It’s a new Jeep with an old name
Day one: When they first showed off this new Cherokee I think a bit of sick rushed into my mouth. Those squinting headlights. The toothy grille. It looked like Clint Eastwood taking a shit. In real life it doesn’t seem quite so bad. It’s not what you call a pretty car but at least they’re trying to be different. And the way the window line swoops upwards at the front is straight off the Austin Princess. Which, for me, is not necessarily a bad thing.
Underneath this styling unusualness, the Cherokee is built on a longer, wider version of the Alfa Giulietta. Although someone in the US once told me that Chrysler was quietly unimpressed with the box of bits that turned up from Italy and has done a lot of re-engineering. On first acquaintance, it feels like they might need to do a bit more. The Cherokee rolls quite a lot and leans on its outside front tyre. Yet despite this handling squashiness, the ride is a bit firm.
The Cherokee has a big touchscreen in the middle of the dash. So big that in traffic the occupants of other tall cars can clearly see the name of the song you are listening to. Today I happen to be playing a song called Dinosaur Sex and worried that people in other cars would think it’s the title card to a DVD of very specialised pornography.
Day two: The Cherokee is beeping at me. It’s a particularly insistent double beep that’s impossible to ignore, especially as the stereo volume dips slightly every time it happens. At first I think this is something to do with the built-in speed warning. I set it to 120mph. The car keeps beeping. I am not doing 120mph. Perhaps it’s something to do with the radar collision warning. Whilst attempting to test this, I almost drive into the car in front. It’s not the radar collision warning. Arrrrrgh. Arrrrgh. Arrrrrrrrrgh whyareyoubeeping?
Day three: The Beep is still doing this. There’s no visual warning of any kind and I can’t find a sub-menu or a setting that will turn it off. I think it’s trying to warn me about speed cameras. But speed cameras that I know are there and which, in some cases, are on the opposite side of the road. In desperation, I email the Jeep press office. The PR man rings me. He’s baffled too and has asked their workshop for an answer. Nothing yet. Except beeping. There is still beeping.
Day four: It’s the weekend. We have places to go. My wife is keen to take the Jeep. We can’t take the Jeep, I insist, it won’t stop beeping. So we don’t.
Day five: My wife is still very keen to have a ride in the Jeep. My wife is American. I think it fills her with patriotic pride to see one of her country’s products outside the house. We’re only going up the road. ‘Oh, it’s a manual,’ she says as she gets in the passenger side. ‘That’s a pain in the ass.’ It’s like getting in the Cherokee has instantly made her 20 percent more American. Anyway, she’s right. The manual change is a bit of a pain in the ass from first to second. The other gears are okay. The rest of the car doesn’t feel that American. It’s a diesel for one thing, and it has a stop-start system which I suspect in many parts of the US would be viewed as communism.
Day six: The beeping has stopped. I don’t know how. I think it might have been related to turning off the traffic warning thing within the sat-nav. The PR man rings again with a new and different solution to the problem. I try both, and then try reversing them. The beeping doesn’t come back. Strange. Now I’m not being driven to distraction by an intermittent and untraceable noise there is time to take in more of the interior, freed from the urge to smash it with hammers. It’s a mixed bag. Some of plastics are a bit scratchy. It has ‘SINCE 1941’ written on the steering wheel in a stencil font that doesn’t appear anywhere else. The central screen and the one in the instruments have a fake brushed metal background. When you’re getting low on fuel the symbol on the TFT fuel gauge changes from a normal petrol pump to a graphic showing a few drips of fuel. Which is a nice touch. Overall, it feels like the inside of a car that costs £25,000. Which is a worry, because this actual Cherokee is 33 grand. On their UK website Jeep compares it to the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Land Rover Freelander and Volvo XC60. It feels out of its depth against those cars. If they’d pitched it as a good value rival for the Kia Sportage it might have made more sense. In the US, the same trim but with a petrol engine and an auto gearbox would cost about £19,000. Hmph.
Day seven: Although the Jeep’s ride is too hard, when you go over a speed bump it feels sturdy and untroubled in way that, say, a Qashqai or a RAV4 wouldn’t. It gives a sense of toughness which makes the Cherokee more likeable than it should be. There are other endearing features. The unusually smooth quality of the indicator stalk, for example. And the stoutness of the windscreen wipers. It’s a little thing, but also strangely reassuring. Subarus always have strong-looking wipers.
Goodbye: The Jeep is going away. Until recently I had a ratty old ‘90s Cherokee of the classic, blocky style. I was very fond of it. When it was new, that era of Cherokee was much loved in Britain. To this day you still see tidy ones the colour of Barbour jackets trundling around smart parts of London. I think people liked it because it was quite American, which seemed exotic, but not so American that you feared it came with an illegal handgun in the glovebox. Also, the design was very classical. Sadly, the new Cherokee lacks this appeal. It’s too Europeanised to seem unusual yet too weird looking to have old money appeal. It’s also too expensive. Maybe they should have called it something else.
The car talked about here is a Jeep Cherokee 2.0 Limited 140 4×4. It has a 2-litre turbocharged diesel engine making 138 horsepower. Jeep says it can go from 0 to 60 in 12 seconds and on to 117mph. Without options, this model costs £33,195