Jeep has become more than just a brand. It’s a name that people jump to when describing any 4×4 vehicle. You say Jeep and you could, to the uneducated ear, be talking about anything from an L200 to a Range Rover. As long as it’s big and chunky, then the chances are someone, somewhere, has called it a Jeep. Hell, it’s even become a verb. You can go Jeeping. But you can’t go Range Rovering, can you?
So if the Jeep name, now one of the most recognised brands in the world – up there with Levis and Coca Cola – has become the be all and end all of driving off the beaten path, you’d expect every single one of its offerings to be impressive, right? Um, no, actually. Here’s the Jeep Cherokee.
It looks okay. Ish. In a very American way. It certainly has the Jeep face that we’re all familiar with, but other than that, it’s not that exciting. Plus, because Jeep insisted on calling it the Cherokee, people mistake it for the big, bruising Grand Cherokee, and once, the Grand Cherokee was just a Cherokee, but then it became the Grand Cherokee, but now you can buy it as a Cherokee again, because the god-awful Patriot takes the place of this, non-grand Cherokee. We have a headache now.
So what the hell is it?
Well on paper, it should have been a sensible way to get into the Jeep brand without having to buy something with a 4.0 engine. Plus, this model of Cherokee was smaller in size than the Grand versions, meaning it was slightly easier to manoeuvre than an aircraft carrier. It should have been a success, but sadly it was just a bit too wishy-washy and unsure of itself. As such, we didn’t really have any faith in it. Especially given the confusing naming structure. On home soil, this Cherokee was called the Liberty, and as such, it was easier to slot into the range. Over here, we were just confused.
What we got was a somewhere-in-the-middle Jeep that made little sense on the roads. In fact unless you drove one on a perfectly smooth ribbon of silky tarmac,the Cherokee was a bit rubbish. It had rack and pinion steering – a first for Jeep, remarkably – and it also had independent front suspension in a desperate bid to make it a bit more civilised on-road, but it didn’t really work. It was wayward, the steering felt disconnected and the brakes seemed to be somewhat disinterested in trying to bring you to a halt.
So what about the engines? They had to be good, right? Um, no, not really. Early models had either a clattery, four-pot 2.4 petrol or an equally clattery 2.5 diesel. The former was a wheezy, hateful excuse for an engine. The latter was okay, but did its job without any charm or personality. In fact, it exchanged those positive traits for sluggishness and a lack or refinement.
Later models (post 2005) were fitted with a slightly better 2.8 diesel, and Jeep also bolted a five-speed automatic transmission to it, which went some way toward making the damn thing bearable. Finally, Jeep wedged a 3.7 V6 petrol into the Cherokee in 2005, but this time with a four-speed auto. Both made a lot of noise. That was about it.
Those engines, combined with a confusing chassis that felt okay right up until the moment it wasn’t (say, when you did something crazy like turn the wheel at anything greater than walking pace) meant the Cherokee was generally an unlikable beast. Jeep had given us the name, but taken away all bits of the XJ version that we liked, and instead put those bits on a Grand Cherokee, that we now couldn’t afford.
Inside it was… okay. Typical American fodder awaits anyone lucky enough to be within a Cherokee. Hard plastics adorned with dubiously squishy rubber bits, cloth of a marginally better quality than a potato sack, or leather from a cow left out in the sun too long, and switch-gear from Playskool, and all in rich shades of grey or beige. Noice.
So what the hell should you buy one? Well, to be honest, we’re not sure. For us, it’s almost in the same ‘buying an American car for no other reason than because it’s American’ category as the PT Cruiser. It’s a bit confused, and as such, it doesn’t really work in the UK. It’s not an evil car, we may even go as far as to say it’s not a bad car. We would, however, say it’s not a fun car. Even the Cherokee’s rather impressive off-road ability isn’t enough to offset the rest of it. It’s just an odd duck that doesn’t rely belong. Pass.