Great Value, Looks Good, But Economy Lags
If You Want One, Better Hurry Before Commissar Ken Steps In
Tough Truck versus Softroaders and Cute Utes
Rating *** out of 5
If Ken Livingstone, newly re-elected leader of the cretinariat which is slowly but surely ruining London, ever manages to organise a coup and supplant Tony Blair, I can kiss goodbye to my search for the best Sports Utility Vehicle for £20,000 (30,000 euros).
You will recall that during the London mayoral campaign Red Ken described parents who drive their children to school in huge 4x4 vehicles as idiots.
When you see someone trying to manoeuvre it (big SUVs) round the school gates, you have to think, you are a complete idiot, he said in a GMTV interview.
Apart from the smug feeling of vindication from being labelled an idiot by a known leader of the looney bin, if people like Livingstone ever get into positions of real power, we can kiss goodbye to many freedoms. Not being able to choose the best SUV wont seem much of a big deal. Not being dragged off to the gulag will be our main concern.
If the mentally challenged Mayor of London (hes a self-confessed socialist) had his way, nobody would be able to buy the car of their choice. Only our leaders, led by Commissar Ken, would be able to have access to cars. They would all be chauffeur driven of course.
I recall listening to Livingstone last year (on TV) when he made a speech against the war in Iraq in Trafalgar Square, along with the Labour member for Baghdad West, George Galloway. I was astonished by the depth of his hatred for America, the sickening bile that was spilling over when he revealed his true feelings to his audience of fellow travellers.
This was the real socialist Ken. The charming mask of an amiable duffer was lifted briefly and we saw what drives the man on; a deep seated hatred of freedom and liberty. Here is a man who would love to be in supreme power ordering us all about, for our own good of course, dont you know. But if that cant be achieved, well, living like a king at the expense of the tax-payer must be just as good a result.
But the damage Livingstone can do is limited. The rest of the country is not so dim-witted as a hard core of London dopey dupes who cant see what kind of person he really is and still votes for this grotesque politician. It is astonishing that more than 800,000 Londoners voted for this sleaze ball; the only mitigating factor being that about 1.3 million Londoners voted for other candidates.
What troubles Livingstone about SUV drivers is the fact that they tend to be driven by middle-class women making their own choices. These women want vehicles that match their needs. They want a commanding view of the road. They want something tough and sturdy which might save them and their kiddiwinks in a crash. They want plenty of space.
Sure, the vehicles gulp fuel, but SUV drivers will also be paying a huge amount of extra tax. If Livingstone had any serious views about school runs he would have suggested the adoption of something like the American system, where a huge fleet of school buses take the little darlings in and out every day. This saves a huge amount of fuel, and cuts traffic, and provides a measure of security too for the children. But that doesnt have any elements of class warfare so Ken isnt interested.
Which brings me back to the choice of what SUV makes the most sense. I tested the Nissan X-Trail back in April and rated it highly. The quality was terrific, the 2.2 litre diesel engine was magnificent, the economy of just under 35 mpg almost unbelievably good. It drove well. But the lack of an automatic gear box with the diesel- engined version limited its appeal to me, so I had to cut its rating back to 4 out of 5 stars.
My latest contender is the Jeep Cherokee, and this would seem to have all the qualities I require being both diesel and automatic. I drove the 2.8 CRD automatic version and it had many valuable qualities. It looks chunky, serious, and handsome, particularly with the metallic paint and the roof rails. It isnt too big, has plenty of room inside, and when I mentioned I was driving one to a left-wing acquaintance at a Reuters pensioners luncheon recently, it incited such an over-the-top and instant hatred that I almost decided to buy one on the spot.
It is well priced - £20,995 (¤32,000), with plenty of standard equipment. The driving position is good, with large, firm seats and a commanding view of the road. Visibility for parking is good too.
There's plenty of headroom throughout, although the rear seats are best for two people. Knee-room in the back is much improved over the old model. The boot is a good size and is aided by a back bench that is simple to fold. A split tailgate has a side hinged lower door and independently opening glass upper half.
When parked on an incline I found that the hinged lower door kept hitting me when I was unloading. Maybe theres some subtly here that I was missing.
The interior was attractive, with black leather, and a black dashboard with white dials. But the ride was very bumpy when it wasnt feeling floaty, and the diesel engine a bit noisy. Theres too much wind noise on the motorway. Performance was adequate, but the steering was on the woolly side. The auto box was unsophisticated, although it had a neat overdrive device which although giving clunky changes also allowed greater flexibility and economy.
Economy Not Up To It
Oh yes, the economy. The Jeep Cherokee is not particularly economic, returning 24.8 mpg (11.4 l/100) over about 600 miles, which seems to negate the idea of having a diesel engine in the first place. At least Jeep doesnt try and pretend its vehicle will give you more economy than it actually can Jeep says 27.4 mpg (10.3 l/100) - an overstatement of a mere 9.5%.
Jeep is proud of the Cherokees off-road ability, and Im sure there are a few stalwarts in the countryside who will make use of this. I never did, and never will. Stowed away on the passenger side of the gearbox is a mysterious lever with three different settings 4-wheel drive part time, 4-wheel drive full time, and 4-wheel drive low ratio. Who knows what this means and who cares. This is a feature that is likely to be pristine and unused on the day the car goes to the great junk yard in the sky.
The Cherokee offers more car than cute-ute rivals like the Land Rover Freelander and the Toyota RAV4. Fuel economy is not great, but other running costs are reasonable.
It seems to be ruggedly built, with good body panel fit and finish.
The U.S. magazine Car & Driver, as usual, has a neat way of describing this vehicle, and the competition it must face in a section headlined Jeep sends a little bruiser into the cute-ute soft-roader sandbox.
Jeep touts the Liberty (sold as the Cherokee here) as a tough truck compared with cute utes such as the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. Well, maybe, but its not nearly as refined, says Car & Driver.
Sadly, that is also my conclusion. Nice car but it doesnt meet my needs. On to the next one, which I hope will be the Kia Sorento.
Neil Winton June 12, 2004
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