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.

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.

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