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Jeep Cherokee 2.8 CRD Limited Auto

Click to view picture galleryThe 4x4 market appears to be alive
  and well, so what better time for Jeep
  to introduce its new Cherokee —
  a well kitted-out, reasonably priced
  mid-size 4x4 still styled in true iconic
  Jeep fashion

WITH A HISTORY STRETCHING BACK OVER 65 YEARS, the Jeep brand (and its 4x4 vehicle line-up) enjoys iconic status. But driven by rising fuel prices, the need for lower CO2 emissions and a slowdown in most of the US and European economies, manufacturers including Jeep are having to change their ways to survive by introducing cheaper, lightweight, fuel-efficient and smaller models. New engine power technologies whether it be hybrids of fuel-cell are all on the agenda.

All this takes time but times are currently tough in the automotive trade so, in the words of the song: 'when the going gets tough, the tough get going'. [Originally recorded by Billy Ocean in 1985, When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going was written by Wayne Braithwaite, Barry Eastmond, Robert John 'Mutt' Lange and Billy Ocean and it was used as the theme song for the Michael Douglas film The Jewel of the Nile — Ed]. And a very apt mission statement for the Jeep brand — always a producer of tough, purposeful boldly-styled vehicles.

True 4x4 vehicles are seemingly not flavour of the year, but real sales figures — not pundits' speculations — prove demand is still high. Financially well-off people who want a large and powerful 4x4 can still afford to buy and run one, and the mid-sized SUV 4x4 market is still alive and well as more models are introduced in response to customer demand.

So drive forward the new Jeep Cherokee, a mid-sized 4x4 with loads of high specification at a reasonable price and, true to its roots, still styled in true iconic Jeep fashion with a boxy, upright stance. With the exception of the rounded and more aerodynamically designed Grand Cherokee, all Jeep models are all-American, brash, in-your face, tough looking 4x4s. Jeep makes no concessions to demands for soft off-roaders. They are what they are and for many enthusiasts — people who need a rugged 4x4 for work or play — the Jeep traditional brand qualities fit the bill perfectly.

The 2008 Jeep Cherokee is now only available with a diesel engine — a 2.8-litre unit — and a choice of manual or five-speed automatic gearbox. It is available in only one equipment level — Limited — and prices are 24,595 for the manual version and 25,595 for the auto. This model is expected to account for around 85 per cent of the 500 sales predicted for the remainder of this year. For the record, the 2.8-litre, four-cylinder, common-rail direct-injection turbocharged diesel puts out 174bhp and 302lb ft of torque from 2,000rpm.

The all-new Cherokee has a new suspension and steering system which makes the Cherokee more refined on the road but it still lacks the poise, control and finesse of European, Japanese and even Korean 4x4s. There is no doubting its off-road and 2,800kg (braked) towing capabilities, but in the handling and ride control departments the steering is too light and vague and the suspension spongy.

On the inside, the Cherokee moves more upmarket with a leather interior, heated front memory seats, climate control, electric windows and cruise control all fitted as standard. The finish and build quality certainly looks to have improved. Also worth mentioning is the cargo space — 419 to as much as 1,404 litres.

"Current Cherokee owners won't recognise the interior of the new car — cargo and storage space have both increased and seat comfort has significantly improved while the leather treatments to seats, handbrake and gear shifter, grab handles, door panels and centre console create a luxurious and refined feel" says Jeep. All true. And I rather suspect current owners of Grand Cherokees might find down-sizing to the slightly smaller Cherokee well worth considering.

For fresh air enthusiasts, the new Cherokee has a 950 Sky Slider fully-opening canvas roof option. Two-and-a-half times the size of a regular sunroof, this powered roof can be operated whilst driving at speeds up to 85mph; it takes 18 seconds to fully open or close.

Jeep hasn't forgotten about the Cherokee's legendary four-wheel drive ability. The new Selec-Trac all-wheel-drive system with 2WD, 4WD Auto and 4WD Low settings is now standard across the range. Just by using a simple switch, any of these settings can be accessed easily — a real delight to use. Models with an automatic gearbox also feature the new Hill Descent Control system which offers even more downhill control in low-traction conditions — again, easy to use and very safe in use.

Off-road is where the Jeep Cherokee impresses most. It is an extremely capable vehicle as I found this week driving off-road and fording rock strewn rivers in Wales. Some other media people were seen towing a caravan over a stiff off-road course just to prove the Cherokee's impressive towing credentials. Including the off-road driving, my test car's fuel consumption worked out to 23.3mpg but on-road work should see a figure closer to the official 31.4mpg.

It's true that the interior has more space and more specification but I just wish the on-road driving performance and handling was up to the higher standards set by its competitors such as the Land Rover Freelander, BMW X3 and Nissan X-Trail plus, of course the softer off-roaders such as the Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander, VW Tiguan and Toyota RAV-4.

Not so great is the high road tax costs for the Auto version and the fact that this latest Cherokee lacks the on-road handling and finesse of many of its rivals. Other aspects that work against it are the light steering and a lack of reach adjustment on the steering column, as well as some 'bling' elements of the exterior styling and some tacky American interior design touches. In its favour, you get a proper, strong and durable off-roading 4x4 with towing capabilities, the tough Jeep image that's sure to be loved by some, a high specification and good value for money. — David Miles

Jeep Cherokee 2.8 CRD Limited Auto
| 25,595
Maximum speed: 111mph | 0-62mph: 10.5 seconds
Overall test MPG: 23.3mpg | Power: 174bhp | Torque: 302lb ft
CO2 242g/km | VED Band G 400 | Insurance group 13