The Cherokee, despite revisions last year, is still resolutely hard-core when it comes to off-road ability. This is in spite of Jeep's aim to steal a slice of the compact SUV market. I remember driving the 2.5CRD last year on a trip from Lincolnshire to North Wales and thinking it was too much like hard work.
Although the Limited trim model was well-equipped, the manual gear lever was huge, the engine too noisy and the ride too choppy for B-road work.
Now Jeep has introduced a larger-capacity common rail diesel engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, believing that with the manual-only 2.5CRD and the auto-only 2.8CRD there will be a two-pronged attack to give the diesels the lion's share of sales.
Available in both Sport and Limited versions, the 2.8 CRD has only marginally more grunt than the 2.5CRD on paper, but it has resulted in increased towing capacity to 3,500kg, putting it in the same bracket as the 158bhp Nissan Terrano 3.0Di. The other obvious rival in this heavy-duty SUV class would be the Mitsubishi Shogun Sport, although its 114bhp 2.5-litre direct injection turbodiesel falls short of the Jeep's 148bhp.
The Cherokee has a 2.4% share of the total four-wheel drive market in the UK and a 5.9% share of the compact SUV market, led so far this year by the Honda CR-V. More than half of Cherokee drivers are below the age of 45 and many of them take part in outdoor activities and more than half use the car for towing or 'off-road' work. Jeep expects the 2.8CRD to be the favourite diesel Cherokee, taking 40% of sales, with the 2.5CRD accounting for 30%.
Behind the wheel
I TOOK the keys to the Cherokee with some trepidation, remembering how wearing my long drives in the 2.5CRD were last year. There is the expected diesel clatter on start-up and the engine remains audible at low revs. However, the 2.8-litre is a more polished performer than the 2.5-litre.
Still using four cylinders, the 2.8CRD is muted on the motorway, and the five-speed automatic transmission disguises gearshifts so they are barely noticeable.
There is still too much play in the steering and too much body roll to tempt many drivers away from their more car-like compact sport utility vehicles such as the Land Rover Freelander and Honda CR-V, although the diesel Cherokee compares well with the Freelander Td4 for power per pound.
The Cherokee is keen to sprint uphill when the rev-counter is hovering between the 2,000-3,000rpm mark, and the engine note never becomes too harsh. It also covered its fair share of motorway miles but never felt a chore to drive at high speed.
The difference in specification between Sport and Limited models is quite noticeable. A cursory glance shows that the top model includes chrome interior door handles, body-colour bumpers and wheel arches, electrically adjustable front seats, front fog lamps and a premium sound system for the extra £3,000. The price premium for the 2.8CRD over the 2.5 is £1,000. I would suggest it is well worth the money.
JEEP has given the diesel Cherokee much better road manners with the new engine and transmission. And some users will find the extra towing capacity an added bonus.
Model: Chrysler PT Cruiser 2.2CRD Classic
Engine (cc): 2,148
Max power (bhp/rpm): 119/4,200
Torque (lb-ft/rpm): 221/1,600
Max speed (mph): 114
0-62mph (sec): 12.1
Fuel consumption (mpg): 40.9
CO2 emissions (g/km): 185
Fuel tank (l/gal): 57/12.5
Transmission: 5-sp manual
Service intervals (miles): 12,000
On sale: now
Price (OTR): £14,195