BUYERS GUIDE - WAGONS MEDIUM
The Cherokee has been with us in several forms since 1994. The post-2014 model is based on a Fiat platform and is available with and without low-range gearing, so is also listed in our soft-roader section.
The KL model, which followed the XJ, KJ and KK Cherokee models, came with a choice of 4WD systems with one- or two-speed power transfer units: Jeep Active Drive I, Jeep Active Drive II and Jeep Active Drive Lock.
All featured rear-axle disconnect, which activated when 4WD capability is not required and improves fuel efficiency.
KL Cherokee came standard with a nine-speed automatic transmission, in which the top four ratios were all overdrive gears.
Two versions with low-range gearing – Limited and Trailhawk – were available.
The petrol Trailhawk was powered by Jeep’s 3.2-litre V6 Pentastar petrol engine, with 200kW and 316Nm of torque and a claimed 20-percent improvement in fuel economy over its predecessor.
A Fiat-Chrysler-owned VM 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine was the Limited powerplant. It delivered 125kW and 350Nm and was equipped with stop/start technology that helped keep fuel consumption to a claimed 5.8 litres per 100 kilometres.
Standard safety features included seven airbags (front seats multistage air bags, side bags, window bags, driver side knee air bag), ESC (Electronic Stability Control) with ERM (roll-over mitigation) and ABS (anti-lock brake system) with both on-road and off-road calibration.
Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system was fitted to the Cherokee, with up to five modes to provide optimal traction for specific conditions: Auto, Snow, Sand/Mud, Sport and Rock.
The latest Cherokee had a torsionally stiffer body structure, more than 65-percent of which is pressed in high-strength steel. It also had new front and rear independent suspension systems, with frequency-sensitive damping shock absorbers that automatically adjusted to input from the road.
Speed-sensitive electric power steering automatically adjusted for limited effort during parking or increased steering effort on the open road.
All models came with a Uconnect multimedia touch screen to control the vehicle’s functions and systems: 12.7 centimetre (five-inch) on Sport and Longitude and 21.3 centimetre (8.4-inch) on other models.
A full-colour LED reconfigurable instrument cluster displayed fuel economy, driveline information and turn-by-turn navigation.
Cherokee featured Jeep’s newly-designed corporate steering wheel, which included Electronic Vehicle Information Centre (EVIC) audio, voice and speed controls.
KL Cherokee’s optional safety systems included Blind-spot Monitoring, Rear Crosspath Detection, Forward Collision Warning Plus, LaneSense Lane Departure Warning Plus, ParkSense Active Park Assist System and reversing camera dynamic grid lines.
Pricing was $47,500 for the petrol Trailhawk and $49,000 for the diesel Limited model.
The refreshed Jeep Cherokee arrived in May 2020, bringing with it the new Jeep Cherokee S-Limited that featured: body-colour front fascia, cladding, sill and fender flares; 19-inch Granite Crystal alloy wheels; Granite Crystal roof rails and exterior badging; dual panoramic sunroof; black A-pillars and headliner; premium leather-trimmed bucket seats with Tungsten accent stitching that also lines the door armrest and console lid.
The range topping Jeep Cherokee S-Limited added $3750 claimed value for $2700 and was priced from $52,650 MSRP.
On and off road
Jeep put on a demanding drive program for the 2015 Trailhawk and Limited models, based in a Victorian High Country valley and using steep tracks that included smooth dirt and rutted, rocky surfaces, with swamp and river crossings thrown in for good measure.
OTA checked out both Cherokee variants on and off-road, as well as comparing their abilities with established Jeep Wrangler and Grand Cherokee models that were available for comparison.
Let’s report at the outset that the 2015 Cherokee was a lot more capable than its exterior looks suggest. It went where the Wranglers and Grand Cherokees went and exceeded our estimate of what buyers in this segment could expect.
Being based on a Fiat/Alfa platform the Cherokee had exemplary bitumen and gravel road manners, handling and braking with electronically-assisted assurance. However, the suspension units had limits that could be found in the form of limited travel and compliance on rutted sections, where they protested by thumping, just like the Grand Cherokee’s did. Speed reduction was the cure.
The petrol Trailhawk and diesel Limited versions were well matched to the nine-speed auto box, so shift quality was excellent. The petrol engine was quieter than the diesel and operated with no driveline feedback, where the diesel had slight vibration issues at engine revs below around 1500rpm. Both engines had instant accelerator pedal response from idle.
In steep country the Cherokee felt comfortable and behaved reassuringly for a passenger who eyed the semi-vertical drop-offs on the trackside with some trepidation. Traction control worked effectively when grip from the road-oriented rubber was found wanting and hill descent control proved to be the best we’ve tested to date; working with no noise or shuddering.
The nine-speed box gave a wide range of low-range uphill gearing and allowed precise control of hill descent speed.
The only issues we had with the Cherokee in severe off-road situations were some body creaking and the ergonomic layout. The 4WD system controls were tricky to locate and operate while we were concentrating on demanding track conditions.
The original box-shaped Cherokee was the bearer of the Jeep badge in the brand’s return to Australia in May 1994 and continued until the introduction of the KJ replacement in 2001.
When the Cherokee arrived Down Under it was already a 12-year-old design. It was upgraded in March 1995 with front seats from the Grand Cherokee, a new steering wheel with air bag, rear seat head restraints and re-aligned pedals, but the basic design stayed intact.
The market success of the Jeep Cherokee surprised everyone – not least the importers – and demand exceeded supply in 1995. The import numbers were bolstered by the Classic model, which had a pile of extra equipment, but no limited slip diff in the back axle.
Standard equipment levels were quite high: air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, central locking, a Trac-Lok, limited-slip rear differential, four-speaker radio/cassette player, tinted windows, plastic tailgate and a roof rack.
Further up the price scale was the Cherokee Limited, which came with the Sport equipment, plus alloy wheels, all-leather interior, remote central locking, anti-lock brakes, power-adjustable seats and cruise control.
The Cherokee turbocharged diesel model was introduced in August 1997, along with a number of detail changes that made petrol and diesel Cherokees much more competitive.
The body and interior changes made the Cherokee easier to live with than its predecessor. The new tailgate and bumpers were more rounded, which softened the look of what was by then a 16-year-old design.
The interior had much improved ergonomics and a high level of standard equipment: driver and passenger airbags, air conditioning, power windows, remote central locking and an engine immobiliser, a second 12V power outlet, heated power mirrors and an overhead console with electronic compass, trip computer and an ambient temperature readout.
Underneath, the Cherokee was a strange mixture of old and new. Up front, the drive-steer axle had desirable open knuckles – a US 4WD tradition flatteringly picked up by the 1998 Range Rover – and `Quadra-Link’. Quadra-Link is Yankspeak for the four leading arms which located the coil-sprung front axle. However, the Cherokee still had rear drum brakes and leaf springs.
The petrol Cherokee was propelled by an old-fashioned, pushrod, in-line six-cylinder engine, in the best US tradition: it went like hell, was simple to work on and was virtually indestructible. Outputs when new were 135kW at 4750rpm and 290Nm at 3950rpm. On paper, that sounded like a very ‘cammy’ proposition, with too much power and torque at the top end of the rev band, but the Jeep engine curves were quite ‘fat’ in comparison with Japanese V6 profiles, so there was plenty of low-speed power and torque.
The diesel was produced by the Italian company, VM Motori. The four-cylinder 2.5-litre turbocharged and intercooled engine used in the post-98 Jeep Cherokee had undersquare bore and stroke dimensions of 92mm x 94mm and four separate cylinder heads. The Cherokee engine was fitted with electronic injection control for Euro II emissions compliance. Outputs when new were 85kW at 3900rpm and 300Nm at 2000rpm.
The diesel Cherokee was one of the most capable off-road wagons ever produced. The combination of relatively low weight, compact dimensions, short overhangs, good ground clearance, live axles front and rear and the low-speed urge of the VM engine made the Cherokee diesel almost unstoppable. The latest Cherokee uses a derivative of the original VM engine, but it’s a Euro III engine that lacks the earlier one’s low-speed grunt.
The Sport was the preferred Cherokee, because it had a stiffer suspension package and more robust tyres than the Limited model. The suspension included ‘upside down’ mono-tube gas shock absorbers.
In its day the petrol Cherokee was the quickest on-road performer of all three Jeep models and was also the second quickest in the 4WD medium wagon market, giving way only to the ‘Benz powered 2.8-litre Musso in straight-line acceleration.
Although it had leaf rear springs, the Cherokee was surprisingly agile on secondary bitumen and dirt roads, but did drop its bum when fully loaded, or coupled up to a heavy trailer.
There was a propensity for the air cleaner to fill up with water during mild creek crossings or even when driving in tropical rain.
The Cherokee’s interior looked like it was ‘born in the USA’, a long time ago. The pedal layout was staggered, with a big move from accelerator to brake and the driver’s side footwell was cramped, even with the two-pedal control layout. The clutch pedal on the manual diesel model got forced in somehow.
The controls were laid out at random, including the important transfer case transmission selector, which was set up for left hand drive. Not only did the selector lie on the wrong side of the transmission tunnel, but its action was heavy and notchy, making range and mode selection a noisy, jerky process.
Worse, the selection sequence put the vehicle in part-time 4WD immediately after two-wheel drive and if the Cherokee was driven in this mode on hard surfaces, transmission or axle damage was certain. The trick with the Cherokee was to operate it on high-friction surfaces only when the green mode lights appeared on the dashboard – green indicates 2WD or full-time 4WD, which unlocked the centre differential, so you didn’t screw the propshafts out of the thing or, more commonly, bust the front diff.
The Cherokee was comfortable for only four adults – preferably shorter ones in the back, because the narrow-based, low-mounted front seat frames didn’t give much toe space underneath. Cargo room was small, by comparison with Japanese wagons.
Noise and vibration levels were low, unless the driver was using heaps of engine revs.
Jeep under-bonnet access was excellent, having coil-spring bonnet lift and a light.
The most common cause of driveline problems in automatic Cherokees was the stupid transfer case lever layout. Badly operated Jeeps had front diff problems and the front hubs came as a unit assembly that wasn’t cheap.
Rear axles were semi-floaters with the half shaft doubling as the inner bearing race. As a result, the rear axle oil needed to be in top condition, or you were up for new half shafts as well as wheel bearings.
The transfer output shaft wasn’t as robust as it might be, but there’s an after-market fix for that problem. Exhaust systems weren’t well designed and cracked pipes were common. The diesel engine’s electrical control wiring harness ran down the back of the engine tunnel where it could rub through.
In September 2001 an all-new Cherokee KJ was launched, with independent front suspension, a choice of 2.5-litre, common-rail, direct-injection turbocharged diesel or new 3.7-litre V6 PowerTech petrol power and Command-Trac part-time 4WD or Selec-Trac full-time 4WD. The V6 was available both on the Sport and Limited versions and the CRD engine was available in the Sport.
For quick and easy access to the cargo area, Cherokee featured a patented single-action swing gate and glass system. For increased interior cargo space, the full-size spare wheel was mounted on a swing-gate mechanism.
The 2.5-litre DOHC turbo diesel featured a cast-iron cylinder block and a one-piece aluminium cylinder head. It provided 24 percent more power than the engine it replaced – 105kW at 3800rpm – and 17 percent more torque – 343Nm at 2000rpm.
This engine was mated to a NV3550 five-speed manual transmission and Command-Trac 4WD system. The 3.7-litre V6 PowerTech was rated at 155kW at 5200rpm and 312Nm of torque at 3800rpm. This engine featured a 90-degree layout, cast iron block and aluminium cylinder heads.
The 3.7-litre engine was paired with a 45RFE multi-speed electronic automatic transmission and full-time NV242 Selec-Trac 4WD system.
The new front independent suspension had cast iron lower and forged steel upper control arms, with concentric coil springs and shock absorbers. A link-coil, live-axle suspension, similar to Grand Cherokee, with an A-shaped upper arm was fitted at the rear.
The KJ retained disc/drum braking, but the ABS was calibrated to react differently when the vehicle was operated in 4WD drive low range.
For 2003 the Cherokee scored a new 2.8 common-rail turbo diesel (CRD) engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. The engine was rated at 110kW at 3800rpm and 360Nm of torque at 1800-2600rpm.
The Cherokee’s new 2.8-litre VM R428 engine looked identical to the 2.5-litre R425, but had a 100 mm piston stroke, compared with the R425’s 94 mm. The bore size was up slightly, from 92 mm to 94 mm, for a swept volume of 2.8 litres. The new VM R428 engine retained the R425’s twin-cam, 16-valve head layout, with electronically-controlled, common-rail fuel injection.
The 2.5-litre engine remained, in the manual-transmission Cherokee Sport. The VM R428 engine was mated to the Selec-Trac full-time 4WD system from behind the petrol V6. The new 2.8-litre/auto five-speed/Selec-Trac combination was available in Sport and Limited spec’ levels, as well as in a brand new variant, the Cherokee Renegade. The Renegade could also be spec’d with the V6 petrol engine.
Pricing was high, because the 2.8 engine had a $3800 permium over the petrol version.
Also new for 2003, four-wheel disc brakes were standard.
A new arrangement made the new Cherokee’s steering noticeably lighter and quicker than previous Cherokee models – almost too light for our taste. On fast dirt the vehicle was more directionally stable in 4WD than in rear wheel drive and the torque passing through the front end ‘loaded’ the steering with more rim effort, giving it good feel. We couldn’t notice any increase in noise, vibration and harshness when the Renegade was running in full-time 4WD mode.
Off-road the 2003 Cherokee suffered from lack of ground clearance under the front wishbones – a situation made worse than before by a slight lowering of ride height to improve on-road handling. On the positive side the gruntier engine in combination with the auto box’s torque converter produced strong climbing performance and good engine braking.
In early 2004 Jeep announced the 2.4-litre Cherokee, with a RRP of $35,490. The petrol four was good for 108kW at 5200rpm and 215 Nm at 4000rpm, and was bolted to a five-speed manual transmission with part-time 4WD.
Multi-stage driver and front passenger air bags plus side curtain air bags were standard on all models.
For 2005 a new variable-geometry turbo, 2.8-litre diesel engine was installed, a tougher Cherokee Renegade was introduced and a six-speed manual transmission for the 2.4-litre engine was available on the Sport model. The new Cherokee line-up also featured exterior, interior and technical improvements.
Jeep Cherokee Renegade featured a flatter bonnet and taller grille, fog lamps, roof- rails and side rails. All 2005 models scored larger front seats and rear seats that could be folded flatter.
RRPs ranged from $34,990 for the Cherokee Sport 2.4-litre manual to $49,090 for the Cherokee Limited 2.8-litre CRD Auto.
In 2008 a new-shape Jeep Cherokee was released, with Selec-Trac II full-time 4WD, Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist.
A $3000 option was a Sky Slider open-top canvas roof on Limited models.
Standard features included automatic temperature control system, power and heated fold-away mirrors, power windows with driver-side one-touch, fog lamps, aluminium wheels and leather trim. The Sport model came with stain-resistant fabric seat covers.
A MyGIG Multimedia Infotainment System included eight premium speakers and a subwoofer, with built-in navigation, audio, entertainment and communication.
The load floor system had a reversible carpeted surface and a waterproof storage bin beneath the lid.
The 2.8-litre DOHC 16-valve common-rail turbo diesel engine had a variable geometry turbocharger (VGT) with peak torque of 460Nm at 2100rpm and maximum power of 130kW at 3800rpm. Its forged steel crankshaft featured eight counterweights compared to the prior crankshaft’s four.
Towing capacity was up to 2270kg.
The Jeep Cherokee CRD came with a Mercedes-Benz sourced, five-speed automatic transmission and a four-speed automatic transmission was standard with the
3.7-litre V6 petrol engine.
Selec-Trac II was a full-time, active, on-demand system that anticipated wheel slip and used sensors to adjust torque between front and rear axles. New independent front suspension and five-link rear suspension were incorporated.
Jeep Cherokee had multi-stage air bags, ABS with Rough Road Detection, Traction Control, Brake Assist, Electronic Roll Mitigation (ERM), Electronic Stability Programme (ESC), ParkSense reversing aid, headlight height adjustment, side curtain air bags and, Tyre Pressure Monitoring.
RRPs ranged from $39,990 for the 3.7L V6 Auto, to $49,990 for the 2.8L CRD Auto.
In 2010 Jeep made its diesel engine an option only on the top-shelf Cherokee Limited, because take-up was mainly by Limited buyers.
Also, in 2010, for a RRP of $37,990 the Cherokee Sport came fully loaded and if you shelled out another three grand you got the Limited version, with leather, trip computer, nine speakers and an individual tyre pressure display.
The Jeep had 2:1 second row seats with three headrests and three child restraint points. The seats folded flat with the headrests in place and combined with the folding front passenger seat back to make a flat cargo floor, with a recessed wet-items bin at the back.
The Jeep had a one-piece lifting tailgate, but the glass section opened independently, after a press on the key fob: a boon when loading small items and shopping, because it was a one-hand operation. A cargo blind and roof rails were standard.
The spare was stowed under the cargo floor and winds down via a small winch. There was only one 12V socket up front and none in the cargo area. Fuel tank capacity was marginal at 73.8 litres.
On and Off-road
The Cherokee had a fixed-height driver’s seat with a tall cushion, so our vertically-challenged testers found it very difficult to drive. They ran the seat forward so their legs could reach the pedals, but by then their knee-caps were smacking the dashboard.
Even tall drivers found the enormous gap between the accelerator and brake pedals awkward to cope with.
Jeep has had staggered-height stop and go pedals for many years and it’s time the guy who designs their pedal modules retired. If he’s the same bloke who puts the handbrake lever on the wrong side of the centre console: so much the better.
Once semi-comfortable behind the Jeep’s steering wheel, mid-sized drivers found the Cherokee quite pleasant to operate – on smooth surfaces. Handling was flat and predictable, but bumps caught out the soggy dampers.
Ditto on good dirt roads, where the stability control allowed some tail-out attitude, but the shockers didn’t control suspension action over corrugations and shallow ruts.
The Jeep V6 engine lacked finesse and responded to accelerator pressure with the degree of lag you used to get from early-model turbo-diesel engines. The four-speed auto was a relic and forced the engine to rev above its sweet spot to ensure the next ratio was the right one. However, flicking the Selec Trac II control between 2WD and 4WD was easy and crunch-free.
Jeep set a new benchmark for hill descent control, exceeding that of the originator, Land Rover. The Jeep’s HDC damn near stopped it on a very steep hill and we found it could be speed adjusted by upshifting the auto box into ‘2’ or even ‘D’ on gentler grades. The Cherokee also climbed strongly, with its powerful traction control maintaining progress on steep, loose trails. Sadly, the tractive effort wasn’t matched by clearance and the Jeep banged its way over track humps and projecting rocks.
The Cherokee came pretty well loaded – particularly if you bought the Limited model – but there were locking diffs from the USA available and a few local suspension makers came up with much-needed 35mm-45mm lift kits.