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First drive: Oil-burner adds to Cherokee range

Powerful ally: The Cherokee's turbo-diesel engine is an off-road star.

The Jeep Cherokee turbo-diesel is now an automatic choice

11 Mar 2003

CHRYSLER Jeep Australia has moved to broaden the appeal of the Jeep Cherokee range by introducing and new 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine using common rail direct injection (CRD) for the Jeep Cherokee.

The 2.8-litre turbo-diesel with a five-speed automatic gearbox is added to the 2.5-litre turbo-diesel with manual driveline that was introduced to the Cherokee in late 2001.

The move coincides with the introduction of the five-cylinder Mercedes-Benz 2.7-litre turbo-diesel from the ML270 as an option on the Jeep the Grand Cherokee.

Both the VM and Mercedes diesels are designed to improve the appeal of the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee in rural markets where oil-burners are popular. They are also seen as a way of boosting Jeep sales with owners of boats, caravans and horses.

Diesel power is becoming significantly more popular with buyers of large and medium all-terrain wagons in Australia.

The large all-terrain wagon market has seen 140 per cent growth in diesel sales in the past three years. In 2002 diesel engines accounted for 56 per cent of large all-terrain wagon sales. In the medium all-terrain wagon segment, diesel volume has doubled in the past three years to 5300 sales. The company expects to sell 300 diesel Cherokees this year and 500 diesel Grand Cherokees.

CJA believes there is particular appeal for the ubiquitous retired couple touring Australia with a caravan who are seeking towing performance, car-like sound levels and good fuel economy, plus the ability to go off the beaten track when the mood takes them.

To make it clear, the 2.7-litre five-cylinder Mercedes turbo-diesel is only available in automatic form as an option on the Grand Cherokee range of Laredo, Limited and Overland.

The 2.8-litre VM turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine is confined to the Cherokee Renegade and Limited. Only the 2.5-litre diesel manual combination is available in the Sport.

The 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine is an enlarged (bored and stroked) version of the 2.5-litre turbo-diesel. Both are made by VM Motori in Italy which, these days, is owned by DaimlerChrysler.

The common rail direct injection turbo-diesels use high pressure pumps, more precise metering and early ignition techniques to take the clatter out of the compression ignition stroke and to deliver very strong torque levels at lower revs.

This translates to improved engine quietness, less vibration and harshness, better fuel economy and enhanced towing capacity.

There is a significant jump in towing capacity. In the Cherokee it has increased more than a tonne from 2275kg for the petrol 3.7-litre V6 to 3360kg for the 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel.

Indeed, even the 2.5-litre turbo-diesel has a greater towing capacity than the 3.7-litre V6 Chrysler petrol engine, which is more than one litre larger.

Amazingly, the Jeep range now has seven different engines available for buyers to choose from.

This list below shows how they line up but it also shows how strongly the diesel versions just introduced perform against their petrol counterparts - not only on performance but also fuel economy.

ENGINE SPECIFICATIONS:

CherokeeGrand Cherokee
EngineTurbo-dieselTurbo-dieselPetrolPetrolPetrolPetrol Turbo-diesel
VM MotoriVM MotoriChryslerChryslerChryslerChryslerMercedes
Four cylFour cylV6Six cylV8V8 HOFive cyl
2.5 litre2.8 litre3.7 litre4.0 litre4.7 litre4.7 litre2.7 litre
Power kW105110155140164190 120
Rpm3800380052005000460052004000
Torque Nm343360312295394425400
Rpm2000180038003050330035001800-2600
Economy l/100km
Urban11.713.7n/a14161712.5
Non-urban7.58.4n/a1010.5118.1
Average9.611.05n/a1213.251410.3
Towing capacity kg2685336022752449295529553360
The Mercedes-Benz turbo-diesel is clearly the pick of the bunch, not only on paper but both on and off the road. Our advice is to save harder and go for the Grand Cherokee with the Mercedes diesel. You can get it for about $6000 more than the top-line Cherokee Limited turbo-diesel and it is worth every extra penny.

However, if you cannot make the stretch, here is how the Cherokee shapes up.

The Cherokee starts at $44,990 with the Sport model powered by the optional 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel with common rail direct injection and manual transmission. It is only available on the Sport.

The standard engine across the Cherokee range is the 3.7-litre petrol fuel-injected V6 in automatic only. In the Sport that costs $200 more than the 2.5 diesel at $45,190.

Cherokee Sport buyers get as standard fare a multi-stage driver and passenger airbags which deploy according to the severity of the crash, side curtain airbags, air-conditioning, brake pedal starting interlock, four-wheels disc brakes, tinted glass, remote keyless entry, roof rack rails, cloth seats, engine immobiliser, power driver and passenger windows.

The 2.8-litre turbo-diesel automatic is the top-price Sport and costs $48,990In the Renegade model launched last December, the V6 auto costs $48,290 and the turbo-diesel 2.8 auto $52,090.

In addition to the equipment in the Sport, the Renegade gets a higher capacity alternator, trip computer and vehicle information centre, fog lamps, roof-mounted off-road light bar, illuminated cabin entry, auto-dimming interior mirror, leather-edged cloth seats, side steps and skid plate under-body protection.

The Limited starts at $50,190 for the 3.7-litre V6 and tops out at $53,990 for the 2.8-litre turbo-diesel CRD auto.

The Limited gets anti-lock brakes, a retractable cargo cover, leather seats, six-way driver and passenger power seats and premium sound system with six speakers and steering-mounted audio controls.

PRICING:
Cherokee Sport 2.5-litre CRD four-cylinder manual $44,990
Cherokee Sport 3.7-litre V6 auto $45,190
Cherokee Sport 2.8-litre CRD four-cylinder auto $48,990
Cherokee Renegade 3.7-litre V6 auto $48,290
Cherokee Renegade 2.8-litre CRD four-cylinder auto $52,090
Cherokee Limited 3.7-litre V6 auto $50,190
Cherokee Limited 2.8-litre CRD four-cylinder auto $53,990

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

THE Jeep Cherokee was given an all-new body which reached these shores in August 2001. The new styling managed to look more Jeep-like than the previous boxy Cherokee.

For 2003, other than the addition of the 2.8-litre CRD engine and a few tweaks here and there with steering and suspension modifications, the important change is the addition of four-wheel disc brakes as standard across the Cherokee range. This has improved braking response and added to the Cherokee's towing capacity.

But the Cherokee remains a disappointment. In what is described as "American-feel", the wagon exhibits idiosyncrasies that, in our view, will turn off prospective buyers rather than attract them.

Despite its rack and pinion steering and independent front suspension designed to make it more car-like, the steering is vague and imprecise, which means you have to constantly keep working at the wheel to maintain direction. The 2.8-litre turbo-diesel seemed out of contact with the accelerator, not quite responding when called on to do so and then surging into action when it was really all a little late.

This was not turbo lag - just the engine command system giving 386 chip response when a Pentium 3 reaction would have done nicely.

The suspension is also a concern. It is independent at the front with coil springs using a live single axle at the back, also on coil springs. But sometimes it felt like the front and back were not related to each other, with different bounce rates over the same bump. A bit like an unladen ute.

There is also a firmness to the suspension where the springs and shockers are set so that suspension inputs over undulating and bumpy roads are translated into the body quite quickly and therefore passengers get more jostling than they deserve - both on the highway and off-road.

Early film of soldiers in WWII literally being hurled from their seats in Jeeps over rough battlefields show how far Jeep has come in this department, but it has some work to do yet.

There are just too many choices in this market to let it go unaddressed.

The matter is not helped by the seats, which are small, short and very firm.

The 2.8-litre diesel does a pretty good job and, while it is just not in the same league as the Mercedes diesel in the Grand Cherokee, it runs up to 100km/h quite smartly and without too much struggle, although it tends to run out of steam after that. For higher-speed highway overtaking it lacks strident purpose.

Off-road the turbo-diesel works well, as diesels do. That low speed lugging power is a potent ally for creeping and edging your way over obstacles and tough terrain.

The five-speed automatic is disappointing in that you can only select second and first gear and when this is done in low range it is accompanied by a massive lurch as the lower gear engages as though the slack has suddenly been taken up in a tow rope.

Having achieved the lower gear, however, the Cherokee proves to be an agile off-roader that thrives on bush tracks with steep descents controlled well on engine compression, allowing all four wheels to hold their ground as it inches forward.

But there has been some sacrifice made by moving to the independent front suspension which tends to bump against rocks and such in the heavy going.

Overall, the 2.8-litre diesel adds a new dimension to the Cherokee range.

But there are so many choices in this market with 50 all-terrain wagons now on sale.

The Cherokee will appeal to those with Jeep tattooed over their hearts or to refugees from the wild west seeking their place at home on the range.

But, for the rest of us, the answer lies in the Grand Cherokee - or in another showroom.

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