Many of the changes to the Cherokee range for the 2005 model year were cosmetic, or involved minor improvements to the interior, but they also included major advances such as the introduction of a 2.8-litre turbo diesel engine (replacing the previous 2.5-litre unit) and a six-speed manual gearbox. The car tested here is in the mid-spec Renegade trim level with five-speed automatic transmission, though the manual is also available. Another feature of the Renegade is that the 2.8 diesel is its sole engine option, since only the Sport uses the 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol and only the Limited gets the 3.7-litre V6.
The 2.8 is a sturdy unit, producing a healthy 161bhp. From the sound it produces, it's also very obviously a diesel, but the efforts at improving refinement which are also part of the 2005 upgrade certainly work well; the engine note, though characteristic, is also well subdued.
There's another change to the Cherokee specification which Jeep doesn't talk about much. It came on-stream a couple of years ago and consists simply of lowering the ride height by about an inch. This may not seem like much, but the effect is profound. Earlier examples of the present-generation Cherokee were alarming to drive on tarmac because they felt like they were about to fall over. Nowadays the effect is greatly reduced.
It hasn't, however, been eradicated completely. You don't have to be going particularly quickly round an especially sharp bend to realise that this, above all current SUVs, is the one that most requires fingertip touch on the steering if you want to avoid a loss of stability. Considering the on-road driving quality of so many other 4x4s, and the excellent road manners of the first UK Cherokees back in the early 1990s, this is a serious disappointment and something Jeep should really be looking into.
The ride height reduction inevitably means that the Cherokee doesn't have as much ground clearance as before, which leads to a few extra bumps and scrapes in difficult off-road conditions. The other off-road issue is that the Cherokee isn't class-leading on very steep downhill slopes - it won't maintain very low speeds, and there's a risk that you might start yarding towards the bottom when you intended merely to inch.
A Jeep person sitting next to me on just such an occasion recommended (rather urgently, I couldn't help noticing) that I should start braking. It worked, but we were on a dry surface at the time, and I was concerned about what the effect would have been if we were on mud.
As it's customary to point out at this stage of an article about almost any off-roader, most buyers probably won't get themselves into that position. The ones that do are most likely to be the ones who choose a Renegade over a Sport or a Limited - or at least they're the ones who are most likely to want to convince others that they do this sort of thing all the time.
The Renegade, which started out in March 2005 as a special edition, looks slightly more butch than the other models, with foglights on the front grille, two more lights mounted above the windscreen, and wheelarches and side sills which are visibly riveted to the rest of the body. In most other respects it's quite close to the standard Limited specification, though features like heated leather front seats, a 6-CD autochanger and satnav are extra-cost options on the Limited which are not available on the Renegade.
According to its maker, the Cherokee is "uniquely positioned to deliver both the on-road refinement required by the mid-sized SUV market and the off-road capability for which the legendary Jeep brand is known". The alternative view is that Jeep is falling behind the opposition here and needs to replace the Cherokee with something a lot more convincing.
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