AFTER going through some tough times in the UK in recent years, a resurgent Jeep is looking in much better shape.
Globally, the American firm aims to sell one million cars this year.
On these shores, there has been a 70 per cent rise in sales this year compared with last year - a far cry from a disastrous 2012 when consideration was given to pulling out of the UK.
Now there's a new product offensive, and a big part in that is being played by the latest generation of the mid-sized Cherokee, which is pitched below the premium Grand Cherokee and is a more rounded proposition than the iconic but extreme Wrangler.
Sitting on a new platform, this Cherokee promises higher levels of refinement and on-road manners and improved technology over its predecessor.
With virtually no appetite for petrol engines with this type of car in the UK, choice for now is restricted to a couple of turbo diesel engines, with two power outputs from a single 2.0-litre unit.
Key to this Cherokee's appeal will be its ability to come good on its maker's claims of improved on-road dynamics and a cabin that's received a considerable uplift in terms of quality, space and kit levels.
Jeep models have always had a distinctive look, and this Cherokee is no different. However, where the firm's trademark grille has been the dominant feature, this time around it has been incorporated into an overall more dramatic front end.
In fact the whole car is a more dramatic than before, with its angular sheet metal and fuss-free detailing presenting a bold appearance. The upshot is a 4x4 with kerb appeal to match the best from Europe's premium SUV makers.
Bigger in all the important areas, this Cherokee boasts a useful extra length in the wheelbase to ensure occupants have ample room. For added convenience the rear seats can slide so you can tailor legroom for boot space depending on your needs. And with a large opening tailgate there's no shortage of space at the rear, plus Jeep has devised a range of extras such as baggage nets, partitions and soft storage units to further enhance the Cherokee's versatility.
With 140 and 170 horsepower versions of Jeep's diesel unit providing the propulsion, the choice and expectation is very straightforward. The former proves more than adequate, while the latter adds some extra oomph.
The more powerful engine is linked to a nine-speed automatic gearbox, a first for the mid-size SUV class. This ground-breaking transmission is also available to all four trim levels: Longitude, Longitude+, Limited and Trailhawk. Three of the four – Longitude, Longitude+ and Limited – can be specified with either diesel engine and in two or four-wheel drive.
For those opting for the higher-powered engine, the choice of transmission is a no-brainer. The nine-speed automatic gearbox, developing in conjunction with ZF, is superb, while the manual transmission is a little notchy.
Thanks to the light-weight materials used and the efficiency of the engine, the Cherokee becomes one of the cleanest cars in its class. The front-wheel drive 140hp version returns 53.3mpg on the combined cycle and emits 139g/km of CO2. Yet performance is hardly hampered: the 170hp automatic 4x4 will do 0-60mph in a lively 10.3 seconds.
Jeep's focus on refinement should pay dividends. It has a cabin you immediately feel at one with as the driver in the figure-hugging seats, and passengers will appreciate the space and ambience.
Even the basic all-wheel drive variant is easily capable of ploughing through rough stuff and it also has good towing capabilities.
New suspension combines with a very rigid bodyshell to make it comfortable, refined and enjoyable to drive.
On the centre console there’s a choice between a five-inch colour touch-screen for the Uconnect media system and, in a first for this class, an 8.4-inch display.
Although it’s the entry model to the line-up, the Longitude is still a very well equipped car. LED daytime running lights and LED tail lights are standard, as are 17-inch aluminium wheels and chrome window, grille, roof rails and exhaust tips. Inside there is automatic air-conditioning and electric front windows along with a tilting and telescopic steering column and six-way adjustable driver’s seat. Other luxuries include a leather wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, USB and Bluetooth connectivity and ParkSense Rear Park Assist with Stop.
In addition to this, the Longitude+ model features the Uconnect media centre with touchscreen, navigation system and DAB radio, along with a nine-speaker sound system.
The Limited model has as standard keyless Enter’n Go, rain-sensitive windscreen wipers, tinted privacy glass, High Intensity Discharge bi-xenon headlamps, heated front seats and an eight-way adjustable driver’s seat. Other features include a unique to class wireless charging pad for phones and tablets, a seven-inch TFT colour screen in the instrument cluster, a rear reversing camera and 18-inch polished aluminium wheels.
Even the entry-level Longitude model comes with cruise control, parking sensors and dual-zone air-conditioning as standard. And some neat options can be specified. These include the full-length CommandView sun roof and a charging pad that can replenish some smart phones without the need to plug them in.
The Cherokee combines the traditional Jeep values of simplicity and versatility with style, efficiency and technology to create a no-compromise all-rounder capable of doing the famous seven-slotted grille justice.
Pitched at an appealing price point, the car's excellent cabin, legendary off-roading capability and good level of standard equipment make it a convincing proposition.
At a glance
Price range: £25,495 to £35,695
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel developing either 140 or 170bhp
Transmission: Six-speed manual or nine-speed automatic
Economy: 48.7mpg (170bhp); 53.3mpg (140bhp FWD)
CO2 emissions: 139g/km (170bhp); 154g/km (140bhp)