Judging by my blue-eyed passenger's grin, there's nowhere on earth he would rather be. And from a rescued dog's perspective, paradise...

Judging by my blue-eyed passenger's grin, there's nowhere on earth he would rather be.

And from a rescued dog's perspective, paradise probably looks an awful lot like this – a nice warm cabin and ever-changing scenery through the big side window.

Say what you will about the Cherokee's "alien sucking on a sourball" visage, its overall presence is a lot more sophisticated than the antiquated Liberty it replaces.

I couldn't help but wonder how this lovely guy ended up where he is, on a volunteer relay shuttle originating just over the Quebec border. Exhaling in contentment as he lay his head on my knee, he probably had no idea how close he'd come to exceeding the high-kill shelter's 48 hour grace period.

It was another stroke of good luck that I'd brought home the Jeep Cherokee just the night before. Aside from my blue-eyed friend, whom I'd christened "Sparky", there was a large crate of rather upset – and extremely vocal – Labrador puppy in the back. It would've been a tight fit in my hatchback.

Say what you will about the Cherokee's "alien sucking on a sourball" visage, its overall presence is a lot more sophisticated than the antiquated Liberty it replaces.

The Cherokee's based on a widened version of Fiat's global compact platform, the same one that underpins the recently released Jeep Renegade. There are still those who, recalling the miserable Calibre-based Compass, recoil in horror at the idea of yet another front-wheel-drive Jeep, but so far the new Fiat platform has impressed with its stiffness and solidity. With rising fuel costs and many crossovers doing double duty as a family utility, the comfortable, more efficient front-wheel drive platform is here to stay.

It certainly doesn't present itself as a "cute-ute". The design is bit of a mash-up, with traditional Jeep cues tossed with a blend of Hyundai Santa Fe and Ford Edge. And it looks larger than it actually is – it slots perfectly into the segment alongside the Honda CRV and Toyota RAV4 but has a more hulking presence on its own.

The Cherokee's cabin is an interesting environment. The styling is bold, not that my passengers cared either way, and cloth upholstery is finishing in striking white stitching. The seats are really comfortable – much as I enjoy rich premium leather, the initial contact of your backside against it on a cold winter day can really be quite shocking. Although there's no optional third row, the Cherokee's rear seats are luxurious in comparison to some of its competitor's unforgiving hardness.

Surprisingly, despite the colourful 8.4-inch UConnect screen, my tester didn't come with Navigation (a $500 option). But it did feature a heated steering wheel - for which I can almost forgive having to scroll through two touch screens to operate. Almost. [It does come up on startup though – Ed]

It's also needlessly annoying to have to use either the UConnect system or closely spaced buttons in the bottom of the centre stack to adjust climate control when a twist of a knob would be so much simpler.

The Cherokee's cargo space, even when expanded to its full 702 litres, is smaller than its competitors.

Dropping the rear 60/40 split seats to provide a flat load floor for my puppy passenger was a piece of cake. I had one heck of a time removing the cargo cover, but after much cursing and swearing – I realized it had not only been damaged, but was also filled with little glass chunks. This accounted for a persistent rattle that I was going to mention, but now won't.

The Cherokee has a nice structural stiffness, it handles well over broken pavement and absorbs bumps and potholes nicely. I'd previously taken this same vehicle off road, through the woods and over a hilly trail marked with slick mud and deep ruts. Standard in this North 4x4 tester is the Jeep Selec-Terrain system, featuring a rotary dial for choosing between "Auto", "Snow", "Sport", and "Sand/Mud" modes. It's probably not going to be your first choice to tackle the Rubicon, but the Cherokee acquitted itself well on the steep trails.

For our 45 minute drive to their new foster homes, I chose a nice twisty rural route through cottage country and avoiding the major highway. It was a nice, leisurely drive that upset neither my passengers – nor the Cherokee, because this is one Jeep that doesn't like to be hurried.

Underhood is a 2.4L four-cylinder engine that puts out a rather modest 184 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque. It's actually a fairly refined four-banger with none of the inherent thrashiness we used to expect from these powerplants. It's mated to the same ZF nine-speed transmission you'd get if you'd chosen the larger and more powerful V6.

A large and heavy vehicle (1,834 kg) powered by a fuel-miserly four cylinder that's mated to a gearbox that's engineered for frugality is not exactly an athletic combination. The transmission continuously hunted for gears, and the length of time it took to react to a quick hit of the gas pedal was almost frightening. Passing manoeuvres shouldn't be attempted without plenty of forethought.

But it's a comfortable drive and my passengers and I aren't complaining. I've got 80s on 8 channelling through the nine-speaker-plus-subwoofer system and a gorgeous blue-eyed boy resting his head on my knee, on his way to a new life.

Warranty:
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 3 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 5 years/100,000 km 24-hour roadside assistance

Competitors:
Honda CR-V
Hyundai Santa Fe
Subaru Forester
Toyota RAV4

Specifications

Model Tested 2015 Jeep Cherokee North 4X4   Destination Fee $1,695
Base Price $29,395   Price as Tested $37,765
A/C Tax $100  
Optional Equipment
$195 Granite Crystal Metallic paint, $895 SafetyTec Group (rear parking assist, power mirrors, mirror signals, mirror lamps, blind spot & cross-path detection), $795 Cold Weather Group (floor mats, heated mirrors, heated front seats, wiper de-icer, heated steering wheel), $1,295 Comfort/Convenience Group (cargo net, tonneau cover, auto-dimming rearview mirror w/ microphone, keyless entry, proximity keyless start, dual-zone A/C, power driver seat w/ lumbar adjust, power liftgate, security alarm, remote start, garage door opener, humidity sensor), $1,595 sunroof, $750 Uconnect 8.4A touchscreen infotainment w/ SiriusXM & Bluetooth, $400 nine speakers & subwoofer, $225 CD player, $425 back-up camera