GEORGE, Western Cape - Jeep SA has just launched its latest (smaller) Cherokee range, four models with a choice of two engines, front-only or all-wheel drive, a host of 4x4 stuff and a really pleasant on-road ride.So good is the ride, in my view, that a well-off family might consider one as the house’s primary transport – or a less stuffy corporate or government type as his paid-for limo. The ride is first-class in town and on highways and holidays in Mozambique or pretty much anywhere else on the continent will instantly become very feasible.Jeep SA chose the Bobbejaansberg, inland from George and around Barrington and Rheenendal, as well as a fair haul along the N2, to show off its new Cherokees. The hills are great driving country, should you want to choose a new route to Knysna or just see some of the southern Cape’s most beautiful forested mountains.MIDSIZE JEEPThe route also included a short flip by helicopter to a pretty remote hill farm for a burn through a bog and a short section of muddy track – fun, but hardly challenging. And the de riguer media presentation was under canvas on a forested hill overlooking the Knysna Heads.Except for the geographical location, perhaps apt for a vehicle whose name celebrates an American Indian tribe.IMAGE GALLERY: 2014 Jeep CherokeeThe 2014 Cherokee – remember, this is the midsize Jeep, not the bigger Grand Cherokee launched in South Africa in July 2013 – comes with a choice of two engines, a 3.2 Pentastar V6 and a 2.4 Tigershark Multiair four-cylinder.Each, however, is allied to a new nine-speed auto/manual sequential gearbox that, depending on model, is also involved in the operation of the forward and reverse automatic hill-climb/descent systems whose speed can be regulated anywhere from one to nine km/h and which delivers drive to the wheel(s) with the best surface adhesion.I first experienced such an a descent system in a much simpler form on Land Rovers many years ago but the feeling (feet off all pedals) of your vehicle “feeling” its own way up a rough, slippery and rocky slope is just the same – downright spooky.“The quad-valve Pentastar V6 engine,” Jeep says, “is the first derivative of the renowned 3.6 Pentastar V6 and benefits from the same innovations that earned its larger-displacement predecessor industry-wide praise for its efficiency, power and refinement.”It’s available on the Limited and Trailhawk models.WAY LESS THIRSTYJeep claims a 30% reduction in fuel consumption (10 litres/100km, combined cycle) over the 3.6 while producing a maximum of 200kW at 6500rpm and 315Nm of torque at 4300rpm. Compression ratio is 10.7:1 and towing capacity is listed as 2200kg; it’s also one of the quietest engines you’ll ever rev..The all-aluminium 2.4 Tigershark engine is also quad-valve, its four cylinders producing 130kW at 6400rpm and 229Nm at 3900rpm and is also remarkably quiet. It’s also almost two litres/100km less thirsty than the V6 at 8.3/100 (combined cycle).Jeep explains part of the reduction in engine noise: “Friction mitigation contributes to reduced noise and vibration with the added benefit of enhancing durability. The Tigershark’s polymer-coated piston skirts accommodate tighter piston-to-bore tolerances.“Cast-aluminium pistons with a compression ratio of 10:1 are designed specifically for the engine; each bore is fitted with individual piston oil-squirters in the block that spray oil on the bottom of the pistons and bore walls to maintain cylinder-wall and piston temperatures.“This feature also helps prevent hot spots that could lead to knock. They also improve performance and fuel economy.”CLOSE TO HERESYThough all models in the new Jeep Cherokee range are essentially front-wheel drive – a huge disparity from the earlier models for which such a thing would have been close to heresy – two have an auto-4x4 capability, of which the top-end Trailhawk is king.Here's the split... and the prices:Jeep Cherokee 2.4 Longitude FWD - R479 990Jeep Cherokee 3.2 Limited FWD - R505 990Jeep Cherokee 3.2 Limited AWD - R563 990Jeep Cherokee 3.2 Trailhawk 4WD - R607 990The Trailhawks, Jeep explains, have “active drive lock” (American car brands are incredibly versatile and inventive when it comes to names for technologies, hey?), a two-speed power transfer unit and a locking rear differential for rock-crawling or other severe off-road conditions which, probably, few owners will ever attempt. Pity...For those who intend to do so, however, 4-Low mode locks the front and rear driveshafts to ensure more power at low speed and greater towing capability in extremis with a 2.92:1 gear reduction. More simply, it will crawl in extreme off-roading until gravity just makes it impossible.Jeep has also followed Land Rover with its Selec-Terrain system that “aggressively modifies torque distribution… to provide power to the wheels that will deliver the most traction. It’s a dial-it-up system that removes the necessity for human off-road driving skills. Some might say that’s a pity. Anyway…FOUR DRIVE MODESThe locking rear diff, Jeeps adds, is selectable in any low-range mode but will lock automatically in certain Selec-Terrain modes to maximise tractive effort to the limit of the tyres’ adhesion. This system includes gradient ascent and descent modes.Here are the choices through the four modes of Selec-Terrain (five on the Trailhawk, which adds rock-crawling) and uses as many as 12 systems according to model and terrain:Auto: Standard drive mode and electronic brake controls; auto invocation of all-wheel drive; front/rear torque split fully active and variable according to terrain.Sport (for enhanced on-road control): Traction control is limited; ESC slip thresholds are raised; driveline torque is biased during cornering; allows front/rear torque split of up to 40/60%.Snow (yeah, OK, but there’s always Lesotho and the greasy tar during Jozi thunderstorms and rare snowfall): Second-gear launch; electronic brake control; full-time all-wheel drive; front/rear torque split up to 60/40%.Sand/mud: Better control off-road; off-road electronic brake controls; full-time all-wheel drive; front/rear torque split of up to 100% rear.Rock (available only with Jeep Active Drive Lock): For unusual obstacles such as rocks, river-beds, unusual gradients): Off-road electronic brake controls with increased brake lock differential capacity; 4-Low only; front/rear torque split of up to 100% rear.In addition, the electronic stability system will change mode with the Selec-Terrain mode chosen: full-on with Auto and Snow modes; off in 4-Low; partial for Sport, and Sand/Mud modes.SODDEN, MUDDY TRACKSJeep also says it has introduced specs to improve on-road manners and outright performance and a suspension system that offers as much as 170mm of travel up front and 198mm at the rear, the latter thanks to an independent multi-link suspension. Certainly the cars proved they are no slouches – and are firm and stable – on the tight and winding back roads of the mountains inland from George in the far eastern Western Cape.Even the front drive-only units proved very capable on farm tracks made sodden and muddy, sloshing through under full power where most other two-wheel drive vehicles would simply have bogged down.Turning circles are listed as 11m for 4x2 units, 11.6m for 4x4 units and 12m for the Trailhawk.Unfortunately the SA Jeep crew didn’t give us journos a chance to do any real rock-crawling, just a short drive through a wide but shallow pond and into what seemed to be a roadside rock quarry to demonstrate the Trailhawks’ abilities. Hardly a challenge, chaps…In fact the real surprises were the cars’ quiet cruising and awesome array (depending on model) of driving and entertainment accessories, particularly with their included ability to be “tuned” to the requirements of any particular driver.Jeep also claims ‘best-in-class’ passenger protection “as a Euro NCAP five-star achiever” thanks to more than 70 safety and security systems, among them rollover mitigation, anti-lock brakes with off-road calibration, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control with stop/go, lane-departure warning and side blind-spot and rear crossing-traffic monitors.TRAILHAWK - SOMETHING SPECIAL…Certainly the Trailhawk is in class of its own among the Cherokee range with standard suspension lift and special off-road equipment that includes “active drive lock“ (low-range, locking rear diff). Jeep, in fact, claims it to be “the most capable mid-size SUV in its segment for off-road driving”. It comes, Jeep adds, with “aggressive” approach and departure angles, off-road flared whee-arches, skid plates, off-road suspension, 25mm higher ride, heavy-duty engine cooling and auxiliary transmission oil cooler, accent-coloured external mirrors, grille surrounds, lower fascia appliques and roof rails and 17” aluminum rims with off-road M+S tyres.Jeep describes the five-seat cabin's finishes in each for the three versions as “modern, welcoming and comfortable with sophisticated, refined design, hand-sculpted forms, signature Jeep styling cues, high-quality materials, precision craftsmanship and attention to detail”.Hard to disagree there – the whole ambience is certainly very up-market and has storage pockets everywhere – even under the front passenger seat. There are three trim choices - Moroccan, Grand Canyon and Italian Mount Vesuvio (see Jeep SA website for more detail).Cloth is standard on the Longitude spec, leather an extra-cost option. Leather is, however, standard on the Limited versions and the Trailhawk features cloth and leather combination with full leather again an option...AND THE OPTIONSThe cabin also has “premium” cloth/Nappa leather seats, red accent stitching 18cm full-colour configurable instrument cluster, UConnect media centre with a 21cm touchscreen radio, USB in the instrument-panel media centre, Selec-Terrain drive with rock-crawl mode and ascend/descend speed control.Options include: Dual sunroof with power sunshade, wireless cellphone charger, 506W Alpine audio with nine speakers and sub-woofer, leather, extra tech and comfort features (ask your dealer, too much detail to list here).PRICES (vehicles available early in June 2014)Jeep Cherokee 2.4 Longitude FWD - R479 990Jeep Cherokee 3.2 Limited FWD - R505 990Jeep Cherokee 3.2 Limited AWD - R563 990Jeep Cherokee 3.2 Trailhawk 4WD - R607 990All new Jeep Cherokee / Grand Cherokee units are sold with a six-year or 100 000km maintenance plan.For more information about the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, to book a test drive or just chat to a salesperson, visit the Jeep SA website.