POSITIVELY OBEAST Crisis, what crisis? Chrysler says it’s just had its best ever quarter in the UK with more than 4,000 cars sold, so while the rest of the market slides 1.6 per cent, they’re up by a juicy two
All of which makes this rework on the mainstay Jeep Cherokee fairly opportune. With a momentous 93 per cent of current Cherokee sales being diesel, the new 2008 model is groomed and priced at the ‘hardcore 4×4 buyer’ and comes in just one form – a 2.8-litre CRD. Presumably the jettisoning of petrol, coupled with this new model’s nine per cent economy boost and same-figure emissions reductions, will help minimise the ferocity of any eco-sniping from your Prius-driving neighbours. What won’t help is the size. Although the forecourt battle focuses on the Land Rover Freelander, this is a bigger beast altogether. You might even say “obeast”, given the mass and two-tonne weighin. By shifting the spare wheel from the tail to the underside, they’ve moulded in nearly two more inches of kneeroom, so the Cherokee’s only a shade smaller than its Grand brother (the sales space the old model vacates being officially taken up by the Dodge Nitro, which shares this model’s platform). Comparison with the Discovery seems more likely, particularly from behind the wheel. Albeit more than a second quicker to 60 than the previous car, it feels consistently reluctant, responding only to pronounced dollops of throttle input and maintaining momentum with all the enthusiasm of a bereaved elephant. It’s also noisy, mulling gears like Leonard Cohen on a slipping turntable. The (untested) manual might sound better, though stickshifting here seems akin to speccing an airflow kit on a bicycle.
So what’s good? You won’t be faulting this handsome devil for room. Five maxi-size adults can wallow in splendour and the 60-40 rear seats fold flat with minimal sweat. There’s even a new waterproof boot stowing area in behind the neat dual-opening tailgate. Under way, the ride, even on unexpected bends, is nicely composed and smooth, even if the driver’s knuckles turn a bit white. The revised suspension settings certainly paid off, pity the steering didn’t – it feels loose on the straight-ahead.
And there’s the rub: although the mission here, thanks to an all-inclusive spec of leather, air con and cutting-edge 4×4 technology, is to take the Cherokee onto a new, upmarket plain – one where it can freely kick the Freelander’s backside – you’ll park up and walk away scratching your head. As an amazing mud-conquering bus, the words ‘no-go’ aren’t in its vocabulary. It’s a monumentally capable piece of semi-military US hardware. But the Freelander? Well, jump from one to the other and you’ll feel the difference in an instant. One’s an all-round family car – and I’m afraid it’s not on this page.
RIVALS: DODGE NITRO, LAND ROVER FREELANDER 2, NISSAN X-TRAIL
- Engine: 2777cc, 4 cylinder turbodiesel
- Gearbox: 5 speed automatic
- Max Power: 174bhp at 3,800rpm
- Max Torque: 339lb ft at 2,000rpm
- Max Towing Weight: 2,800kg
- Combined Consumption: 31.4mpg
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): 242g/km (G)
- 0-62mph: 10.5secs
- Max speed: 111mph
- Insurance Group: 13