Why I bought: a Jeep Grand Cherokee as a family tourer
What do you do when a Jeep Cherokee isn’t enough car for the job? You look at everything else and buy another Jeep!
US OFFROAD PEOPLE are pretty logical when it comes to vehicle buying decisions, and we all tend to start off with a..
My family had just entered into the world of Camper Trailers, upgrading our camping setup to an Outback Campers Sturt offroad camper. Though only a tonne GTM, it was enough to prove the final straw with my previous vehicle, a 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk.
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I should note that the Cherokee is rated to 2,200 kg so it was more than capable of pulling the camper forwards with ease. However what it could not do was offer a decent range while doing so, with some reports from the States indicating a possible range of as little as 120 – 160kms per tank while towing in offroad conditions. My driveway is also somewhat of a minor Matterhorn, and the Cherokee’s inability to back the camper up the drive was a significant issue.
I sat down and did some thinking about what I was looking for in a new vehicle, and it turned out that I was on a quest for a silver bullet / panacea of a vehicle that needed to meet all of the following:
- Tow vehicle for an offroad camper, decent towing, decent range while doing so.
- Offroad capable for handling difficult to very difficult tracks, but infrequently.
- Reasonable support for aftermarket touring / offroad gear (snorkel, underbody protection, touring accessories).
- Comfortable (even luxurious) onroad tour vehicle, comfortable for traveling a family of 4 long distances with safety and ease.
- Versatile to handle differing conditions – i.e. able to travel a few thousand kilometres of bitumen up to the Flinders Ranges, then be capable of doing 4WD touring through the National Park without needing to be re-kitted out for the purpose.
- Reliable, trustworthy, and confidence inspiring.
- A practical daily driver; not so large that it is hard to find a park at the supermarket, or hard to get into and out of without banging doors, yet large enough to carry gear for a family of 4 with boot space / roof storage, for overland trips without the trailer.
- It had to be something I would happily leave at the train station carpark.
Having sold a motorbike and worked out the trade in value of the Cherokee, I arrived at a budget of around $45,000 – $47,500 including aftermarket setup, which gave me a purchasing power of $37.5K – $40K drive away. I decided that rather than new, secondhand (with good service history) was going to get me much more of what I wanted in that budget.
At first, the brief of finding a 4WD tow vehicle, used, with a budget of $40,000 is a pretty overwhelming prospect, as the list of vehicles that don’t make it onto that list is very small! I started the journey with a definite leaning towards Japanese engineering, having had a couple of experiences with my Jeep Cherokee in Victoria’s High Country that left me looking admiringly at the Prado parked next door. This was somewhat relieved by said Prado losing its alternator on the last day of the trip! It was time to identify some criteria to whittle down the list.
- Turbo Diesel, 3-tonne capacity when vehicle is fully loaded (my camper is only 1 tonne but my parents have a full offroad caravan and I wanted to be able to pull their caravan out if we ever got rained in somewhere, as I run more aggressive tyres than they do).
- 300-400km+ range while towing in medium-heavy offroad conditions.
- Medium sized vehicle. LC200 was too big, ditto Nissan Patrol Y62 or GU.
- Internal storage needed to be more than the Cherokee, but didn’t have to be cavernous, as camper trailer or roof pod was available to carry some of the load.
- 5 seats required, 7 optional.
- Strong preference for AWD on hard surfaces. We’d previously spun a RWD Sorrento on a fuel/oil spill on a freeway onramp. This was back in the days before ESC but old superstitions die hard. Also I prefer understeer to oversteer with the kids in the back.
- Either factory LSD / locking differential, or support for aftermarket diff locks.
- Some sort of electronic downhill control.
I started with a very strong interest in dual cab utes as the utility of the, umm, ute greatly appealed. However they soon dropped off the list because it needed:
- Sealed rear area (in terms of dust and moisture).
- Uncompromised departure angle.
- Easy day-to-day utility (ie. where to put the shopping, how to cart around fragile / valuable items like musical instruments, photography gear etc.)
Accessory / fit-out support
Needed to have available:
- Body protection (underbody, sliders).
- Support for drawers (although the exact storage system is under consideration).
- Availability of all-terrain tyres to suit.
- Storage for full-sized spare.
- Tie down points for securing load.
- Cargo barrier for wagons.
- Front and rear recovery points.
- Lightweight kit-out options (mindful of GVM & the weight of bullbars and the like).
- Reasonable clearance / support for modest lift – not aiming for an all-conquering weapon but able to get me to 90% of the Victorian High Country without damaging itself.
- Leather seats (easy-wipe).
- Dual zone aircon.
- Nice to have – heated seats.
- Bluetooth audio (I’m an avid audiobook listener, especially commuting / on long trips).
- Back seat power choices (keep 2 iPads charging).
- Good steering wheel controls.
- Good onroad ride quality, comfortable for long distances and around town.
Reliability / Safety
- Well built, good reputation for reliability.
- Good availability of parts.
- Access to knowledgeable people.
- Good service history.
- 2012 onwards, 200,000kms maximum (arbitrary, but aiming for recent safety gear, not too much wear and tear).
- Minor preference for a stock vehicle.
Making a Short List
A few vehicles quickly fell off the list after reviewing the brief above. The larger Land Cruisers / Patrols felt too large, as did the likes of the Ranger / Everest, which also couldn’t hit the comfort point within budget.
I started with a huge swing towards the Triton / Pajero Sport, but each dropped off the list with a little digging, despite how impressed I am with their AWD system. The Triton has a long overhang out the back, and though it is very competitively priced that advantage starts to diminish once one factors in a canopy, the lift it would require for adequate clearance, and so on. Both the Triton and the Pajero Sport automatics share a weird mass balancer on the drive train that nagged at me, and the onroad quality of both vehicles was closer to adequate rather than refined. The Pajero Sport groups on Facebook were also very helpful and informative, with the big lists of mods that people were undertaking to get their vehicles where they wanted them to be, particularly the suspension upgrades and airbag additions people were going for to set them up for towing. In the end, there wasn’t going to be enough budget left to complete the build to the standard I wanted, so they were excluded.
Eventually the short list came down to three vehicles that seemed to offer the balance of what I was looking for:
- Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, 150 series (GLX), circa 200,000kms
- Mitsubishi Pajero NW (Exceed trim), circa 50,000 – 100,000 kms
- Jeep Grand Cherokee WK2 (Overland trim), circa 90,000 – 120,000kms
Intellectually, the Prado was in front from the start. Toyota’s reputation for build quality, reliability, unbreakability and longevity was instantly appealing. The Prado has a strong following and there is a lot of information available online about kitting them out, and the range of accessories is fairly comprehensive.
The Pajero was a strong contender on paper, offering a great value proposition next to the Toyota dollar for dollar. Mitsubishi’s Super-Select is very impressive, and I’ve always had a soft-spot for the underdog, which the Pajero felt like on this list.
I was a bit surprised to find the Grand Cherokee on my shortlist given a couple of the issues I had with the Cherokee, yet I felt the Jeep had earned its place on merit. My local Jeep Dealer looked after me incredibly well while sorting out any work on the Cherokee, and the model I was looking at was the top selling 4WD wagon among the towing community in the model years I was looking at (2012-2014), offering an overland and touring package that is very impressive, lined up against both the Pajero and the Prado.
The head having had its way so far through this process, began to make way for the heart to have its say. The Prado, such a strong candidate on paper, began to lose some of its appeal. While 200,000kms is nothing for a modern diesel engine, but is still a lot of wear and tear on components that all need to be replaced over time, and represented about 10 years’ of normal use for my family, twice that of an in-budget Jeep and almost four times that of a Pajero. The Prado also didn’t stack up in terms of interior comfort for the price, with both the Pajero and Grand Cherokee offering little luxuries like leather seats that are important to me both for daily use and for cleaning up after a muddy trip (or a back seat disaster with meals on the go).
The Jeep has one trick up its sleeve that neither the GLX Prado or Exceed Pajero could match – Quadra-Lift Air Suspension. The Overland can run around town at a regular clearance height, and even drop itself down a centimetre when cruising the freeway for improved aerodynamics and fuel economy, while also offering an extra 2.6 inches of clearance at the push of a button when in offroad modes, giving it a total ground clearance of 10.7 inches (267mm) for clearing obstacles. Suspension travel is limited when set at its highest setting, offroad 2, and so offroad 1 which is 32mm taller than standard height would be the normal choice for offroad use.
Already well integrated into the Jeep fraternity in Melbourne, I found information on the Grand Cherokee easy to access, and hints, advice and previous experience on setting one up for my Jekyll-and-Hyde daily-driver-come-offroad-adventurer was plentiful. The Overland comes with an electronic limited slip diff in the rear, which while being self-activating (as opposed to the electronic diff lock in the Cherokee I was used to) has an awesome reputation among those owners who have taken it out onto the tracks for allowing a driver to overcome an obstacle at a slow and measured pace, rather than relying on momentum which is frequently the technique de jour of the lower trimmed Grand Cherokee models. And though it’s nowhere near as well supported for accessories as the ubiquitous Jeep Wrangler, the Grand Cherokee has a solid range of accessories available for the dirt-bound adventurer, from snorkels to bash plates, bullbars to hidden winch mounts, rock sliders and roof-rack systems.
The more I looked into it, the more the Grand Cherokee stood out as being capable of being both the civilised, comfortable day-to-day family runabout, and a capable, self-recoverable offroad tow vehicle to take us into – and back out of – those camping destinations on our family’s todo list, such as the Victorian High Country, the Flinders Ranges, and the outback tracks around Oodnadatta and Coober Pedy.
When I came across an 8-speed Grand Cherokee at the right price with a fully stamped service history, the decision was made. I still have some hesitations around the reliability and longevity of the Jeep compared to the Japanese alternatives, but I have the contacts and community around me to work through any issues that will come up. And I’m thoroughly enjoying the process of setting up the Jeep to straddle the brief of being both daily driver and stealth offroad adventurer. The maiden voyage offroad is being planned, and the first trip as a tow vehicle – taking the camper up to the Grampians for the Queen’s Birthday Weekend – proved an effortless and comfortable drive with a fuel consumption of 12 litres per hundred kilometres which I was extremely happy with. There will be much more to tell after her maiden voyage offroad, but I’m greatly looking forward to the adventure.
Vehicle as purchased:
- 2013 (MY14) Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
- 116,000 kms
- Factory Tow Pack
- Uneek 4×4 hidden winch mount & pre-runner
- Uneek 4×4 underbody protective plates
- Uneek 4×4 upper brush bar
- Uneek 4×4 rock sliders
- Mopar underbody protective plates
- Warn Tabor 10K winch with synthetic rope
- Murchison snorkel
- Changed 20” rims for Jeep Grand Cherokee 18” Laredo rims (17s don’t fit without spacers, and secondhand 18s are $200-$400 a set)
- BF Goodrich KO2 All Terrain tyres (265/65R18, 1” greater diameter than stock)
- Stedi ST3300 24” light bar
- GME TX3540 80 channel UHF Radio (mounted behind console passenger side)
- Redarc Tow Pro electric brake controller
- Anderson plug to rear tow point & in boot for charging additional batteries, voltage sensitive relay
PM 4X4 Comment
This is exactly the thought process that many owners go through, all logically laid out. It’s important to remember to budget for accessories, and it’s also interesting to see that good dealer support played a decision in the vehicle purchase.
Ross is not the only owner to be concerned about 2WD offroaders onroad vs all-wheel-drives. We will cover the pros and cons of this decision shortly.
Ross is also quite right to highlight the shortcomings of the ute/canopy setup. However, we have solved them as you can read about here in our Ute/Canopy/Service Body story.
Any auto electrician can add extra 12vs, and often with heavier-duty wiring, and connected to the second battery.
Bluetooth is now standard on I think every car in 2017, but wasn’t back in 2013. There are a range of aftermarket options though, but none are as good as the built-in systems.
There are common, off-the-shelf drawer systems for the major touring vehicles, but most of the manufacturers will custom build, as will your local carpenter. It will just cost a little more.