Jeep's on a roll in Australia. Its May sales are up 77 per cent up on the same month last year but it's not on the back of sudden interest in its hard-edged, World War II-style Wrangler.
The Wrangler's popularity is steady, selling to rusted-on fans who range from bogans to wealthy business types. They love its outrageous and reactionary styling and/or its awesome off-road ability without giving a second thought to on-road driving dynamics, cabin ambience or pedestrian safety (9.5 points out of 36!) belonging to an earlier era.
No, the brand's current sales star in Australia is a new-age Jeep iteration, the Grand Cherokee, the sales of which have tripled May-to-May. It's for people who want a big, classy off-roader but can't afford a Toyota Prado or Land Rover Discovery.
While beginning under $50,000, it is built, finished and kitted out in a quality, modern and high-tech manner and goes great - town or country. So I see no reason why the Grand Cherokee's smaller sibling, the even more new-age Cherokee, won't also smash the sales charts.
It looks hot, as the Wrangler does, but in a more urbane way. The bravest change is to the nose which, as well as looking sleek, aids aerodynamics, fuel economy and even pedestrian safety (24.5 points out of 36).
The Cherokee is also the brand's first model to earn a five-star crash rating.
The line-up starts at $33,500 for the Sport, a zippy 130kW four-cylinder, two-wheel-drive city runabout using 8.3L/100km.
Like all cars in the range, it comes standard with a nine-speed auto, a first for affordable SUVs.
Then there's a choice of three four-wheel-drives - the Longitude, Limited and Trailhawk - each of which provides a step up in off-roading ability, as the adjoining article outlines.
These models, which are priced from $39,000 to $47,500, are powered by a willing 200kW 3.2-litre V6 petrol engine that uses 10.0L/100km.
The drive experience is sophisticated, with a quiet cabin, superb ride, responsive throttle and steering, smooth changes and adept handling.
And, while Jeep has been famous for some tacky-placky interiors, the Cherokee cabin has just made industry publication Ward's top 10 list of world's-best car interiors. Indeed, the many men and women who yearn for Range Rover's sexy Evoque but can't afford the $60,000-and-up price tags might like to see what they think about the Cherokee's upscale Limited and Trailhawk.
Even the Sport has gear such as 17-inch wheels, seven airbags and a 5-inch touch screen. Also included are tyre-pressure monitoring, an electric park brake and a reversing camera. Visors that slide to ensure the pesky rising or setting sun to the side is blocked are clever. Love 'em.
A favourite, too, are 60:40 split rear seats that fold flat perfectly.
The $39,000 Longitude adds a V6 engine, roof rails, fog lamps, auto lights and wipers, and dual-zone air. A powered driver's seat is a classy touch while the ingenious front passenger seat folds flat and contains a secret storage compartment. The $44,000 Limited ups the 4WD specs, has 18-inch wheels and adds an 8.4-inch touch screen, hard drive, navigation, "virtual" instruments and a superb audio system.
The latter is a 506W Alpine with nine speakers and a sub-woofer.
The seats are leather, powered and heated while the headlamps are brilliant bi-xenons with washers.
The $47,500 Trailhawk has all of the Limited's luxury, seriously upgraded off-road ability, unique badging and bodywork, red stitching, tow hooks, heavy-duty engine and transmission cooling, and tow hooks.
There's a range of packages.
My pick is the Technology bundle which, at $3000, provides eight high-tech driving aids. Its many assets include helping you to park, avoid rear-enders, change lanes safely and avoid lane drift.
It'd be the icing on a delicious cake.JEEP CHEROKEE
Models: Sport 2WD, Longitude 4WD, Limited 4WD, Trailhawk 4WD
Price: $33,500-$47,500 plus on-roads.
Engines: 130kW/233Nm 2.4L four-cylinder petrol; 200kW/316Nm 3.2-litre V6 petrol
Transmission: Nine-speed auto
Thirst: 8.3L/100km (2WD), 10.0L/100km (4WD)
- Grand Cherokee