First Drive - 2019 Jeep Cherokee

After arriving in Sicily for the launch of the new 2019 Jeep Cherokee, we were taken from the airport to a hotel where the full range was lined up waiting to take us on a 2-day adventure.  At first glance there was an immediate difference between the new and old as the entire front has been refreshed to deliver a new, modern appearance and distinguished look.  Personally I like it, it looks sleek, yet purposeful.  It includes full LED headlamps and daylight running lamps as standard with fog lamps surrounded by bright trim details.

After a quick briefing it was time for us to choose our steed and be on our way. I collected the keys for the 4x4 Overland edition, naturally, and set off into the distance towards a small town called Marzamemi.

First impressions? 

If you’ve ever been to Sicily you’ll be acutely aware of how poor the roads are; the Cherokee’s ride, on the other hand, was good and it handled the holes and undulations very well.

The 9-speed automatic gearbox that’s coupled to the 2.2-litre MultiJet II turbo diesel has been tweaked to give better performance, and compensate for the lack of horsepower over the current model, which is down from 200bhp to 195bhp.  To be honest, you won’t notice it.  I also found the gear change to be fairly seamless, so yeah, first impressions were good.

Eventually arriving at the Donnafugata Golf Resort & Spa, which was our abode for the night, gave me time to reflect and read through some of the media bumf.  

A lot of fuss is made not only about its new sleek look, but how much safety equipment has been added. With a full 5 stars from Euro NCAP, including an impressive 92% adult occupant protection score, this is where the Cherokee shines.  As you’d expect, there’s a full quota of safety kit, including a multitude of airbags, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes and tyre-pressure monitoring as well as a special trailer stability system for when you’re towing.

Our next day had a bit more excitement to it with quite a few off-road routes thrown into the mix, and for this I grabbed the keys for the 4x4 Limited with a colleague, Tim.

Driving along rough dirt tracks, the Cherokee always felt controlled, especially at speeds that were probably far too fast. but hey, we have to check these things so you don’t have to!

At this point I noted that the soundproofing was also pretty good as stones and goodness knows what else was thrown up into the wheel arches…

Catching up to another group, we ventured onto the sea front at Punta Braccetto, and unfortunately the Cherokee in front was only a 2wd model which took a wider berth than they should have and sunk to the front bumper in the incredibly soft sand.

After much pushing, swearing and sweating in the 35 degree heat, someone asked the obvious question; “You have switched the traction control off haven’t you?”  No they hadn’t.

Once switched off, the Cherokee eased itself out from its sandy grave, with the help of people power.  

Our turn and Tim selected sand/mud on the dial. He glanced at the correct route, but chose to ignore it completely and drove straight into the soft bit, and sunk.

Selecting reverse and first, the Cherokee inched back and forth, and with the slightest touch of throttle the standard road tyres, coupled to the Cherokee’s Selec-Terrain 4-wheel drive system, somehow found grip where it really shouldn’t have. We emerged on the other side without much drama.

Our next off-road foray was about an hour’s drive away, and turned out to be a field in the mountains. To be honest, the drive to and from the ‘off-road’ course was far more entertaining, as it was miles of harsh dirt tracks.

The majority of roads we took the Cherokee along were atrocious.  I don’t know whether that was a clever decision by the Jeep PR team or that all the roads in Sicily are that bad, but it proved that Jeep had done their homework on the Cherokee’s handling and ride.

I’m not going to say that it wafts along like a Range Rover or Citroen, but the Cherokee‘s suspension did a good job of soaking up the neglected Sicilian roads, and coped well with the many potholes and undulations that presented themselves around almost every corner.  The chunky steering wheel felt good to hold with the steering itself offering decent feedback.

The 9-speed ‘box coped well with whatever we asked of it, changing smoothly and dropping down a notch or two when hoofed!  Fuel consumption is rated at 38mpg from the 2.2ltr lump, I achieved between 18-32mpg, but I was giving it a hard time.

For two long days in the hot Sicilian heat, the 2019 Cherokee was a pleasant place to be. Both front seats are comfortable and supportive, not to mention being heated and cooled, the latter being of particular importance in 35 degrees.

The general ambience of the cabin was pleasant, with plenty of space to shuffle around, and storage space wasn’t too bad either.  Personally I was hoping that the dash layout and design had a little more style to it, I suppose I’d call it functional.

Both the 4x4 Overland & 4x4 Limited editions I drove had the 8.4-inch high-definition touchscreen and incorporating Apple CarPlay and Android AutoTM technology that worked rather well, especially the sat-nav.  Though it did take us down some rather sketchy side streets at one point, but that was probably down to driver error.

Rear seat passengers have good leg and headroom, even if the front seats are set for six-footers, and no matter where you sit there’s always good visibility.

The large 570litre boot is a massive 70litres larger that the current model.  That 570litres, by the way, is with the seats folded down and up to the tonneau cover.

The 2019 Cherokee will set you back between £40-45k (UK prices haven’t been set yet), and although Jeep are making a manual and 2wd versions, only the 4wd with 9 speed auto Limited and Overland will be available in the UK.  And although it’s available across Europe from September 2018, they won’t be in UK showrooms until the end January 2019-ish.

So, the big question is, have Jeep done enough to put it on par with the Discovery Sport and Sorento, who they see as their main competitors? 

Possibly, but you’ll have to decide that yourself when it comes out. All I know is that I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and the 2019 Cherokee did an absolutely sterling job of ferrying me around for two long days in the scorching Sicilian heat.