JEEP can lay claim to being the oldest four-wheel drive vehicle manufacturer still in business as
JEEP can lay claim to being the oldest four-wheel drive vehicle manufacturer still in business as the brand first appeared in 1941.
The fancy name now for such models is SUVs (sports utility vehicles). But the original Jeep was about as far removed from any so-called SUV of today as you could get.
It was rough and tough and as a result starred in lots of war movies. But the Willys Jeep (its original maker was Willys-Overland Motors) was also very down-to-earth: it was the vehicle of choice of the United States military.
I recall in the late Seventies writing a piece about a film being shot in Mapledurham. They were making The Eagle Has Landed, starring Michael Caine and Donald Sutherland and several Willys Jeeps.
It seemed incongruous at the time to see American Jeeps transporting soldiers down lanes in that quiet Oxfordshire village (in the film it depicted somewhere in Norfolk).
Yet an American Jeep full of GI Joes had come to symbolise the might of the US military across the world.
Nowadays the name Jeep is recognised as a leading SUV brand (and celebrating its 75th anniversary). It may still have all-American attributes but it is no longer US-owned.
The Italian car giant, Fiat, now owns Jeep. And this week I have been driving one for the first time in a long while.
Looking back, I could not find a review of mine of a Jeep model. But things definitely appear to be on the up for Jeep.
In May I reported in this column that Jeep was “the UK’s leading manufacturer in terms of growth, with an increase in new car registrations of 115 per cent — the largest year on year growth of any car maker”.
So things have been recently good but what is a Jeep like these days? I was driving a New Cherokee 2.2 MultiJet 200hp 4WD 9SPD Auto Limited, to give it its full moniker. (I hope to report back to you on other models later on.)
I have to admit I was not expecting to be overly impressed by this car.
The reason was I had not been particularly enamoured by the “look” of Jeeps I had seen on our roads in recent times. It goes without saying if I were a collector of cars, a Willys Jeep would be high on my wish list.
Like a lot of people I have also always had a soft spot for Jeep Wranglers of old — especially for one with that wonderfully throaty if thirsty, 4.6 straight-six engine.
But of late, that is in recent years, there seemed to me something lacking in the Jeep brand design. However, I think after spending some time with the new Cherokee, I actually found myself liking this new version on all fronts.
It was comfortable, capacious inside and good to drive. Outside, its lines were clean and very 21st century.
The engine, a 2.2 MultiJet 200hp, had a certain guttural power tempered by modern sophisticated mechanics (and good for towing I imagine). And, after a quick flip through the manual, I found the CD player tucked away in the central console — a must for motorists of a certain vintage.
But all the new, tech-minded equipment was also there, available to touch on a large dashboard screen.
Here there is easy access to a Uconnect 8.4in DAB Radio With Touchscreen, Bluetooth, USB, Satellite Navigation and Integrated Voice Command. There was a plethora of buttons on the steering wheel but part of the attraction of the Jeep Cherokee is that it is the kind of car you grow into.
It displayed for me some old fashioned virtues while accommodating the new. You felt at home in the cab.
The long, panoramic sunroof was an optional extra (full sunroof, power front, fixed rear, £1,200) but worth it because if you are going to kit yourself out with a car like this you might as well have a few bells and whistles.
The seats were luxurious (Morocco Black leather interior) for a not-so-expensive SUV, plump and inviting with good lumbar support on long drives.
And if you wanted you could go off-road (and satisfy all that secret rugged ambition). The dial on the central console provides settings for all kinds of road conditions on and off Tarmac.
If you like music, the sound system was excellent, (nine amplified speakers with subwoofer).
What is it they say in the CIA (at least in the movies)? It is: “To hope for the best and prepare for the worst.” Well, I had hoped for the best but was not prepared to be totally surprised.
In terms of value for money and final finish, this new-look Jeep Cherokee is well worth taking for a test drive if you are considering buying an SUV (if not a Willys Jeep!).
NEW JEEP CHEROKEE 2.2 MULTIJET 200HP 4WD 9SPD AUTO LIMITED
• Colour: True Blue
• On the road price with options: £41,835
• Cubic Capacity: 2184cc
• Gearbox: Nine speed automatic
• Drive: 4WD
• 0-62mph: 8.5 seconds
• Top speed: 127mph
• Combined consumption: 49.6mpg
• CO2 emissions: 150g/km
• Key standard equipment includes: Brake Stability Control, Hill Start Assist, Traction Control & Electronic Roll Mitigation
• 18in Aluminium Wheels
• Premium Instrument Cluster With 7in Colour TFT Display