I’VE been saying it for a while now, how is Jeep doing it for the price without the thing falling apart?

But first, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Cherokee’s face. There is little aesthetic wiggle room so most either love or hate it. At first I thought it was a face only a mother could love, but as I drove more kilometres, the face grew on me. I like the vertical grill but it now looks like a shaver that’s been dropped on its foil.

[showads ad=MREC]The Trailhawke is the top model and is comes fully loaded. Because it’s off-road ready, there is a big chunky set of tyres on 17” rims for real bush-bashing. It has a certain butch look about it which appeals to the outdoorsy camper in all of us, even if it is well-hidden. The ground clearance of 221mm gives the 4WD a decent chance of getting you out of the muck should things go badly tits-up.

The pictures tell the rest of the story. Either you like it or you don’t so move along, there is nothing to see here.

Now, let’s move on to the interior.

Something happened with this last generation of Jeeps. It’s as if a little man in the US was given a big wad of money and told to “go for it”, and did. Previous interiors felt very low-rent with cheap plastics, nasty ill-fitting trim and poorly-designed controls. These days, it has gone all posh. It’s no BMW, Audi or Mercedes, but you could get three Cherokees for one of any of the others’ SUVs, and only the Jeep can comes with real 4WD. The others won’t get you much further than a poorly-raked gravel drive.

The cabin feels classy, and the seats are comfy. The leather has the look a much more expensive brand. The stitching is precise with the pads making the cushions look sculptured. The leather is used lavishly, especially in the top model. You have your steering wheel and gear knob wrapped in leather, as well as the seats and parts of the dash and doors.

The rest of the inclusions are as impressive: auto dimming mirror, auto headlights, auto wipers, auto highbeam, auto hand brake, and the fabulous U-connect audio system. It also has one of the easiest Bluetooth systems I’ve used, and there are numerous storage bins for you to lose stuff in.

The cabin feels expensive and cosy and one that you could live with for a long time. It would be criminal to take if off road only to get schmutz over the bright new leather, even though that’s where it’s most at home.

There are a range of engines, with my favourite being the 3.2 V6 Pentastar. It’s no where near as economical as the 2.4 four-cylinder TigerShark or 2L turbo diesel, but has much more power. It sounds fabulous with a nice growl under hard acceleration.

I took an overnight run down Sydney’s M4, past “The Riff” (aka Penrith) and up the Blue Mountains. It ate the kilometres with ease. I love radar cruise control, especially if it has a queue assist function. Stop/start traffic means the system knows what’s going on. As long as you don’t stop more than 10 seconds or so, will move off again without you doing anything other than holding the wheel. If you stop more than 10 seconds, a tap on the accelerator starts the whole process again. It is genius in heavy traffic. You can adjust the distance to the car in front from a steering wheel button. You still have to keep an eye on the speed because you’re not always conscious of the car in front slowing. It isn’t unusual to find you’re following at 90kph on a 110kph four-lane highway with no other cars around.

You can also ask it to park itself too, either kerbside or in a 90-degree parking bay. (It’s fun to watch the faces of drunken queens nearby when you do that.)

Jeep have gone the whole hog on the lane warning system too. In addition to discrete lights on the dashboard, the steering wheel gives a gentle tug to let you know you’re wandering. If you then do nothing, it will steer the Cherokee back into the lane. If it thinks you don’t have your hands on the wheel it will sound an alarm and flash a message telling to put your hands back where they belong. Until you get used to it you may find yourself bouncing from one side of the lane to the other like a drunken sailor. Perhaps it was just my bad driving.

Through the bends, Cherokee changes direction without much fuss and feels at home on dirt or tarmac. I’ve no doubt it could walk up walls if you wanted it to. I don’t though. I prefer a more sedate pace with classical music and gentle air conditioning. In addition, I do like a bit of a sunroof and in sunroof models the full length glass has a sliding front panel with interior shade. This provides endless fun for the dim-witted.

Considering you’re driving a reasonably big off-roader, the road manners are excellent. The sound deadening is fabulous and the easy steering, comfy seats and endless gadgets make the experience a luxury one. There is the odd bit of cheap plastic but all is forgiven considering the price range is $35,000 to $52,279 drive away. It’s excellent value, so, is not so precious that you couldn’t go into the wilderness for the full Brokeback Mountain experience.

Would I buy one? Yes, without question.

Jeep Cherokee price ranges:

Sport: $35,000, 2.4L (front wheel drive)

Longitude: $40,500, 3.2L (AWD)

Limited: $48,622, 3.2L (AWD)

Limited: $53,872, 2L diesel (4WD)

Trailhawke: $52,297, 3.2L (4WD)

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