Jeep has just launched its restyled Cherokee range in Zambia and Botswana, and although the changes to the car seem minor (except for some major chrome finish on a certain model), it is an improved product - and there is also an impressive new diesel engine.
It was also more a reminder of what this 4x4 is about and how it performs on and off-road. Furthermore it was to show that the Cherokee is just as at home on African soil as it in a busy city centre anywhere in the world.
With the face-lifted Cherokee range Jeep hasn't messed around with the winning recipe of the car, which has been one of the most popular SUVs on our roads for the past three years or so.
It is still a rugged-looking and capable 4x4 with a sporty aura to it, and on the launch it had almost no difficulty taming some rough African terrain.
But the 2005 Jeep, with freshened-up looks and a few detail changes, is ready to tackle the second part of its life cycle.
Although the 4x4 setup and other mechanicals are the same, the new 2.8 CRD engine is a welcome improvement.
All that chrome
South Africa is also getting the Cherokee Renegade which, according to the Jeep people, is the "image leader" for Cherokee. This model offers a distinct exterior to set it apart from the Sport and Limited models.
The biggest exterior change to the Cherokee is at front, where all models get a new nose treatment to bring the Cherokee more in line with the new Grand Cherokee.
Although the Cherokee still has the famous seven-slot Jeep grille, it is of a new design and now accommodates a fog lamp below each headlamp.
Jeep also repositioned the front indicators on the redesigned fender flares at a higher position to make them more visible and for better protection in off-road conditions.
Jeep's bread and butter model in the Cherokee range is still the Sport, featuring black bumpers and a painted body-colour front grille.
Now, let's talk about the chrome factor.
The updated Cherokee Limited model features a chrome grille, bodyside mouldings and roof rails. All this chrome is pretty much in your face, and Jeep says it gives the Limited model "a more upmarket" look and feel.
Well, it is quite flashy, and I reckon this chrome treatment could act as a mirror to check if your gelled hair is still intact before entering a shopping mall!
At least Jeep caters for people with different tastes, because it is a complete different story with the Cherokee Renegade model.
This Jeep really looks the 4x4 part and the car seems rough and tough. The Cherokee Renegade is also set apart from the Sport and Limited with a flatter bonnet and taller grille. There are also "bolted-on" wheel arches and large six-spoke alloy wheels, giving the vehicle a very muscular look.
Furthermore it comes with standard tow hooks and three skid plates (under the transfer case, fuel tank and front suspension). Renegade buyers can also specify their cars with an optional overhead light bar if they want to ad this model's rough and tough image.
Jeep also updated the car's interior with a new choice of colour trims. However, the biggest change is to the car's seats which have been redesigned to offer better support and comfort.
The rear seat's fold angle has also been reduced, providing a flatter load floor for increased utility and better storage.
Other changes to the cabin include new instrument cluster graphics, repositioned buttons for the electric windows and a new separate button for the air conditioning.
For the first time Jeep also offers the Cherokee with an optional satellite navigation system. The good news is that it will also be available in South African models, giving the car even more appeal.
Of course the car comes standard with features such as an audio-system with front-loading CD player, cruise control and a trip computer.
As said, the biggest change to the Cherokee range is the introduction of the new 2.8 CRD engine.
This four-cylinder engine features a variable geometry turbocharger (VGT) and it has loads of oomph. Torque is a high 400 Nm at 1 800 r/min while it kicks out a healthy 120 kW at 3 800 r/min.
The new engine offers lots more pace than the previous unit and it pulls the Cherokee along in rapid style. On the open roads in Zambia and Botswana it was a happy long distance cruiser and now has enough muscle for overtaking.
It is mated to a slick new six-speed manual transmission (a five-speed auto is optional). This gearbox is a real gem and offers great gear changing quality.
This engine feels quite potent and it is also happy to take revs high, but the downside is that fuel consumption isn't the best in the business. The claimed urban cycle for the manual is 12 litres for every 100 km and Jeep says out of town it will use 7.7 litres/100 km.
But on the launch our Cherokee's trip computer showed the car sipping between 9 and 10 litres on an extra-urban cycle.
The 3.7-litre V6 engine (150 kW/307 Nm) is the same as before, but Jeep improved fuel economy by introducing variable line pressure adjustment on the four-speed auto box.
Both the 2.8 CRD VGT and V6 engines are available on the Sport, Limited and Renegade models, while a 2.4-litre (108 kW/215 Nm) petrol engine is also available on the Sport.
There is no doubt that the Cherokee is a capable off-roader and better than its rivals, which include cars such as the Nissan X-Trail and BMW X3, because it offers high and low gear ratios. Its only true rival is probably the Subaru Forester.
The Jeep Cherokee offers a choice of Jeep's Command-Trac part-time or Sele-Trac full-time all-wheel drive. Both systems are hooked to a full-time limited-slip differential on the rear axle.
Off-road the Cherokee is like an African elephant in mud, and it feels right at home. The two 4x4 setups available are really impressive and thanks to the low-range transmission and the ability to lock front and rear wheels, wheelspin is kept to the minimum.
The Cherokee has a really solid feel no matter the road conditions, and on difficult rocky, sand, mud and gravel stretches it did a superb job. It offers excellent traction and is more than capable to deal with Africa's terrain.
However the ground clearance actually prevents this vehicle of being a truly great 4x4. The Cherokee's ride height was reduced in 2002 and it has not changed on the 2005 model.
The reason why Jeep originally lowered it to improve on-road handling, but of course it has had a negative impact when taking the Jeep off-road.
On a number of occasions during the launch the Cherokee's stomach scraped on the middelmannetjie.
Although both the V6 and 2.8 CRD are willing performers in off-road conditions, I would opt for the diesel. The CRD offers better engine braking for steep descents and has more than enough grunt to make mince meat of uphill gradients.
DaimlerChrysler South Africa will launch the new Cherokee range later this month at the Auto Africa Motor Show with sales starting in December. Jeep also says that the price increase will be "very minor", which is good news.
After experiencing the 2005 Cherokee in Zambia and Botswana I have no doubt that it can face the harshness of Africa.
The Cherokee is selling in a very competitive segment, but it offers a great package and is an excellent all-rounder. It is easy to understand why it is selling like hotcakes - in 2005 guise the Cherokee is also still a trendy and sporty bundu-basher.
What is more, is that the Cherokee is a Jeep and it has all the values that the brand stands for.
Like all the chrome on the Limited model, the Cherokee is a shining star for the company.