Although ageing and under fire from newer soft-roaders, Jeep’s current Cherokee, first introduced locally in 2002, continues to sell in healthy numbers. In fact, courtesy of its quirky looks, iconic Jeep badge and the underlying promise of being better off-road than anything else in this price range, it has become a bit of a status symbol – a vehicle not so much to buy because of its abilities, but because of what it potentially says of you… Now Jeep has given the model line-up a serious overhaul in a bid to keep the Cherokee at the head of its class. How does it fare?
Ready for actionAs any enthusiast of the brand will tell you, a true Jeep wouldn’t look quite right if it resembled all the other curvaceous soft-roaders. A real Jeep needs to display some attitude. Well, they needn’t have worried, because the upgraded Cherokee Limited 2.8 still looks rather butch and ready for action. The trademark seven-slot grille is now finished in chrome (on this Limited spec vehicle) for extra some extra bling. The wheelarches still stand proud of the bodywork, resembling bulging muscles, and at the rear the spare wheel is still mounted on the tailgate. There’s simply no mistaking the Cherokee for anything else.
The interior, however, is not entirely convincing. For a supposed status symbol, the texture of the various grades of plastics is not quite good enough, and the overall layout of the controls leaves much to be desired. For example, the switches for the electric windows are not placed on the doors, but the central locking buttons are.
The audio system also looks intimidating, with a plethora of small switches. And then there’s the driving position… With plenty of intrusion from the transmission tunnel into the driver’s footwell, there’s no place to rest the left foot. The seating position is also very upright, and there’s limited adjustment for the steering wheel. The feeling of sitting on top of the Cherokee, rather than inside it is exacerbated by the flat, upright facia and a front window that seems to be right in front of your nose.
In the rear the situation is slightly better, but still not as good as the competition. The cabin is quite narrow, and the seat cushion is mounted low, so you tend to sit with your knees quite high up. Again, the window switches are not where you’d expect to find them, but rather at the back of the centre console tunnel. The boot is of a reasonable size, as it should be, given that it doesn’t have to accommodate a spare, and the load-carrying ability can be further improved by folding the rear seats completely flat.
Italian heartThis Cherokee is powered by a 2.8-litre turbodiesel engine made by VM Motori, an Italian outfit that specialises in diesel powerplants. With quoted figures of 120 kW and 400 Nm of torque, the outputs are certainly healthy. The maximum torque is already available at a low 1 800 rpm. The engine is quite a gruff-sounding unit, but it somehow fits the character of the vehicle and is not unwilling to rev. The Jeep’s overtaking performance is more than acceptable, especially when you’ve factored in its weight – just under two tonnes! Unfortunately the weight does impact the fuel economy – although 9.3 litres/100 km is quoted, a more likely daily figure is around 10.5 litres/100 km.
The engine is mated with a six-speed manual transmission that is very mechanical in its feel and which requires a firm hand. The Cherokee Limited 2.8 makes use of a selectable four-wheel drive system. Usually it runs in rear-wheel drive mode, but four-wheel drive can be engaged on the go at speeds of close to 90 km/h. Should you wish to engage low-range, however, you need to travel at below 5 km/h. Also fitted is a limited slip rear differential.
In addition to the hardware, the basic design of the Cherokee also contributes to its excellent off-road ability. The short front and rear overhangs, as well as the generous ground clearance make it possible to tackle fairly scary looking obstacles with confidence.
On the roadSadly, the Cherokee Limited 2.8 is nowhere near as good as most of its rivals on the road, where it is likely to spend most of its time. The ride is rather firm and a quick succession of jolts from road imperfections can flummox the suspension to such an extent that it can feel skittish. The firm ride also doesn’t contribute to good body control in the corners, or under braking, with the top-heavy feel further highlighted by its tall and narrow stance, and high seating position.
VerdictWhile it is admirable that Jeep continues to ensure that its entry level model offers proper off-road ability, the market may be shifting away from this requirement. The reality is that most consumers shopping for a compact SUV doesn’t need a Trail-rated performer, but rather one that broadcasts that perception, while being exceptionally good at the daily drive.
In this regard, the Cherokee Limited 2.8 falls short in a number of key areas – the ride comfort, ergonomics and interior packaging are simply not good enough. Then again, should you be one of the few who actually need one vehicle for everything, including some pretty hardcore off-road work, it is very possibly without equal at the price.
We don’t like:
Engine: 2.8-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 119 kW @ 3 800 rpm
Torque: 400 Nm @ 1 800 rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual
Wheels: 16-inch alloy
Top speed: 174 km/h
0-100 km/h: 13.5 seconds
Fuel economy: 9.3 litres/100 km
Can’t match the Jeep for power, but the Freelander is arguably the more comfortable vehicle on-road, while still offering a healthy degree of four-wheel drive ability.
Again, not as powerful as the Jeep, but a far more refined and comfortable vehicle to drive daily and also a fair bit more economical. Not as good as in the rough, but quite adept at some light off-roading.
If you’re buying the Jeep partly because of the badge, then the BMW’s snob factor may also appeal. It is a far more comfortable, refined vehicle but one which offers far less off-road ability by comparison, should that matter.