Car reviews - Jeep - Cherokee
18 Jun 2003
THE name Jeep brings to mind American troops in World War II, MASH and images of a stark, purpose built vehicle in which creature comforts ran a distant last to mechanical simplicity and reliability.
Like the Land Rover, the early Jeeps established a legendary reputation for indestructibility and "hose it out" functionality.
Originally part of the American Willys company, the Jeep name was acquired by Renault and then returned to its American origins when Chrysler purchased the company in 1987.
Since then the Jeep has entered the rapidly growing luxury four- wheel drive market with the Cherokee, a Renault design.
The Cherokee comes in a number of versions, all five-seat wagons.
The range starts with the Limited, then Limited Classic, Sport and Sport Classic. All share the same basic mechanicals, with the Limited models having a higher equipment level.
The Sport, the subject of this report, is the cheapest in the range.
The Cherokee is powered by a low revving but torquey 4.0-litre, straight six-cylinder engine with fuel-injection.
Performance is excellent thanks to the smooth torque of the engine and the relatively light weight of the vehicle. Transmission is four-speed automatic only.
The Quadra-Trac four-wheel drive system splits the torque between the front and rear wheels by means of a viscous coupling.
Normally all torque is directed to the rear wheels, but if they lose traction power is fed to the front wheels. In low range a mechanical lock takes over on very slippery surfaces to provide a 50/50 torque split.
Suspension is by rigid axles front and rear with coil springs at the front and leaf springs at the rear, with longitudinal links to provide location. Spring rates are soft, giving excellent ride comfort, but the shock absorbers are firm enough to provide good control.
Steering is by recirculating ball, power-assisted, with a good turning circle for a vehicle of this size.
Brakes are power-assisted discs at the front, drums at the rear.
The squarish lines of the body are quite attractive, thanks to some smart colour schemes, although the grille looks dated. The vehicle has a classy look, enhanced by the low roof line.
The body is of unitary construction like all sedan cars, as opposed to the usual ladder chassis and separate body of most 4WDs, and gives a significant weight saving. But it means it is less rugged for off-road use than other 4WDs.
The interior is quite luxurious with seating for five adults although the low roof line makes entry and exit a little difficult for rear seat passengers.
The instrument layout is reminiscent of the 1970s and the seats are comfortable, though lacking a little in sideways support for energetic driving.
On the road, the shortcomings of the leaf spring rear suspension become evident. The rear end of the car patters on rough or corrugated surfaces, allowing the rear wheels to break loose and dance around. On smooth roads the handling is excellent, almost car-like.
Performance is impressive thanks to the relatively light body and torquey engine.
The lower than usual driving position enhances the car-like feel.
Equipment includes air-conditioning, central locking, power mirrors, power windows and a radio/cassette player.
Being a well established design, the Cherokee should not present any major problems in the service area.
In a highly competitive market segment, the Cherokee offers excellent value.
It is a mixture of modern technology with its unitary construction body and old-fashioned style.
But a smart appearance, good equipment level, excellent performance and quality finish make it an excellent alternative to its rivals.
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