Motoring: Jeep Grand Cherokee ready for the rough – but don’t go bush
JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE LIMITED CRD
What exactly is it? After less than three years, a significant upgrade of the Grand Cherokee. Styling, powertrains and equipment levels have been improved. Our Limited test vehicle is now $6000 less expensive than before.
Powertrain: 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 producing 184kW/570Nm. Eight-speed automatic, full-time four-wheel drive. Combined fuel consumption 7.5 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 8.2 seconds.
Anything interesting in the equipment list? The Limited offers a number of standard features over the entry-level Laredo: leather upholstery, heated steering wheel and rear seats, front and rear parking radar (camera only on Laredo) and premium audio system.
Base price: $85,990
Off-road driving? Not really for me, thanks very much.
I understand that many people are passionate about off-roading and that it requires both expertise and experience. Personally, I’ve never really seen the point of bashing through the bush in a two-tonne vehicle. I would rather walk or mountain bike it.
Not really liking off-roading means I don’t really know much about it. But, in my line of work, I often do it anyway on product launches; fortunately, always with expert assistance. I’ve had some amazing experiences, usually at less than 10km/h, and I have come away with deep admiration for what proper off-road vehicles can do. While not really enjoying myself.
What I mean to say is that I really like driving the Jeep Grand Cherokee, even though I would probably never consider taking one into the rough – unless somebody tells me to and somebody else is there telling me exactly what to do. I did on Jeep’s launch for the facelifted model in Australia recently but I’ve since spent a week in one back at home and I never once considered getting it dirty.
This potentially makes me the worst kind of urbanite, lumbering around in a massive four-wheel drive with no intention of turning away from the tarmac. So be it. Thing is, I wouldn’t like the Grand Cherokee half as much if it wasn’t engineered for such off-road extremes. That’s a big part of the credibility and appeal of the thing.
It’s part of the feel-good factor. When cars become purely functional consumer durables, purchased solely for the task they will be required to perform – like a fridge or bed – that will be a sad day.
Jeep is refreshingly honest about the amount of off-roading its new-car customers do: it admits only 10% actually delve deeply into the rough stuff. That’s about the same percentage as that other famous off-road brand, Land Rover. Neither maker sees any reason to stop making wagons that can climb mountains. It’s what makes them special.
The good news for me and the 90% of buyers who don’t take their Grand Cherokees off-road is that Jeep has extended the luxury, comfort and convenience of the latest model. The current Grand was really the first Jeep to move beyond plastics US-style and into the realm of international competitiveness in terms of build quality and interior fit/finish – at the insistence of Fiat, which took control of Chrysler in 2009. Yes, yes, I know: pot, this is kettle … you’re black. But the end product was excellent.
The Grand’s mid-life update brings styling updates and powertrain upgrades but the most obvious change is even higher quality cabin materials and high-technology human-machine interface systems. Jeep has not lost its penchant for awkward names but the so-called UConnect multimedia touch-screen is superb.
The UConnect screen is now 8.4 inches in size, highly responsive and gorgeous to look at. It’s also highly intuitive, with several different routes provided to each function. Hit the phone button for example and, if there isn’t one connected, it will ask you whether you want to pair your mobile and then walk you through it. On the same screen you can do everything from operating the satellite navigation to adjusting the heated seats and steering wheel. If you need to read the instruction manual even once, I would be very surprised.
The Grand Cherokee also now has a virtual dashboard: there are a few physical dials but their function varies depending on which graphics you choose to fit around them. The high-res display looks like the real thing but via a simple menu on the steering wheel you can access up to 100 different layouts and personalise the placement of specific information. The concept of a virtual dashboard is not unique to Jeep, of course. But I’ve never seen a display with quite the same quality and level of personalisation. It’s a remarkable executive toy.
Our Grand Cherokee test vehicle was a Limited with the 3.0-litre turbo diesel (CRD) engine. Limited is not quite the top specification – that’s the Overland, which has a more off-road-biased four-wheel drive system, air suspension and even more luxury equipment. But Limited is the one unless you’re planning to be chassis-deep in mud, and the CRD engine is the one unless you have a deep aversion to diesel, with an ideal blend of pulling power and economy.
The revised CRD has 20% more torque than the previous version, produced 30% lower in the rev range. But the other big change that transforms the Grand’s driveability is the addition of an eight-speed automatic transmission. Eight ratios brings it into line with premium product from Europe and provides smooth progress with sportier performance when you want it. Well actually, you have to ask for it: the Grand defaults into an Eco mode every time you start up, so you have to click out of that setting for the full performance package.
Now, it is true that the Grand Cherokee does not have the hard-edged handling of similar-size crossover vehicles. There has to be some opportunity cost in that ultimate off-road ability: there is a buffer between driver action and vehicle reaction in the Grand, in both steering and chassis behaviour. It feels a little softer and less certain, as if you have asked the question and the car needs to think about it for a moment before answering.
It you want the ultimate in SUV sportiness you might have to shop elsewhere. But I think a softer chassis suits the character of the Grand Cherokee. There is never any question of performance or on-road traction: the CRD engine is incredibly muscular and the Quadra-Trac II (those awkward names again) four-wheel drive system puts the power exactly where it’s needed in tight corners.
I really like Rolex watches and I have no intention of going diving any time soon. I’m quite keen on Adizero F50 shoes but running does not suit my knees. I’d love a Porsche 911 GT3 but I know I’m embarrassingly average at driving around racetracks. There is genuine pleasure in owning something that you know has been engineered by people who care, to do a very particular task to the highest standards – whether you choose to use it or not. The Grand Cherokee is one of those things.
A contradiction or a really sensible choice?
Another good reason to love Jeep’s off-road models is that its crossovers are not very appealing. Back in 2006, it controversially launched a brace of wagons that were aimed more at on-road than off-road use: Patriot and Compass.
Both were and are underwhelming, not least because they date back to the period when Jeep’s parent company was DaimlerChrysler, which in turn had a platform-sharing alliance with Mitsubishi. Under the skin, the Patriot and Compass are closely related to the humble Mitsubishi Lancer – right down to their continuously variable transmissions.
Patriot and Compass are both in a rather different price bracket from the likes of the Grand Cherokee, of course. They need to be. Styling and refinement have both been improved under Fiat but neither are vehicles for those passionate about the brand.
Of more interest conceptually and quality-wise is the Laredo 4x2 variant introduced as part of the new Grand Cherokee range. Jeep has always offered a 4x2 version of the Grand in America, but it’s a first for New Zealand. It’s available only with the 3.6-litre V6 Pentastar petrol engine and has the same