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Mon 25 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Command and control

Fraser Martin is a previous Cherokee owner, so does the new car meet his exacting standards?

Fraser Martin is a previous Cherokee owner, so does the new car meet his exacting standards?

Good bit chunkier than the outgoing model, the new Jeep Cherokee restores some of the ruggedness that was missing, at least in appearance, from the last round-headlamp model. Whilst the older car was up to the usual Jeep standards in terms of off-road ability (I owned one for two years) there was some resistance to the slightly softer look and it would be fair to say that trying to blend the Wrangler front with the two-box body didn't quite work.

Those criticisms have been addressed in this new Cherokee, with its Tonka-like front end taking on the family appearance of the current top-of-the-Jeep-range Commander. The big bluff front with huge headlamps, and increased ground clearance, give the new Cherokee lots of street cred.

But a Jeep is a Jeep so there's no compromise on the off-street credibility. The 3.7-litre V6 engine punches out 210bhp and a stout helping of torque to propel this new Cherokee, and mated to a new five-speed autobox and the Selec-Trac II transfer case, the car is suitably quick for a four-door sport utility vehicle as well as having the grunt needed for slogging through the sand.

Hill Descent Control is an added feature - for the first time on a Jeep - and works in both forward and reverse gears. Traction control is standard and the ABS has ‘rough road' detection.

On road, the car feels firm with little body roll when pushed, but not so stiff that the flexibility needed for off-road excursions is compromised. Steering is sharp and communication through the wheel clear enough.

The tyres themselves - mounted on 16-inch or 17-inch wheels, depending on specification ordered - are nevertheless compromised: good sound deadening on road comes at the cost of off-road grip, so buyers may need to look at a tyre change depending on the car's principal use. For day-to-day use, the standard mixed use pattern Goodyears will be fine, but if your main use for such a capable vehicle is weekend outing and abouting, something with more teeth will be needed.

The interior of this latest Cherokee is a step up in quality and finish. There have been grumbles about plastics in Jeeps for a while now, and whilst there is still some way to go, the new Cherokee is a move forward. Fully trimmed in two-tone leather with matching carpets, better finishes, and plenty of toys, the car provides a comfortable place to spend the day. There have been forward steps in space too and rear seat legroom is much improved.

With a commanding driving position, good sightlines and short overhangs, this new Jeep is an easy car to position. It's a much more suitable stepping stone between the Wrangler's roughty-toughty practicality and the Grand Cherokee's svelte good looks than the previous model, making it a welcome addition to the range.

Need to knowPrice: $26,250

Engine:3700cc v6 SOHC,

210bhp @ 5200rpm, 235lb ft @ 4000rpm

Transmission:Five-speed auto, four-wheel drive

Performance:10.5 sec 0-100kph, 180kph (est)

On sale:Feb '08

Rating:4/5

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