IT’S been a couple of years since I’ve adjusted the seat of a Jeep to suit my driving position. In the interim much has happened. The 'standard' Cherokee has downsized into a more compact and contemporary styled vehicle, and I found the Ohio-manufactured Cherokee to be a surprise packet in many aspects.
This five-door station wagon has roof carry bars set within reinforced roof sections, and the spare tyre sits on the lower section of the two-part rear door, tucked down below the line of vision. The smaller glassed section opens upwards while the larger section, carrying the spare tyre, moves easily to the right. With easy access via the doors, the luggage compartment in the rear is easy to pack for a trip. It’s a little on the cramped side, but you can fit a smaller tent, camping gear and the like in here, especially if you fold the rear seat down as well. Another option would be to tow a trailer. This car does tow brilliantly, but more on this later.
The bold styling on this vehicle – big grille, prominent head lights – is far removed from earlier Cherokees, but once you’re in the driver's seat the visibility is very good indeed, particularly straight ahead. I had no difficulty seeing down over that longish bonnet. Side visibility, which is something that can cause headaches for drivers in some larger four-wheel-drives, is excellent as well.
There’s no shortage of comfort aboard the new Jeep. Passengers enjoy excellent air conditioning, electric windows, dual front and side air bags, wide and comfortable bucket seats up front, and plush rear seating for three adults. There’s also a lot of leg room for all aboard, and the head room, particularly for those seated on the rear seats, is fantastic. Grandpa could wear his Akubra in the Cherokee Sports and never dislodge it.
It’s easy to adjust the driving position to suit the individual, and I noted that the driver's seat, which at first appeared to be rather firm, came into its own on longer stints behind the wheel. The further I drove the more comfy the seat felt, which is probably why so many of today’s European cars have firm seating. The Jeep’s dash layout was certainly different, with the large instruments in white. The instrument panel and was very easy to monitor, and I give it full marks.
The Cherokee’s five-speed manual gearbox was inclined to be long in throw and very firm during changes. Needing some sustained use to free up a bit, the box was positive but couldn’t be hurried. Definite, exact changes are required here.
The clutch was beefy. Either in or out, it’s not one for folk with a delicate left foot. The lever to activate four-wheel-drive was located to the left of the standard gear lever for the five-speed box.
Equipped with the all-new 2.5-litre DOHC direct injection common rail turbo-diesel engine from Daimler Chrysler, the Cherokee Sports showed a considerable advance in performance over its diesel predecessor. The new unit, with its four cylinders and 16 valves, provides 24% more power (105kW) and 17% more torque (343Nm) than before. and this increased performance shows in many ways.
With low gearing the Cherokee Sports keeps up with traffic but needs the boost from the turbo to really perform. In traffic you have to change changes a fair bit, but on the highway it's another matter. Once in fifth gear (the engine is turbo boosted from around 2000rpm onwards), cruising at 100km/h with the engine working at 2300rpm, there’s plenty of response for overtaking. As a highway cruiser, the Jeep Cherokee was brilliant. A very comfortable driving position, the positive feel of the wheel with only the slightest hint of feedback on the worst of surfaces, spot-on handling and cornering, great headlights for night travel – all these features combined to make the Jeep a pleasure to drive on the open road.
Towing was a real surprise. The Jeep pulled my camper trailer so easily that I sometimes wondered whether it was still hooked up, and towing the boat was just as easy. The Jeep’s 2.5-litre turbo diesel engine is one of the most willing I've encountered, and it was certainly right up there with the larger diesels I’ve become accustomed to. The gearing was the secret.
Hooking up my 4.8-metre fibreglass boat did little to affect the Cherokee Sport's performance; the Jeep pulled like a train thanks to low gearing and a willingness to rev once the turbo kicked in. I was very impressed with its performance in this regard, and I definitely recommend it as a stable and spirited tow vehicle for boats up to five metres. True – the Dunbier trailer is well balanced with the Gale Force aboard, but heading down to the Seaway for some fly fishing saw the Cherokee moving at 110km/h with the boat and trailer following effortlessly without any hint of a wobble. The Cherokee's mass of nearly 2000kg would have a bearing on this as well.
Off road, the ride is as good ever. Ground clearance, at around 203mm, is the limiting factor here. However, the all-coil suspension mated to gas shockers and 16-inch wheels with plenty of free travel does a great job of ironing out lumps and bumps. We took the Jeep on a cod fishing trip to the Ballandean area, and along the way the Cherokee travelled well off the tarmac and the ride was always good. (I would have liked to include a photo of myself holding up a decent cod beside the car, but we only caught little ones of around 45cm.)
Even when towing my camper trailer, the Cherokee turned in figures of around 11 litres per 100km. On a run up to the Sunshine Coast without passengers, the fuel consumption figure was 9.6 litres per 100km.
I'd rate the Jeep Cherokee Sports with 2.5-litre turbo diesel engine as a capable towing vehicle, fuel efficient, and a great highway performer. While it can hold its own in city traffic, you need to use the gearbox to keep the turbo working to get the best from the engine. At all times it's comfortable, as Jeeps have always been.
The Jeep Cherokee Sports turbo-diesel five-speed manual is priced at approx. $_______ (excludes govt and on-road costs). Wayne Kampe will review the latest model Cherokee, being released this month, in a future issue.
1) This Cherokee is an excellent towing vehicle. The 2.5-litre turbo charged diesel engine churns out 343Nm of torque.
2) There isn’t a large amount of luggage room in the new Jeep, but split folding the rear seat will greatly increase the area.
3a & 3b [Cropped to isolate lights and merged into one pic) Bold styling is the order of the day with the new Jeep. The headlights were very good. Stop lights and indicators like these on the Jeep Cherokee are there to be seen.Reads: 4001