The price is light

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It’s funny how the public reacts, sometimes. If you’re driving something vaguely exotic, or mildly bizarre, you expect people to ask you questions on service station forecourts. Of the test vehicles I’ve tried recently, however, the two which have aroused the greatest level of conversational interest amongst bystanders have, for some reason, been the Renault Espace turbodiesel (Motor Sport July) and this, the Jeep Cherokee. . . Now available in three versions, the Cherokee is Jeep’s way of asking potential Range Rover customers to think twice, and the most obvious carrot is the price.

You aren’t quite being offered a Range Rover for the cost of a Discovery, but the £21,745 that’s being asked for the range-topping Limited SE is certainly a persuasive argument when a 3.9 Vogue presently commands £35,000-plus . . . Jeep is making a big fuss about value for money. Take a look at the £18,995 Cherokee 4.0 Limited, expected to be the company’s biggest seller in the UK, and you’ll see why. Standard fitments include air conditioning, cruise control, ABS, electric windows, mirrors and seats, remote central locking, six-speaker RDS radio/cassette player . . . All very nice, albeit somewhat superfluous to off-road driving requirements, as are the leather seats that come as standard with the SE. It provides further evidence, as if it were required, that the serious off-road capabilities of a vehicle such as this will be incidental to many purchasers. If you want to go mud-plugging, you buy a Jeep Wrangler. The Cherokee is more likely to be perceived as a fashion item, which is an underestimation of the first order. The Range Rover suffers from a similar syndrome.

All 4.0 Cherokees feature a multi-selectable, four-speed automatic transmission, which offers a choice of rear-wheel drive, part-time four-wheel drive or permanent 4wd with high and low ratios. Furthermore, there’s a choice of ‘power’ and ‘economy’ settings. though ‘economy’ is a relative term in this context.

Your delight at how much car you’ve acquired for your money may be off-set slightly by irritatingly regular visits to the petrol pumps. Jeep quotes an urban consumption of 15.7 mpg; over the course of a week which included plenty of motorway usage, we returned under 17. The base model, with its 2.5 in-line four and fivespeed manual ‘box, is said to be considerably less thirsty around town.

For all that, the Cherokee is pleasant to drive, with, by and large, an ergonomically sound cabin, decent ride quality and, for a vehicle of this nature, above-average manoeuvrability. It glides in and out of traffic with the precision of a Peugeot 106, which is partly a function of plentiful torque low-down lit peaks at 214 lb ft/3950 rpm) and featherweight power steering. Unfortunately, the latter remains light and woolly at higher speeds, when you could do with greater precision and feedback.

Claimed performance is respectable. From a standing start, the Cherokee takes less than 10 seconds to reach 60 mph, going on to an eventual maximum of 112. However, you will be conscious of the ’60s tower block aerodynamics well before you reach three figures. Moreover, the four-litre straight six’s aforementioned torque certainly catches your attention more than its outright power (184 bhp at 4750 rpm).

Given a straight choice between Range Rover and Jeep Cherokee, what would you do? Despite its advancing years, continual evolution of the former means that, dynamically, it still has no peers in the luxury off-road vehicle sector.

Certainly, the Cherokee doesn’t feel as solid as Britain’s class benchmark, and there are places where attention to detail is lacking. In the present economic climate, however, price is likely to a more serious consideration than whether or not the luggage cover is a snug fit. For the price of a Range Rover Vogue SE, you could have a Cherokee Limited and more than enough spare change to buy the excellent, and rugged, Wrangler. That, above all else, makes the Cherokee worthy of serious consideration. S A

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