Jeep Grand Cherokee First Drive
Forty per cent of Jeep sales in Australia are Grand Cherokees, so the introduction of a two-wheel drive version for $45,000 drive away should win over even more shoppers, says Paul Murrell.
I remember a mate who owned a Jeep Cherokee some years back. It had less styling appeal than a 10-year-old’s school project and even in black with peeling gold pin striping, it failed to convey any hint of desirability. This was compounded by the crazed purple window tinting, cracked and splitting leather and dusty tan dashboard.
Jeep buyers were a hardy lot, and most of them wouldn’t have it any other way: a Jeep was meant to be basic, rugged and uncompromising. It was a badge they wore with pride. Fortunately, most real Jeep tragics are probably lost somewhere back of Bourke, surviving Bear Grylles-style on raw meat and small marsupials they trapped themselves. Or more likely, Macca’s takeaway.
The new Jeep Grand Cherokee will suit them about as well as an Armani suit and Italian loafers. For the rest of us, however, the fresher interior, top-class entertainment system, high quality fabrics and materials (including woodgrain on some models) and discreet use of chrome highlights will come as a welcome improvement on what was already a class act.
Jeeps have a corporate look that cannot be fiddled with. The seven-slot grille and squared-off wheel arches are Jeep trademarks, and the new Grand Cherokee incorporates them into the refreshed design. The grille is shallower, headlights are slimmer, fog lights more pronounced and the lower front fascia has been slightly raised. All models in the range get high-intensity discharge bi-xenon headlamps (adaptive on the SRT) with daytime running lamps.
While the front of the new Grand Cherokee is unmistakably a Jeep, the same can’t be said for the rear, which has lost its useful separate rear glass and tailgate feature; now you’ll have to remember not to back up close to walls if you want to access the rear luggage compartment. The tail lamps are larger and use LED lighting, there’s a larger and more aerodynamic spoiler, new bumpers and a resculpted tailgate. The Jeep badge on the tailgate is larger, which is just as well because it’s about the only uniquely Jeep feature about the rear end.
There are four models in the new range: Laredo, Limited, Overland and SRT. The Laredo makes do with body-colour side mirrors and door handles, chrome headlight treatment and twin-spoke 18-inch satin chrome alloy wheels. The Limited model gets a chrome-trimmed exhaust outlet and bright door handles. The logic of car companies exceeds all understanding: some companies tout body-coloured door handles and mirrors as a premium fitting, others say the same thing about bright fittings – go figure! The Limited and Overland models also get polished 20-inch five-spoke alloys, probably not ideal for serious off-roading. The Overland features body-colour design cues around the lower fascia trim, lower rocker panels, wheel arches and wheel surrounds.
Hero model in the range is the stonking SRT with its aggressive black front grille and surround, echoed at the rear with black surrounds to the rear LED tail lights. The SRT also gets different 20-inch alloy wheels with 20-inch split five-spoke Spider Monkey alloys as an option. There’s no way you (or anyone else) will mistake the SRT for its lesser siblings.
There’s a new sense of quality inside as well. All models get paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, plus wheel-mounted controls for radio, cruise control, telephone and voice control. The centre stack is neater and contains a new Uconnect 5.0-inch touchscreen in the Laredo, 8.4-inch in the other models. The controls below will take a few weeks to become second nature. Well worthwhile is the TFT (thin film transistor) instrument cluster that you can set to suit your preferences from large digital speed readout, traditional speedo or to deliver useful information.
The changeover from left- to right-hand drive has been well managed and the only two things that really annoy are the foot-operated parking brake and lack of a footrest for the left foot. The bargain-basement Laredo gets a fairly unpleasant grey fabric for the seats, utilitarian rather than luxurious. Moving to the Limited and above, leather trim becomes standard (with contrast stitching on the Overland), with perforated black Nappa leather as an option. As befits the sports model, the SRT gets carbon fibre trim on instrument panel and doors plus a classy black Nappa leather interior with perforated suede and light slate grey stitching optional.
There’s a wealth of engine choices: 3.6-litre Pentastar V6, 3.0-litre direct-injection common rail diesel, 5.7-litre V8 and in the SRT, the 6.4-litre V8. Complementing these engines is a new eight-speed auto – Indiana-built for the V6, German-built for the others.
Just for fun, we blasted the SRT down a drag strip using the launch control function. Without launch control, we managed a 13.682 elapsed time – pretty impressive for almost 2.3 tonnes of SUV – and a terminal speed of 160.1km/h. Engaging launch control for our second run holds engine revs at 2000rpm for up to five seconds and on our second run, the quarter fell to 13.624 seconds, terminal speed 161.2km/h. Zero to 100km/h comes up in a claimed 4.8 seconds, 0.1 faster than the previous SRT.
For contrast, we then went bush in a 4X4 diesel and it was as impressive as you’d expect a Jeep to be. There’s all sorts of electronic trickery and the Quadra-Trac II system permits the driver to key in the conditions and let the electronics work out the details. Air suspension is standard on Overland, optional on the Laredo and Limited – it raises the suspension for the tricky off-road stuff, and drops it for the even trickier low-roofed carparks. The Jeep feels like it could go just about anywhere, although the road tyres will be the limiting factor.
If fuel consumption is high on your list, you’ll be looking elsewhere, despite useful improvements in fuel economy. The base model V6 promises 10.1 l/100km (combined) but even driving frugally will see figures higher than that. The V8s, as you’d expect, are even thirstier and the SRT, driven enthusiastically, will make happy chappies of the Arab oil cartel.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee scores well on safety equipment but misses out on the coveted fifth ANCAP star. It gets electronic stability control with rollover mitigation, ABS with off-road calibration, brake traction control system, forward collision warning with crash mitigation, adaptive cruise control, reversing camera, park assist and a clever hill ascent and descent control that modulates speed using the paddle shifts.
PRACTICAL MOTORING SAYS
All in all, the new Jeep Grand Cherokee is an impressive package and the inclusion of a 4×2 version will make it even more appealing to a wider audience. But if your heart is set on a Range Rover, you probably won’t be swayed. On the other hand, if your budget is not bottomless, there will be a Grand Cherokee that suits. And there isn’t a Range Rover in the world that makes a noise like the SRT, goes like an SRT or delivers SRT performance at any price, let alone $77,000.