Jeep Cherokee, the ultimate 4×4?

Unfortunately I’m not writing about the current square cut Cherokee, but its older brother.  Jeep seems to have a habit of alternating between the etch-a-sketch school of design and a more rounded, gentler approach.  This design principle is even carried through to the shape of the headlights, with both the Cherokee and the Wrangler demonstrating this round or square eyed look.  However when it came to the smallest member of the family the design team couldn’t make up their mind and produced both the chunky Patriot and the more feminine Compass.

So what’s the old Cherokee like to live with?  First the obvious, this is a proper made in the US of A vehicle which apart from the European diesel engine is pure “mom’s apple pie”.  Anyone expecting the design flair and sophistication of a European car will soon notice the simple and plain interior, constructed from hard and rugged plastics.  Whilst this wont be to everyone tastes it does suit the vehicle and you get the impression it can handle the real world without fear of damage.  In fact the whole interior gives the impression it’s constructed from weapons grade materials, but not necessarily fitted or assembled that well.

The performance of the vehicle follows the same principle, verging on the agricultural.  The engine is very vocal, especially at start-up, but once under way it does have real performance and quietens down nicely.  The gearbox however is very much from the Massey-Ferguson school of engineering.  Heavy, clunky, and slow this is a real man’s piece of equipment, not some thing for the faint hearted or limp wristed.  There is an auto option available, but this version does have serious drink problem.

This is no lightweight, hairdressers, lifestyle, crossover cruiser, under the skin this is a real-off roader.  Once you’ve selected four wheel drive using the Hi-Lo lever this car is capable of going places most drivers wouldn’t believe possible.  Remember it also has a traditional transfer box with box high and low ratios.  Whilst this real off-road ability is to be applauded the on-road manners do leave something to be desired at times.  Using full throttle in the lower gears rounding corners and roundabouts can soon have the rear end out of line, especially in damp conditions.  For the more adventurous driver this can be quite fun and rewarding, but for more sedate drivers it could be both an unwanted distraction, or plain dangerous.  Looking at the spec sheet or just looking under the car will reveal independent front suspension, but a dirty big live axle at the rear another example of the basic and rugged nature of this vehicle.

The final dose of Americana isn’t apparent at first, but put the key in the ignition and you’re confronted with warning buzzers and bells, seat belts, doors, all trigger off some thing.  Lower the sun visor and there’s war and peace of safety do’s and don’ts.  Blame the ambulance chasing lawyers.  Finally there’s the rear view mirror, complete with electronic compass, I jest not.  Crossing the Nevada desert it might just be useful, stuck in traffic on the M1 it’s pointless.

So if you need a simple rugged motor which can handle proper off roading, can seat five and carry some luggage, has a decent diesel engine and you don’t get annoyed by buzzers and warning lights then this is the car.  If you’re a more delicate mode of transport then look elsewhere.

Gary Phillips