Jeep Cherokee 2.8 CRD Limited

With soaring fuel prices and tax rates linked to CO2 emissions, it's no wonder most off-roader drivers have turned to diesels to help ease their bills. For the Cherokee owner, though, this has always been hard work. With its clunky gearbox and heavy clutch, the 2.5 CRD is too physical for the school run.

With more pulling power and new five-speed auto, the 2.8 CRD is much less physically demanding to drive than the smaller diesel version with a manual box. It still has flaws, but is more appealing - especially for use around town.

With soaring fuel prices and tax rates linked to CO2 emissions, it's no wonder most off-roader drivers have turned to diesels to help ease their bills. For the Cherokee owner, though, this has always been hard work. With its clunky gearbox and heavy clutch, the 2.5 CRD is too physical for the school run.

Now Chrysler has an alternative: the 2.8 CRD common-rail diesel, which produces 148bhp and 360Nm of torque at 1,800rpm. This means there's more power where you need it most - just above tickover. Even more importantly, the newcomer has a five-speed automatic gearbox, which makes it much easier to drive. The power band is very narrow - the rev counter seems to hit an imaginary wall at 3,500rpm - but the gearbox has been tuned to match. It is, however, quite hesitant and tends to 'hunt' for the right ratio. And while a claimed 0-60mph time of 12.6 seconds is respectable on paper, you'd better have plenty of clear road ahead when you pull out to overtake.

The engine feels equally breathless on the motorway, but its long-legged fifth gear and extra refinement make it a more relaxing mile-muncher than anything else in the range. A combined fuel economy figure of 27.4mpg is less impressive, though, even for a big 4x4.

It is, however, worth remembering that many Jeep owners use their vehicle for towing - a job that the 2.8 CRD relishes. What's more, the Cherokee is as rugged as it looks, riding easily over ground where lesser off-roaders fear to tread, thanks to its high ground clearance, Selec-Trac permanent four-wheel drive and low-ratio box.

Running a vehicle as big as this is never going to appeal to the fainthearted, and the cost of the Limited model we tested is a hefty £23,995 - £1,000 more than the 2.5-litre version.

Even so, this seems a fair price to pay for the engine's improved refinement and the convenience of an automatic transmission. However, a nagging question remains unanswered: why not use the Mercedes E-Class 270 CDI powerplant, which is already fitted to the bigger Jeep Grand Cherokee?

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