21 November 1997

A SPIN ACROSS

GERMANY FOR

BUDGET JEEP

Not so much a road test,

more like quick impressions

as Andrew Pearce racks up

some high-speed European

miles in a diesel Laredo

AND now for something slightly different. Country Car usually uses a 4×4 the way most farmers do – lots of local trips, some off-roading and a bit of motorway travel. This time, though, theres another perspective.

How come? When we needed to get to Germany for this years tractor multitest (results were in FW, Oct 31), Jeep kindly offered a diesel Laredo. Heres how it managed a 1300-mile haul.

The Laredo is a budget version – if anything costing £26,495 qualifies as budget – of the Grand Cherokee Limited, doing without various goodies to save £3500. Mind you, its not stripped completely. ABS brakes, air-conditioning, twin air bags, electric windows and other paupers kit are still there. Motive power is the 2.5 VM turbodiesel used in smaller Cherokees, where 114hp and 205lbf ft torque are enough for some fun. How does it manage in heftier Big Brother?

Moderately. A throttle pedal that needs nailing to the carpet before much happens doesnt help, although once the motor is in its stride theres zip to blend into autobahn traffic and muscle for an all-day 85mph cruise. Theres even a bit in reserve for ducking swarms of hard-charging BMWs and Mercs. Away from autobahns the Jeep gets along, though not so enthusiastically that you can forget the long-throw, sometimes notchy gearshift. It needs a bit more go to be completely convincing.

&#42 Progress is civilised

And it can be noisy. Progress is civilised up to 3000rpm, albeit with some background rattle and various contributions from the gearbox. But beyond that the little VM engine hollers and vibrates. Jeep has geared the outfit high enough for quiet cruising so theres no problem at that end; just be prepared for an installation thats not over-refined. And when youre eating distance, expect 24mpg and bless a tank that lets you cover useful legs between fills.

Driver comfort is vital on long-distance runs. Although short on airflow, the Jeeps ventilation system is OK and its standard air-con effective. The seats are huggingly soft but have no height adjustment, so the vertically challenged have to sit on a cushion. This brings up the whole business of 4×4 seating position; part of the reason for owning one is to be able to peer over hedges, spot trouble well up the road or place the car precisely off road. But the Jeep – no matter that its almost as big as an old Range Rover – sits its occupants barely higher than an estate car.

&#42 Importance of detailing

Detailing is important when youre in a car for hours. Take cruise control; done properly, its a real load-lightener. Jeeps version is spot-on, with all controls built into the steering wheel for no-mistakes use.

Not so good are the minor switches which, although grouped according to function, mix shapes and operation in a way that can confuse at night. The rear fog lamp needs a dashboard tell-tale, too.

And a major pain is the key fob-triggered locking system, which, in the name of security, too often puts the driver through a button-stabbing, clutch-pushing rigmarole before the rear doors unlock or the motor starts.

Space also matters. Four sit comfortably, five is a squash, and rear sitters can feel confined by the Laredos smallish window area. Load room is good with the split-fold back seat(s) flat but is otherwise eaten up by the presence of the spare wheel.

Oddment stowage takes on a new importance – somewhere to stuff dead tissues, hold the passport, dump half-eaten apples. Here the Laredos big centre box, spring-out door pockets, dashboard shelf and centre console all come to the rescue.

&#42 Agitated on tracks

Ride is very easy on motorways, supple on normal roads and only sometimes agitated on tracks. The steering is slow but generally sure, with good lock and a tendency to wander only in crosswinds. Brakes – ABS and all – are terrific.

All-wheel drive is brought in simply and on the move by a lever whose offset position, like the handbrakes, is a hangover from the Jeeps LHD beginnings. We towed a 2t camera platform over cultivated ground with no worries, noting only that low range could be a bit lower.

So whats the lasting impression? The diesel Laredo is never less than competent. Quiet once cruising speed is reached and always comfortable, it swallows distance well. But it wont make your little heart go pit-a-pat.

Left: Offset handbrake and 4wd lever are a legacy of Jeeps LHD origin.

Above: Dark dash is livened up by wood cappings. Switches are grouped by function; single column stalk carries logical self-contained wiper control.

Right: VM engine is subdued at low speeds, gets rowdy if revved. 114hp and 205lbf ft are not quite enough for the big-bodied Laredo.