Bob Cooke – contributor
The Cherokee launched over the crest so quickly and came down with such a thump that I banged my head on the roof – I didn’t think the seatbelt would stretch that much.
I blame the Trailmaster suspension – it’s given the Cherokee an extra two inches of ride height and is hard enough to absorb the worst of shocks from ruts and ridges taken a little too quickly. The result is that I find myself tempted to tackle increasingly difficult obstacles, safe in the knowledge that the lifted Cherokee has the clearance and beefed-up suspension to make it all seem easy.
I am actually a firm believer in the ‘tread softly’ approach, and I’m usually able to ease the Cherokee over even quite tortuous obstacles simply by getting the approach right so the old truck doesn’t have to lift a wheel, with consequent loss of traction. I can’t really afford that, because although the Cherokee’s Limited specification includes a limited-slip differential, it’s reached an age where there’s more slip than limit so there are times when the only way to clear an axle-crossing section is to floor it.
On awkward climbs there’s another problem in that the Cherokee’s automatic instantly kicks down to first at the slightest hint of pressure on the accelerator. That’s great when competing with a nutter in a GTi away from the traffic lights – the Cherokee’s big straight six still has what it takes in that department – but it’s not so good when I’m trying to keep it from losing traction on a slippery incline. Hence, even when there’s not much axle-twisting involved, there are often times when I need momentum rather than fine off-roading technique to get the Cherokee where I’d like it to be.
One particularly awkward little obstacle at the Boxgrove off-road site called for more than a little of both technique and momentum: Nothing a fully-prepared off-roader with locking diffs couldn’t handle with ease, but the Cherokee is, after all, my daily drive and, apart from the new suspension kit, is in absolutely bog-standard condition.
The obstacle is a narrow gulley; driving down into it you need to turn hard right and then left again to exit through a gap on the other side. The narrowness of the gulley meant we were immediately cross-axled on the way in, so I had to chuck the old truck in with whirling wheels throwing up grit and gravel in an attempt to get some grip through the dodgy LSD, keeping the boot in as I swung it the other way and lurched up the other side with screaming exhaust echoing across the valley.
That’s the moment the truck took off and came down hard enough to bounce me against the roof – rough treatment I’d never have tried on the original suspension, and was certainly only able to manage with the extra clearance and heavy-duty performance of the German-built Trailmaster kit.
Trailmaster does kits for a whole range of other off-roaders, so check it out if you want a tough lift for your off-road toy. ■
Make: Jeep Cherokee
Model: 4.0 Limited
Recent costs: nil
Arrived: October 2008
You can read more about this Jeep in the May 2011 issue of 4×4 Magazine