Shake off the city limits with the new Jeep Cherokee

There’s no avoiding the family—immediate and extended—over the festive season.

Try as I might—and I really did—there was no getting away from schlepping sprogs around, chauffeuring gogos on shopping expeditions and taking the dogs for a spin to get away from the hordes.

Even though Jo’burg becomes a veritable ghost town during December—almost completely devoid of aggressive drivers—there always seems to be an unavoidable plethora of parties and people to see to.

What should be a relaxing time of year usually leaves most of us in desperate need of a holiday to recover from our year-end holiday.

But one can’t properly stress just how pleasant it is to drive around Jo’burg when most of its inhabitants are tanning their tushes at some over-crowded coastal retreat.

Of course, the scarcity of traffic means that the Christmas break is the best time of year to experience our roads sans the possibility of some trigger-happy Gautie taking his/her anger out on you.

The Chrysler Jeep Cherokee 2.8-litre diesel automatic was the perfect vehicle to test during December—not only because I knew I would have to cart family and friends around, but more so because I needed a car that would bully me into a relaxed holiday mode.

SUVs such as the Cherokee are all about chilling out. They’re not meant to straddle parking bays in malls or hop pavements in Sandton. They’re built for adventure, for exploring and, most importantly, for getting away from increasingly ubiquitous concrete jungles.
But the irony of the SUVs raison d’être is evident in the fact that only 5% to 10% of 4x4 vehicles sold in South Africa are used off road.

If you are indeed part of that small percentage of people who enjoys a rugged adventure from time to time, you’ll be happy to know that the Cherokee, unlike many mid-sized SUVs, is a talented 4x4 with a full-time four-wheel-drive system that offers a four-wheel drive auto mode, a four-wheel drive low mode and electric shifting between these modes with an interior switch.

The Cherokee has, for a long time, sold quite well in South Africa. It’s a capable off-road vehicle, has ample space for its passengers and their luggage, and the previous model was quite a handsome SUV.

The current Cherokee retains its spacious interior and its bundu-bashing credibility, but the exterior design leaves a lot to be desired.

It’s understandable to change the appearance of a car from one model to another, but car manufacturers need to be more careful with trading in a widely successful design for one that might polarise opinion the way the new Cherokee does.

A particularly endearing Cherokee trait was the circular headlights and the subsequently rounded overall design. The new Cherokee is clearly trying to be a more muscular SUV as the exterior design has a very angular, sharp look and the front is far too chunky for my liking. Too much in-your-face Dodge style and too little tried-and-trusted Jeep urbanity, I think.

Importantly, the Cherokee has a quite a few nifty bits of technology worth mentioning, such as the standard Hill Start Assist, which prevents the car from rolling back by holding the brakes for a few seconds; Hill Descent Control to help you come down the mountain safely; and Electronic Stability Control, which controls the throttle and can apply the brakes to individual wheels.

It also has the usual array of modcons like climate control, electrically adjustable leather seats and a multi-function steering, while safety is taken care of with ABS brakes, airbags and high-strength alloy steel to absorb energy during an impact.

The Cherokee’s on-road handling was quite good for a vehicle as high off the ground as this one, and while I didn’t expect the ride to be very smooth, it was nonetheless far above average for an SUV. It didn’t feel terribly energetic because it is a sizeable SUV, but short and long stretches were quite pleasurable and comfy.

The fuel consumption wasn’t great at all as I averaged about 15 litres/100km on a combined cycle of highway and city driving.

The Cherokee remains an ideal allrounder—for the singleton adventurer or the family man or woman. Unlike other SUVs, it hasn’t become too civilised and is still pleasingly rough around the edges. But I hope those edges don’t get too coarse with future models because customers won’t be happy if their Jeeps feel too much like the Dodges in Chrysler’s stable.

Fast facts:
Model: Jeep Cherokee Limited 2.8-litre diesel
Price: R448 990
Tech: 130kW and 460Nm
Top speed: 179kph
Fuel consumption: 15 litres/100km

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