Land Rover Defender vs Jeep Cherokee part 2
In February of this year, I argued that the Jeep Cherokee was a better vehicle than the Land Rover Defender. Since then it was bugging me that I had only experienced rather than owned a Defender. For the sake of comparison, I didn’t think it was fair that I hadn’t spent enough time with a Defender to make the comparison. So I bought one, specifically a 1994 Hi-Capacity 110 with the bulletproof 300TDI engine. As such, I wanted to return to this topic to re-evaluate the comparison between these two work trucks.
Interestingly, both are 2.5-litre turbo units with the Cherokee edging the power battle with 5hp extra and the same torque. Both use a 5 speed manual with the Cherokee having optional 4 wheel drive and the Defenders being permanent. Both feel like 20+ year old work vehicles and that’s fantastic. There are no surprises in either vehicle and after the noisy startup, they get going straight away.
The Defender you’re looking at is a 1994 model with all the usual weak points replaced and restored. New chassis, Bulkhead, suspension with the whole underside sealed and solid. With the risk of rust eliminated it felt like the best candidate for experiencing a Defender. Other than a few tasteful modifications the running gear is unchanged from what left the factory. The truck was originally owned by a gamekeeper in exmore and used for lamping and other rural tasks. After its new owner rebuilt it to turn into a camper he decided the 110 was too small for what he needed. Now it’s here it looks set to return to work on a farm moving, feed, seed and apples when they’re ready.
First impressions of the Defender
The 110 is huge from all angles, the seating position, the wheelbase. Everything about it is purely functional missing many of the mod cons you’ve experienced in a vehicle built this side of the millennium. The startup is a noisy and shakey affair but happens with great aplomb and doesn’t feel laboured in any way. The lack of refinement is amusing but expected from a pickup of this vintage. Compared to the Cherokee the difference is night and day. While the Cherokee is quieter, less shaky and packing a lot of modern features; The Defender feels tougher. The trade off seems to be that this toughness comes at the cost of comfort but guarantees reliability.
Personally, Both of these cars have iconic styling that in both cases have aged quite well. Both reminiscent of your childhood attempts at drawing a car. Neither are intimidating but both look big and purposeful. The Cherokee and Defender both have long running model lines with military roots. Admittedly the Jeep likely has stronger appeal across the pond but due to their rarity are great to see on British roads. The Defender on the other hand has come in many guises. They’ve been used across all national services and loved equally by rural communities and the Royal Family alike. I think the two are equally as appealing but the Defender is certainly iconic in a British context. The aftermarket supply for both cars is incredibly large so there’s no need to stick with the standard looks. Bull bars, roof racks and big wheel options are plentiful so take your pick.
This is where the largest disparity between the two models lies. The Cherokee had a leather interior, great speakers and other mod cons that make the day to day driving experience incredibly comfortable. The Defender on the other hand is noisy, the gear changes are like a workout and there’s no mistaking whether you get in gear or not. The road presence is slightly different. The Cherokee is shorter than it looks and will happily nip in and out of tight streets without much hassle whereas the Defender likes its space. My first drive in both cars was from the seller to home, both trips over 200 miles of motorway driving. The Cherokee was by far the more comfortable motorway cruiser, both faster and more importantly, quieter!
Taking the Defender Off Road
Once you leave the tarmac the Defender all starts to make sense, the permanent four wheel drive makes the transition seamless and when you’re in the rough stuff it gets about its business without issue. The Cherokee was good but the center of gravity felt pretty high, this wasn’t particularly comforting when crossing angled slopes. The argument about Coil vs Leaf springs can rumble on forever but in this instance, the Defender feels more planted. The big difference here is the Differential locker. The Defender has one and the Cherokee doesn’t. For off roading die hards this is likely a deal breaker. While one can be added this is definitely something you’ll need when the going gets really tough.
The pickup setup is incredibly practical for moving things around as long as these things aren’t people. Three seats in the front are great for short trips but not for anything much further than 30 minutes. The Cherokee on the other hand could happily sit 5 people for long periods of time while retaining a pretty big boot. Being square the boot was perfect for stacking luggage or supplies also, it was lockable should you be parking in public. Security is a big concern with Defenders and you should look at additional security for anything you look to keep in the load bed. However, the sky’s the limit for capacity which is great for moving a lot of things at once. The wide loading port is wide enough to load pallets straight from a forklift which is surprisingly helpful.
Day to day driving
I owned the Cherokee for over 2 years and it was my only car, in that time I never felt like the car was too big or too small but perfect for when I needed to go off the beaten track. The Defender I’ve had for a brief amount of time but I can already tell that it’s not the car I’d want to drive every day. The features that make it a fantastic utility tool also make it a clunky daily driver. Driving the Cherokee each day is significantly more pleasant than driving the Defender. The utilitarian features of the Defender make it great for working but clunky for everyday use. On a day to day basis it’s unlikely that you will need all this practicality.
Defender and Cherokee Head to Head
Having owned both there are plenty of pros and cons to both. It’s difficult to say which ones best without knowing what the purpose of either one is. The great thing about the Defender is that it’s adaptable to whatever circumstance you have. Tipper beds, Pickup, Station wagons they’re all available depending on what you’re looking for. You can even take all the cab panels off and fold the windshield flat for the ultimate convertible. The modular nature of a Defender gives owners huge scope to modify the car to your dream spec. While this is possible in the Cherokee you don’t have the ability to make it a pickup. Jeep has a separate designation for their pickups of this era called the Comanche.
Leaf springs vs Coils are something that I mentioned earlier. The Leaf spring is considered the best for heavy loads and towing but loses out in comfort on the road. This system is incredibly durable and new sets are cheap to replace. Lift kits are as simple as larger support blocks which all around can be had for around 80£. This adds a 3″ lift and means you can retain your original leaf springs. To do the same lift with Coil springs you’ll need at least 500£ and the sky’s the limit for high-end suspension setups. Leaf springs are simple and won’t wear out in the same way coils do but you do lose out on road driving comfort to some degree.
The sheer lack of electronics in the Defender makes it the perfect work truck. The engine is completely mechanical so you won’t be left stranded by a broken sensor. As long as regular maintenance is undertaken then there seems to be little to go wrong. The electronics in the Cherokee are rather basic but thankfully each electric system has its own fuse. While this requires two fuse boards, tracking electrical issues is really easy to do. The Cherokee is far more refined while the Defender is more rugged. They share many qualities and get to the same point in very different ways.
It’s difficult to conclude on which is best as both start with great off road performance but get about it in different ways. We are really looking at one of the first SUV’s compared to a firmly utilitarian 4×4 platform. One caters to someone looking to do a bit of everything, the other one is meant for rugged, hard work. The Cherokee has all the features you want but misses some of the ones you may need. Conversely, the Defender misses some of the features you want but has all the ones you will need.
If you truly need a Defender we think it will qualify its self as its competition offer too little ruggedness and versatility. Features like the Dif locker are essentials for off-road enthusiasts so finding them as standard in the Defender is great. The sacrifices made in terms of comfort and features are made up by its rugged go-anywhere nature. However, don’t expect to get to those places at any great speed.
If someone were to ask me which one to buy I’d struggle to recommend one convincingly. If the choice was going to be your only vehicle I’d recommend the Cherokee, if this was one of a fleet then I’d suggest the Defender. I think driving the Defender every day would become tiring quite quickly. However, if it’s there as an option it’s a great vehicle to jump into when something needs doing.