Off-roaders are big business in 2014 and most manufacturers are moving ever more upmarket to meet buyers’ desire for ever more kit. Merge the two trends together and you should have the perfect recipe for success. This is the trick Jeep is trying to pull off with its new Cherokee.

This new model from the iconic 4×4 manufacturer is definitely well-equipped, but the question is whether it can manage to pull off the luxury act as well as rivals from Volvo, Land Rover and Honda, let alone German premium brands Audi and BMW – especially when you take into account its controversial exterior styling.

What is it?

The Cherokee is a mid-size off-roader that provides a relaxing on-road driving experience, but is also capable off-road. As with other Jeeps the emphasis is on comfort and off-road ability rather than the sharpest on-road handling as is the case with many European rivals.

Three diesel models are available: a 138bhp 2.0-litre diesel with the option of two and four-wheel drive and a 168bhp diesel with four-wheel drive. The choice of specification level is similarly simple with entry-level Longitude trim, Longitude+ which adds sat nav and an uprated sound system, and range-topping Limited.

All models have a generous haul of equipment including a touchscreen media system, digital radio, climate control and rear parking sensors. Top-spec Limited includes additional luxuries like a reversing camera, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats and automatic lights and wipers.

What is it like to drive?

The Cherokee is a big and heavy car for a 138bhp diesel engine to cart around and that impression is borne out on the road. Around town the engine is perfectly happy but head out onto a motorway and the motor soon runs out of puff. This is emphasised by the fact that the engine is on the noisy side compared to a number of rivals. However, overall refinement is good, with just a little road and wind noise finding its way into the cabin.

In 138bhp form the Cherokee requires a lengthy 12.0 seconds to amble to 62mph though economy isn’t hugely impressive at 50.4mpg. Load the car up with people and luggage and progress is likely to be leisurely. The least powerful four-wheel drive BMW X3 diesel is a huge four seconds quicker to 62mph though it returns an extra four mpg.

If four-wheel drive traction isn’t important to you the lighter two-wheel drive Cherokee shaves more than a second off the benchmark acceleration sprint and economy rises by 3mpg, though it’s still bested by the BMW.

As for the ride, the Cherokee is mostly comfortable though you do feel some bumps and the car bounces over larger undulations in the road. Despite the smooth ride the car handles corners relatively competently too, though German rivals are sharper around bends. Unusually the steering is quite heavy for an off-roader. In manual form the gearchange is smooth enough, though it is a little more notchy than the best rivals.

What is it like inside?

The Cherokee is relatively spacious up front, with plush, comfortable seats and a simple dashboard. The materials don’t live up to the standard of German rivals, however, with a cheaper feeling and slightly clunky ergonomics. An example of this is the fuel filler release, which is hidden behind the driver’s door armrest, completely out of sight unless the door is wide open.

The starter button is also a significant irritation. Press it once and it moves the seat forward into place. Press and hold the button for a number of seconds and the engine fires to life. Press and don’t hold the button, however, and the engine splutters but doesn’t start. An added annoyance is that as the seat slides back once you’re out of the car, it’s hard to even reach the button in the first place.

Even the entry-level model has plenty of kit as standard, though the overriding impression is that the car has been built down to a price, with cheap feeling materials across the top of the dashboard and dotted around the cabin.

Is it practical?

Passenger space up front is generous and the seats are comfortable, though the rear pews don’t offer as much space as you might expect, considering the size of the car. In our test model, which had a panoramic glass roof fitted, headroom was tight for anyone taller than 5’10’’ tall.

With shorter passengers up front rear legroom is more than adequate, but move the seats all the way back and those in the rear may be short of space. The middle rear seat is usable with enough legroom for reasonably long journeys, however the hard seat back is slightly uncomfortable.

The boot is usefully square, though the boot floor is very high, limiting the total volume. Our car also had a power tailgate, though it took an irritatingly long time to open and close. Visibility is also limited due to the car’s high sides, though the rear view camera makes things a lot easier.

Should I buy one?

The Jeep Cherokee is a relatively refined, comfortable machine, which is available with two and four-wheel drive and offers a huge amount of luxury equipment as standard.

However, the car’s unconventional styling is controversial at best, sheer ugly at worst, while the balance of economy and performance stands far behind a number of German and Swedish rivals. The Jeep’s interior also lacks competitors’ upmarket feel – though the prices aren’t low enough to compensate.

There are some buyers who will like the car’s unusual looks and long list of kit, however, we imagine that there are a greater number of people who will be more taken by rivals sleek styling, upmarket cabins and better economy and performance.

Don’t want to buy new? You can browse for a similar used Jeep Cherokee in our classifieds here.

The facts

Jeep Cherokee 2.0 140 Limited 4×4

List price: £33,195
Engine: 2.0-litre, four cylinder diesel
Power: 138bhp
Top speed: 117mph
0-62mph: 12.0 seconds
Fuel economy: 41.5mpg (urban), 57.7mpg (extra-urban) 50.4mpg (combined)
Emissions: 147g/km
CO2 Euro NCAP rating: Five stars