Jeep Cherokee car review
Thursday 14 August 2008
First UK drive
The Jeep Cherokee we are about to drive has had a host of changes for 2008, but it’s instantly recognisable.
Jeep’s signature seven-slot grille and bold headlamps pay tribute to the 65-year heritage of the American car manufacturer, and the Cherokee name is boldly stamped into its side mouldings.
Jeep tells us: “original is back”. The soft edges of the last Jeep Cherokee have been chiselled and features like the traditional trapezoidal wings and clamshell bonnet of older Jeeps make a come back.
Under its skin there is new four-wheel-drive hardware to enhance performance in the rough stuff, and new steering and suspension have been designed to give it better on road manners.
On the roads from the start of our drive in Chester, to a rather steep off road course in the Welsh town of Bala, the new suspension and steering design shined.
The Jeep Cherokee now feels more precise and rolls less during cornering or sudden lane changes and there is an even and progressive weighting to its steering.
Stiffer suspension than both its predecessor and some of its competition gives it a wieldy driving feel and offers the driver lots of feedback, the only downside being a ride which can feel unsettled over rough roads.
Beneath its rugged bodywork the Jeep Cherokee now comes with a system called ‘Selec-Trac II’ as standard.
It’s active four-wheel-drive hardware which is programmed to anticipate and prevent wheel slip before it occurs, by braking and distributing power between all four wheels.
Only one engine will be available to UK customers – a 2.8-litre turbocharged diesel with 174bhp and a massive 339lb/ft of pulling power.
Power is up by 8 per cent, reducing acceleration from 0-60mph to 10.5 seconds.
Average fuel economy for the auto is 31.4mpg and it emits 242g/km, which places it in tax band G, costing £400 annually.
You get to choose between a manual six-speed transmission and five-speed automatic, the latter coming with Jeep’s hill descent control to steady and control vehicle speed while driving down steep slopes.
Jeep expects a huge 85 per cent of cars sold in the UK to be automatics.
Jeep knows many of its customers rely on its off roaders for towing duties, as well as trips off road.
So imagine our delight at seeing a caravan in tow behind one of the Jeep Cherokees prepared for us to drive at the very steep and challenging Bala off road course.
It’s amazing what the solo Cherokee is capable of on standard road tyres, easily traversing climbs and teetering down slopes even the local sheep would think twice about.
But with a caravan in tow? While the extra weight could be felt (just), it was quite shocking to romp the Jeep up a muddy bank only to look in the mirrors and see a two-berth mobile bedroom splattered with mud dancing behind us.
The Jeep Cherokee can tow a maximum of 2,800kg.
The most impressive feature for off road drivers is the hill descent control which drives you safely down steep slopes – all you have to do is steer.
It’s a strange feeling at first, but you soon learn to trust the car as it takes control of each wheel and helps you down unbelievably steep banks, making an off-road expert out of the most normal driver.
Room for muddy boots
The cabin is practical and features split rear seats and a passenger seat which folds flat to accommodate bulky loads.
Leather now adorns the seats, handbrake and gear knob and there are heated front memory seats, climate control, electric windows and cruise control as standard.
The dashboard still falls below expectations, feeling hard and brittle. It should last well and stand up to occasional mud splatters, but it won’t make you feel special.
It’s quiet at a motorway cruise, with just a little tyre and wind noise being audible. Jeep has made significant gains in refining the diesel engine.
An all-in-one media and navigation package Jeep call MyGIG is a £1,500 option which includes a large touch screen with radio, CD and a 20GB hard drive jukebox. It also has satellite navigation, Bluetooth communications and you can download media to it via a USB port.
Sky Slider roof
For £950 you can add a canvas roof Jeep calls ‘Sky Slider’, which stretches almost the entire length of the roof and can be opened and closed at up to 85mph.
The previous generation Jeep Cherokee scored four stars in Euro NCAP crash testing for adult occupant protection, and we would expect the new car to match or improve on this result.
Jeep claims it’s pitching the Cherokee against the Land Rover Freelander, BMW X3, Nissan X-Trail and Hyundai Santa Fe.
And, it finds itself in a fairly unique position in this group. It’s not as luxurious as the Freelander or BMW X3 or as dynamic on-road, but its price tag of £25,595 (or £24,595 for the manual) makes it quite a bit cheaper.
Off road the Jeep Cherokee shines, displaying its tough roots and go-anywhere ethos.
Jeep is also conservative about the number it will be bringing to the UK, so you are sure to stand out amongst the crowd.
Model tested: Jeep Cherokee 2.8 Limited 5-speed auto
On the road price: £27,495
Price range: £24,595 – £25,595
Date tested: August 2008
Road tester: Andy Goodwin