- The Washington Times - Friday, October 27, 2000

MODEL: Jeep Cherokee

VEHICLE TYPE: Four-door SUV

PRICE-AS-TESTED: $28,900

MILEAGE: 15 city, 20 highway

Jeep vehicles have had a long and illustrious history of being rugged and capable, of going just about anywhere you want to go. In the last 10 years or so, Jeep has also become known as that same capable vehicle laced with the fineries of a luxury sedan.

Although, the Jeep Cherokee tends to lean more toward the capable than it does toward the luxury side of this spectrum. Since its introduction in 1984, the present Cherokee has nearly achieved the same type of cult following as the original Jeep.

It is a bit difficult for many to discern the difference between a new 2000 Cherokee and one from a previous year, and rightly so. The Cherokee hasn't changed a great deal. It is still the same in all the ways that made it such an icon of the sport utility field. Its squared off corners and large greenhouselike passenger compartment certainly continues the Cherokee shape.

The front, seven-bar, grille confirms that this vehicle is Jeep through and through. The Cherokee must be compared to its larger sibling, the Grand Cherokee with some reservation. The Cherokee is a smaller vehicle in many ways. The rear door openings are small, tending to limit the ease of entrance and exit of the vehicle, while the front doors open wider and are more accommodating.

The cockpit feels more compact, yet is outfitted nicely with all the necessary controls and gauges in the appropriate places. There is plenty of shoulder and headroom to make all passengers comfortable, with the same front legroom as its larger sibling.

Where the Cherokee really shines is under the skin. This Jeep has all the qualities needed to perform like its heritage indicates it should. Under the hood you can have the standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder or the six-cylinder engine, which I have liked for years.

Making it now meet low emission vehicle levels, this 4-liter engine has recently been redesigned. Earlier variations of this near bulletproof engine have seen plenty of torturous treatment and survived, so I see no reason for this updated version to be any different.

In most vehicles, except for those pricey luxury sedans, I would generally chose a manual shift over an automatic. However I, like so many other off-roaders, have realized an automatic isn't so bad in these off-road conditions. In fact, I've been in some pretty precarious spots where that automatic transmission saved my behind.

So here is one place I can feel confident to recommend either manual or automatic transmissions. Jeep has made available two choices in four-wheel-drive systems. The standard equipment is the Command-Trac part-time system, where you must manually shift into or out of four-wheel drive. The other choice is Selec-Trac full-time system.

Here, it is your preference that makes the difference. For a combination of foul-weather driving and off-road excursions, I prefer the Selec-Trac system simply because the driver can place the transfer case into the full-time setting and let the vehicle decide when it needs to use all four wheels. You can shift the Cherokee into full-time and forget it. Then if you find yourself in a real off-road situation, shift into low range and crawl over that log. The attraction the Cherokee holds is manifold.

It is certainly Jeep rugged, with the ability to take on some of the most unforgiving terrain in the country. Venues like Moab, Utah, and the treacherous Rubicon Trail in California have been test beds for Jeeps for years. And the Cherokee has proven itself time and time again on these trails.

Given this sport utility's very competitive price makes it one very attainable and capable SUV.

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