershark MultiAir2 engine. The inline-four produces more than enough pulling power for the crossover; 184 PS at 6400 rpm along with 232 Nm of torque at 4600 rpm. Power is then routed to all four wheels via a 9-speed automatic gearbox with Active Drive Lock.
Driving around suburbia and along town roads, the SOHC engine hummed just under 2000 rpm which was great as it kept fuel consumption to a minimum. Averaging at just around 20 – 25 km/h, the Cherokee was able to return about 10km/l in very light traffic. Ride quality was also good on the Cherokee, with its damping never feeling too floaty or too firm when going over bumps or around bends.
With its American roots, it perhaps comes as no surpirse that the 2016 Cherokee is an excellent long distance cruiser. At a steady 80 km/h, the Jeep carried along with no fuss along SLEX. Should the need arise, the Cherokee even comes with adaptive cruise control (ACC) with forward collision warning (FCW) as standard. Fuel economy on the highway netted 14.3 km/l.
But the true test for any Jeep would be to take it off-road. With the Selec-Terrain system, it has five pre-set driving modes: Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud and Rock. For our test, we decided to check out the Cherokee's capability in the muck.
Despite having highway tires, the crossover was able to trek through the mud with ease, thanks to its all terrain drivetrain control system. With stability control turned off (in Mud mode), the powertrain was more lively which allowed me to play around with the Cherokee. With constant torque being delivered to all four wheels, the crossover was very easy to throw into a controllable slide which made for a fun drive indeed. When the going gets tough, the tough Cherokee can also be set to 4-Low for better traction and pulling power in sticky situations. It has decent ground clearance (nearly 221mm) which was fine but any more of the rough stuff and you're better off with the Wrangler.
As for gripes, I noticed the Cherokee has a relatively wide turning radius and the thick D-pillars which could be a problem for some. Ergonomics could also be improved upon as I found the placement of some controls could divert the driver's attention away from the road, particularly the placement of the audio, climate and safety features controls.
Retailing for PhP 2,890,000, the Cherokee Limited is more of a premium 4x4 crossover. But with the amount of standard in-car features, safety tech and powertrain systems, I'd say the Cherokee is priced just right. Apart from the features I've mentioned earlier, the 2016 Cherokee also comes with the following: parrallel and perpendicular park assist, blind spot monitoring, cross path detection, lane departure warning, 10 airbags, hill-start assist, electronic roll mitigation, stability control, child seat anchors and a tire pressure monitoring system to boot.
If one is in the market for a true urban off-roader, the 2016 Cherokee is right up that alley as it combines the best of on-road and off-road capabilities into one package. If the Limited is too posh, Jeep Philippines is even offering the more rugged Trailhawk.