Tested: Jeep Cherokee CRD

Great-grandpa’s second wind

The great-grandfather of each SUV or four-by-four is the American Willys GP (“General Purpose”) which made its appearance in the Second World War. After the conflict this basic but versatile four-wheel-drive vehicle proved that it can also offer hard work and matching play for members of the public.

The abbreviation “GP” transformed into the company name Jeep; and that makes it the first and oldest manufacturer of vehicles with shiny “4×4” badges. In today’s crisis days names like Wagoner, Wrangler and Rubicon lead me to believe that this is one company that simply couldn’t close its doors; no matter how many times it changes owners.

Even if the books are a darker shade of red and the showrooms run dry, the heritage and success story of this manufacturer will surely guarantee it support and salvation. While sales of luxury SUV’s are still in vertical freefall, Jeep models like Wrangler, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee still enjoy the admiration of rough and tumble four-by-four enthusiasts.

You’d have to search rather long around our test vehicle, the basic Jeep Cherokee CRD Diesel Manual, to find DVD monitors and glossy wood. Perhaps the options list might offer more help, much like the contents of bigger and more expensive Jeeps, but the simple appearance (inside and out) of the Cherokee appeals to me.

The standard equipment and amount of toys is not too shabby, but it always creates the impression that it will merely tolerate tarred roads and shopping malls, and much prefers bush, sand, mud, and mountains. I like this attitude; the Cherokee makes no excuses for its blunt looks. Its on-road manners are not sporty, but this is due to its excellent talent when the tarmac suddenly ends.

The latest incarnation shows its biggest changes up front where you shall find the traditional Jeep face with new lights and 7 teeth in its grill. The bumpers look somewhat updated, and the vehicle’s rear end has also been refreshed, but the overall shape of Jeep’s little icon hasn’t changed much.

The interior of a Cherokee offers enough room for 5 adults and their luggage, and the seats are quite soft and comfortable to sit on. They offer little to no support on twisty bends, but then the Jeep’s suspension setup would’ve also quickly convinced you that you chose the wrong car for this task.

The steering wheel, instruments and sound system are familiar company from the Jeep/Chrysler/Dodge parts bin, and lend an uncomplicated and simple look to the cabin. In this entry-level Cherokee you will have to make do without satellite buttons on the steering wheel, but the big audio system from the family trunk is easy to use.

The radio/CD/DVD/mp3 system can also be ordered with Bluetooth, navigation, hard-drive and voice recognition, but even the basic system offers good services and delivers acceptable sounds through the vehicle’s speakers. The rear seats can fold in a 60/40 arrangement, and the front passenger seat can also fold flat. Handy.

There is a 12V socket for your fridge, a few cup holders, power steering, central locking, and very elementary ventilation controls. Windows and mirrors are electrically adjustable, and next to the lever for the gearbox’s 6 gears you shall locate controls for the 4×4 system. The four-wheel-drive system named Selec-Trac II 4WD can switch between 2WD High, 4WD Auto and 4WD Lo.

The system pairs up with the Cherokee’s traction and stability control, and will thus keep an eye on all wheels in 4WD Auto mode, shifting the CRD engine’s power to which ever wheel needs it most. The 2.8 liter turbo-diesel unit is perfect for hard graft (or play) with its 130kW and 410Nm.

With this amount of torque its performance is more elastic than electric, but with a choice of 6 gears you’ll always locate one to move around town at low engine revs and minimal fuel consumption. At 60km/h in sixth gear the rev counter’s needle hovers around 1000rpm and the vehicle almost rolls along unaided. The motor is also not very interested in high revolutions, much like gearbox dislikes rapid movements.

So; a Jeep Cherokee CRD will not win many traffic light races, but I quickly adapted to the relaxed capabilities of its brawny Diesel engine. It’s also quite noisy, like a proper bakkie or farm vehicle. Yet again I liked this attribute, because a Jeep Cherokee and its noisy Diesel will easily conquer whatever a farm road decides to throw at it.

Cherokee’s brakes and suspension setup is not made for speedy antics, much like the big turbo-Diesel and 6-speed gearbox. Oh yes, and the seats. But switch to 4WD Lo and show it a mountain or two and suddenly the little Jeep is in its favourite environment where it will keep going long after most drivers’ courage runs out; mine included. Its great-grandpa, the Willys GP, is surely proud of it.

A Jeep Cherokee CRD Manual costs N$369 900 with a 3 year 100 000km service plan, and only needs to visit the workshop every 20 000km.

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