My first reaction when I first laid eyes on the Jeep Cherokee Longitude was, “This does not look like a Jeep!” For 75 years, Jeep has always been famed for its military-grade toughness, terrain versatility and reliability; styling and luxury were never its chief concerns; that is until the latest Cherokee variants came along.
Two months after my stint with the rugged Wrangler Unlimited Sahara, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the well-appointed Longitude. Offered in two variants – the other being the more adventurous Trailhawk – the latest Cherokee is Jeep’s mid-size SUV that has cleverly combined user sophistication with leading off-road competencies.
Starting from its customary intimidating seven-slot chrome grille at the front, the car’s exterior boasts of a modern and sleek silhouette that stands proudly alongside other luxury-orientated brands, before flowing through to an aerodynamic-designed rear tailgate.
A supporting cast of 18-inch polished aluminium wheels, stern-looking headlamps, LED daytime running lights, Bi-Xenon projector fog lamps and LED tail lamps gives the car the type of sleekness and elegance previously missing from its stable.
Yet, it is under the hood of the RM358,278 priced Longitude that truly earn its keep. Powered by a 2.4 litre 16-valve engine and piloted by a speed-sensitive electronic power steering system, it performed sturdily and effortlessly within the city roads. On the longer stretches while the ride stays smooth and quiet, the power somewhat trails off a notch.
With the engine impeccably mated to a distinctive 9-speed automatic transmission, it can get up to 13.2km per litre on petrol consumption. Due to its extended gear range, city folks going through the traffic crawl will unlikely be able to truly experience driving in the highest gear available.
Beneath the chassis, the powertrain features a class-leading disconnecting rear axle – the axle seamlessly switches between two- and four-wheel drive without driver input – for maximum fuel efficiency with minimal emission production while providing superior 4WD performance. Together with two pairs of finely tuned front and rear independent suspensions, the vehicle is a master at handling speed breakers and poorly maintained roads.
Cherokee’s Selec-Terrain traction control system with five customisable modes – auto, snow, sport, sand/mud and rock – keep the ride stable and ensure competent traction control on any roads or weather conditions.
Once inside, the Longitude’s stretched dual-pane sunroof was easily my favourite feature. It offers wide-open views, a rather exceptional experience for car owners and passengers who are familiar with the standard sunroofs in the market.
Although it does not possess the full complement of features one would expect from its price point, this model comes with many handy widgets that is guaranteed to keep a new owner busy for several days, including high-resolution 8.4-inch touchscreen with navigation, USB and SD-card slots, Bluetooth connectivity with hands-free phone, streaming audio, voice command and text message, Alpine sound system with nine amplified speakers and subwoofer, ambient led interior lighting, 8-way control driver seat, remote start system and keyless entry with push start ignition.
In front of the driver is a customisable high-definition instrument cluster that can be controlled on the leather-wrapped steering wheel. At the back, it is sensibly fitted with a central air vents for the back row, which has to be a standard feature for cars in this increasingly hot and humid country.
Leg space and storage capacity is visibly one of its key selling points, highlighted by its exceptional Cargo Management System that includes a 60/40 split folding back row and a fold-flat front passenger seat.
For me it was the in-seat storage compartment on – yes, on and not under – the front passenger seat that did the trick, as it came in handy for me when keeping my personal belongings away from prying eyes when I am on the football field or zipping into the grocery shop.
The Longitude may well have raised the bar for its peers when it comes to safety, as the vehicle offers more than 70 safety and security features including seven airbags encompassing rear seat side airbags, all-row side-curtain airbags, driver knee bag and front seat-mounted side airbags. It also comes with rear park assist, electronic stability control, electronic roll mitigation and anti-theft engine immobilizer.
At the end of my weekend date with the Jeep Cherokee Longitude, I returned home much like a loves-struck teenager; enthralled by her looks, highly infatuated with her performance and eager for the next date.