IN an about-face worthy of any politician, Jeep has completely reinvented its staple Cherokee as an urban crossover.
Australia-bound in the last quarter of this year, the one-time ladder-on-frame 4WD has now morphed into a monocoque-bodied Toyota RAV4 rival, complete with a transverse engine installation and front-wheel drive option.
However, the controversially styled KL-series Cherokee will also be one of the first vehicles on the planet to present a nine-speed automatic transmission, as part of a massive technological push designed to make the Jeep icon safer, easier and more enjoyable to live with and to drive.
Using the Fiat Group’s ‘Compact US Wide’ modular platform, the newcomer shares much of its basic underpinnings with the Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Dodge Dart, while the body structure boasts a high and ultra-high strength steel content of about 65 per cent.
Besides bringing car-like ride and handling characteristics courtesy of the independent front and rear suspension layout, Jeep reckons the move helps save hundreds of kilograms and slashes fuel consumption by over 30 per cent in the overhauled 203kW/324Nm 3.2-litre Pentastar V6 petrol.
Better still, there is a windfall upwards of 45 per cent for customers of the 131kW/231Nm 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol powered models – compared to the old Cherokee.
Additionally, Jeep will offer a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel option.
Like the new Ford Kuga launched mid next month, only the base Cherokee (Sport) will have its front wheels driven, with the mid-spec Longitude and luxury Limited offering all-wheel drive and two power transfer unit choices – regular and low-range.
However, keener off-road enthusiasts will still be served by what Jeep claims is the compact SUV segment’s best go-anywhere crossover, the Cherokee Trailhawk range-topper.
Among other features, it adds a 4WD lock mechanism complete with a 56:1 crawl ratio (with the 2.4L; 47.8:1 in V6 cars), a locking rear differential, and raised suspension for improved ground clearance compared to the other models.
A Land Rover Terrain Response-style Selec-Terrain system also lays out up to five selectable off-road modes – Auto, Sport, Snow, Sand/Mud, and Rock.
Trailhawk will become a mainstay across the entire Jeep range from here on in, after a toe-in-the-water exercise as a limited-edition model on the larger – and recently facelifted – Grand Cherokee.
Driver-aid technologies set to debut on upper-spec Oz-bound Cherokees include automatic parking, blind spot and lane-departure warnings, radar-guided cruise control, and rear cross-path detection, while ten airbags will be standard across the range.
Jeep has also made a concerted effort to improve space and packaging efficiency, while a multi-configurable instrument cluster, advanced multi-media touchscreen technology, and even a wireless mobile-phone charger pad are all available.
Like before, Australian-bound Cherokees will hail from the Toledo, Ohio facility in North America.