Jeep's latest Cherokee might well be at its best in value-oriented Longitude trim. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Jeep Cherokee Longitude represents extremely strong value in the £26k-£33k bracket, offering rugged mechanicals, slick styling, plenty of standard equipment and a pair of gutsy Fiat-sourced MultiJet turbodiesels. Despite the more urbane looks, the all-wheel drive versions can still cut it in the rough stuff, unlike virtually all of their similarly priced rivals.
Some might feel this is a harsh question, but when was the last time you could buy a Jeep product that didn't say "I wanted a Land Rover but couldn't stretch to one, so I settled for this"? Yes, the down-home corporate ethos that underscores the Jeep brand is a long way removed from the tweedy clubbiness of the British marque but all too often buying Jeep seemed like settling for second best. Third or fourth best if you look at some of their more ill-starred wares. That's why this fifth generation Cherokee is so different. It's changed the rules quite dramatically. Suddenly the adventurously-styled Cherokee has become a vehicle that some buyers want almost regardless of the asking price. Despite that, Jeep's best chances remain at the accessible end of the range, so here we take a look at the Longitude models. These pose some questions that Land Rover, and indeed many other SUV manufacturers, will be very hard pressed to answer.
The Longitude trim is available with two distinct engines. The base option is an older 2.0-litre MultiJet diesel engine that offers 140bhp and comes in 2WD or 4WD guises. Better though is the more modern 2.2-litre MultiJet unit, available with this spec in 185bhp form and offered only with a 9-speed auto gearbox and 4WD. Longitude buyers only get access to Jeep's 'Active Drive I' 4WD system: this simply shuttles torque from front to rear in response to slip, just as you'd find elsewhere in this segment. For the more sophisticated 'Active Drive II' system, you have to upgrade to plusher 'Limited' trim. And on the move? Well on tarmac on poorer roads, the ride quality lags a little behind best-in-class standards - though like the refinement, it does improve as you get faster. Nor is body control quite as good as the best Crossovers and compact SUVs can manage. Having said that, this thing will obviously go a few places that a Nissan Qashqai wouldn't want to look at. You can't have everything. There are positives though. The brakes are excellent and the MultiJet diesel engines rarely feel short of pulling power. That's one reason why you never approach the ridiculously large red hatched area on the rev counter. we even quite like the steering, which has a bit of welcome firmness to it - though that won't suit everyone.
Design and Build
That front end is sure to divide opinion. For what it's worth, we think it looks great and shows that Jeep can retain elements of the traditional, such as the seven-slot grille, but give it a new twist with some thoroughly modern headlights and a more purposeful stance than ever before. At the side, you'll spot the traditional trapezoid wheel arch shape, married to a low, sleek glasshouse. LED tail lights that seem to take a bite out of the rear window glass and a curvaceous tailgate catch the eye at the back. As an option, buyers can also have a CommandView dual-pane power sunroof which extends from the windscreen to the rear of the vehicle. Cherokee interiors always used to be tough but uninspiring. Nowadays, dull colour schemes, cheap plastics and poor ergonomics just won't wash in a market where even the cheapest Korean SUVs feature soft-touch plastics, serious budget spent on all the touch-points in the cabin and demonstrate a laudable attention to detail. Therefore the Cherokee has had to shape up. The centre stack bezel is inspired by the outline of the front grille of the 1940s Willys Jeep. A vinyl-wrapped, stitched instrument panel brow is standard on all models and the stitching carries over to the centre console armrest and front door armrests. The seats are available with a memory adjustable mechanism and heated/ventilated features for the front pair. The 60/40 split second-row seats adjust fore and aft for increased passenger leg room and cargo versatility. A top storage tray is located above the centre stack on top of the instrument panel and the front-passenger seat folds flat and offers hidden storage by flipping up the passenger seat cushion.
Market and Model
Prices are extremely aggressive, with the entry-level 140bhp front-wheel drive Cherokee Longitude pitched at just over £26,000, with all-wheel drive easing that up by £2,000. The 185bhp all-wheel drive model with the ZF nine-speed auto manages to come in under £31,000. Of course, some economies have been made to achieve those prices. The Longitude trim doesn't get the big colour screen in the instrument cluster, instead making do with a smaller monochrome display. Likewise Longitude models get a 5-inch colour touch screen on the centre console rather than the 8.4-inch monitor that plusher Limited variants receive. That's not to say this is a stripped out model designed to get you into Jeep dealers where you'll then be sweet-talked by a shiny-suited salesman into something more expensive. The Longitude stands up very well on its own with cruise control, parking sensors and dual-zone air-conditioning as standard. Options include the full-length CommandView sun roof and a clever inductive charging pad that can replenish most non-Apple smart phones without the need to plug them in.
Cost of Ownership
Jeep has worked hard to improve the efficiency of the latest Cherokee. As well as improving the efficiency over its brick-like forebear, the nine-speed transmission you get on the 2.2-litre model offers a contribution to lowering frictional losses. With fewer open shift elements in the gearbox, drag losses due to multiple parts rotating relative to one another are reduced, improving fuel efficiency. The MultiJet common rail injection system's engine management also optimises economy, introducing tiny quantities of fuel with the main injection cycle. The 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine also incorporates "Stop/Start" technology that improves fuel efficiency and reduces CO2 emissions. Drivers can deactivate this via a button on the dashboard and an icon displays in the instrument panel to indicate the Stop/Start status. The rear axle disconnect feature is a first for compact SUV, helping further improve fuel efficiency. The front-wheel drive base version is obviously the most economical, recording 44.1mpg on the combined cycle and emitting 139g/km of carbon dioxide. Next up is the all-wheel drive manual 140bhp model, netting 41.5mpg and 117g/km. Go for the punchier 185bhp automatic and you'll still return a reasonable CO2 emissions figure of 150g/km.
The Jeep Cherokee Longitude's value is best put into perspective by the fact that even when you buy the version with all-wheel drive and a nine-speed automatic gearbox, it's still only around the same price you'd pay for a Toyota RAV4 with a feebler diesel engine, a mere six speeds to choose from and off-road ability that's closer to a mobility scooter's than it is to the Jeep's rugged Active Drive I and Selec-Terrain combination. Even if you never plan to go off road, take a test drive in both vehicles. The Jeep will seem by far the more serious and capable proposition, even if it can't quite match the Toyota's on-road agility. The Longitude model probably represents Jeep's best chance of making some seriously big numbers in the UK. Start graduating upwards to the Longitude+, Limited and Trailhawk variants and you begin to edge closer to BMW X3 and Audi Q5 money and those badges represent an event horizon that customers never return from. In its price bracket, the Cherokee Longitude has the chops to do just that to many other vehicles. The Toyota RAV4, the Honda CR-V, the Ford Kuga and the Nissan Qashqai all suddenly look a bit two-dimensional. Keep tuned to this one. It's going to be interesting.