From £27,545
Mediocre Jeep isn't cheap

Our Verdict

Jeep Cherokee

Can Italian tech put this once-rugged off-roader ahead of the pack?

12 October 2004

A facelift should, by definition, be subtle in effect. It should contemporise without compromising the identity of the original work, which is no doubt why the new Jeep Cherokee looks almost identical to the old one. On sale in December, the range has undergone subtle revisions and now offers a butch new variant, the Renegade.

Self-consciously targeted at a more youthful market, the Renegade is so macho that it could almost be described as homoerotic. Spotlights adorn the grille and roof and there’s a unique bonnet and grille ensemble that hints at the age-old Wrangler. The five-spoke alloys are bespoke and so are the plastic wheelarches that boast fake pop-rivets. No doubt it’ll look just the ticket in Chelsea.

The Sport and the chrome-lined Limited models also get revisions to the grille, lights, body mouldings and wheels, but only Jeep-spotters will notice the difference. And even they will be hard pressed to spot the changes inside: the electric window switches are now more sensibly located on the centre console, and the instrument dials are now black on white. But many of the Cherokee’s basic failings remain.

It seems odd that a brand that seeks to highlight its ‘authenticity’ should choose to fill the cabin with faux detailing. The carbonfibre-effect fascia on the Renegade is truly dreadful and the fake aluminium in the Limited is little better. Customers spending upwards of £20,000 will expect higher standards.

Storage space is minimal and, despite the Cherokee’s relative bulk, there’s not much room for passengers, either. Taller drivers will find their knees resting awkwardly close to the fascia, while rear-seat passengers are less well served in this car than they were in the original 1970s Cherokee. A Nissan X-Trail offers significantly more interior space.

The mechanical changes focus on the engine bay. An all-new 2766cc CRD turbodiesel delivers 163bhp and an impressive 296lb ft of torque, and it’s mated to a choice of either a six-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic. It delivers a useful turn of pace; at speed it’s also pleasantly refined but there’s too much diesel clatter at idle and we struggled to match the claimed fuel consumption of 36.7mpg.

Nevertheless, for UK buyers at least, the CRD is the best choice. The 3.7-litre V6 petrol, fitted as standard with a four-speed automatic, might be refined but delivers OPEC-friendly fuel consumption. An entry-level 147bhp 2.4-litre petrol will also be on sale, but was unavailable for test.

The Cherokee is not a sporting SUV in the manner of Toyota’s Rav4 but it is a competent, relaxed drive. Body roll is well contained, it rides decently and refinement at motorway speeds is first-rate. Selectable four-wheel drive, reasonable ground clearance and a low-ratio gearbox also ensure that the Jeep is best-in-class off-road.

Prices will be announced nearer the on-sale date but they’re unlikely to differ wildly from the £18,000-24,000 range of the current car. The Jeep is by no means cheap and it has clear failings, but such is the dearth of competent offerings in the mid-sized SUV class that this distinctive alternative is worth considering.

Alistair Weaver

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