The Jeep Cherokee is less pretentious than most, mainly because it looks more robust and lacks the grace and style of a Freelander or CR-V. It's a good old American, chunky cowboy riding the range-type vehicle.
There has been some attempt on the drawing board at creative design, but inside and out, the Cherokee has the feel of a Tonka toy about it. That's not a bad thing necessarily – some customers will prefer its rugged appearance to the more streetwise look of its competitors.
The model tested here, the 2.8 CRD Limited, might look like a prairie steed but it comes with plenty of equipment to make the journey as comfortable as possible.
Pretty much everything is standard, with only heated leather seats an option at £1,200 and an electric sunroof at £600. But that's not to say that the standard equipment is a long list.
For your standard fare, the Cherokee comes equipped with manual air conditioning (no automatic climate control available), cruise control, power adjustable front seats and a single CD player, with no option for a changer.
So what you see is what you get with the Cherokee – no fancy frippery or European dandiness, until you get to the engine.
The Americans do not do diesel, but Jeep is smart enough to know that to succeed with 4x4 in Europe, some competent diesels need to be offered.
Although the 2.8-litre engine in this car has a lot of volume, it only has four cylinders and as a result this is not the smoothest diesel – by a distance.
At idle, the Cherokee is clattery and doesn't get much quieter when fully warmed up. On the move, a push of the accelerator pedal provokes a tuneless roar. At motorway cruising speeds, the engine is fine, although there is a fair amount of wind noise created by the bluff frontage.
With 266lb-ft and 148bhp, the Cherokee's performance is pretty good, and the five-speed automatic makes the most of it, although it generally has four speeds and you need to switch overdrive on for the fifth. So at least you get meaningful acceleration to go with all the noise.
It almost goes without saying that this is not a car for hustling along winding lanes. With its body on a ladder-frame chassis and independent front and rear suspension, the Cherokee has off-roading in its bones. Most lifestyle SUVs will have a monocoque construction like a car rather than body on frame, but for real off-roading, body on frame is the way to go.
And the deep reserves of torque this car has should make it a very doughty performer off road.
Back on the highway, it rolls about disconcertingly and tends to struggle when damping out ridges in the road. The steering is geared for off-roading as well, so requires more turning than you'd expect to get a reaction from the wheels.
The interior has plastics that are typically Jeep. They look robust enough but lack the softness of material used in European cars and all the buttons and dials are spread about in a seemingly random fashion.
But for all its compromises and foibles, the Cherokee is endearingly American. Like many Chrysler products, it will polarise opinions, and a company car driver who likes Americana will love it. One who leans towards Yanko-phobia will probably loathe it.
Jeep Cherokee 2.8 CRD Limited
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £23,817
CO2 emissions (g/km): 274
BIK % of P11D in 2004: 35%
Graduated VED rate: £165
Insurance group: 15
Combined mpg: 27.4
CAP Monitor residual value: £9,150/38%
Depreciation 23.65 pence per mile x 60,000: £14,190
Maintenance 4.00 pence per mile x 60,000: £2,400
Fuel 14.13 pence per mile x 60,000: £8,478
Wholelife cost 41.78 pence per mile x 60,000: £25,068
Typical contract hire rate: £498 per month
Three rivals to consider
It is no real surprise that the best specified of the cars here is the Kia. Despite being the cheapest, the Sorento gets leather seats, climate control, electric sunroof and cruise control. The Freelander is pretty good as well, having leather/Alcantara upholstery, six-CD player and supermarket-friendly parking sensors. The Terrano is the more workmanlike option with its rugged build and big diesel engine. The Cherokee, unusually for Jeep, is not the most generous for equipment.
Land Rover £23,627
Our SMR costs figures throw up something of a surprise. The Freelander comes top and would cost £1,620 over three-years/60,000 miles. Compare that to the Cherokee, which is predicted to cost £2,400 over the same period and the difference is stark. However, nearly every reliability survey published questions the consistency of quality with Land Rovers. Get a good one though that ends up running at 2.70ppm, and it's a bargain against this competition.
Land Rover 2.70
The figures for these cars varies because there's the difference of a whole litre in volume from the smallest engine to the largest at this price point. As a result, the Freelander comes top on fuel consumption, but bear in mind that the 2.0 Td4 is not the quickest, while the 2.8-litre Cherokee may be unrefined but is a bit of a goer. The Sorento isn't very fast and the Terrano might have 3.0-litres but is a big unit so suffers as well. None of these cars will provide noteworthy performance, and even the cheapest will cost more than £7,000 in fuel over 60,000 miles. Ouch.
Land Rover 11.80
It's another convincing victory for the Freelander, this time in the depreciation comparison. It seems that secondhand buyers love Land Rovers. CAP reckons that this model will be worth an extremely healthy 40% of its value in three-years/60,000 miles, which means it depreciates at 21.88ppm. The Jeep and Nissan do pretty well as well as both are in the mid-30s. The Kia is last but is no slouch. A ppm figure of 24.99 and a CAP percentage of 32% is not bad.
Land Rover 21.88
The Land Rover Freelander is easily the best of the four when it comes to wholelife costs. The margin of its victory is massive following wins in all three categories. Over 60,000 miles it would cost £21,828, nearly £2,500 less than the next best, the Nissan Terrano. The other two aren't far behind the Terrano, although the Jeep comes last, due to high maintenance and fuel costs.
Land Rover 36.38
Emissions and BIK tax rates
All of these cars fall into the 35% benefit-in-kind tax band, so working out which would cost the least in tax is a simple affair. The Sorento, with the lowest P11d value of £22,855, would be the best value. A 40% tax-payer would pay £3,200 a year to the Inland Revenue. The dearest, the Jeep Cherokee, would see the same tax-payer landed with a bill of £3,334, so there is in fact very little between all the cars.
Land Rover 240/35%
With the Cherokee struggling on wholelife costs, the Freelander comes in first place because it is streets ahead when it comes to economics. The Land Rover might also have the smallest engine but it just about matches the others – Cherokee apart – when it comes to performance. And the specification is pretty good too.
At a glance