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Published on Saturday 25 May 2013 10:06
Ten Second Review
It's taken a while, but the Jeep Grand Cherokee finally seems to have found some traction in its market sector. It offers decent space and comfort for five with formidable off-road ability, classy styling and improved quality. All right, you can't expect Audi fit and finish inside, but then you won't be paying Audi prices.
Jeep has been through the wringer. Even its most ardent fans couldn't have expected the sort of rough ride the company has experienced in the last few years. It's almost as if it's been bought and sold more times than Craig Bellamy. Chrysler's infamous 'merger of equals' with Daimler predictably failed in 2007 and the subsequent takeover by Cerberus Capital Management, words that are now omerta within Chrysler, saw the company lurch further into the mire. After filing for bankruptcy in April of 2009, the newly streamlined Chrysler Group entered into a partnership with Fiat and are rolling out new products and bullish market projections.
With that sort of corporate backstory, it's amazing that Jeep have any new models worthy of the name, but the latest Grand Cherokee not only looks distinctly promising, but also seems to have finally eased into a market niche that suits it. As the old proverb goes, smooth seas do not make skilful sailors.
This is more than an updated Cherokee - it actually utilises the platform and up-spec suspension from the new Mercedes M-Class, which means air springs combined with struts at the front and a multi-link axle at the rear. There's a choice of four-wheel drive systems between the simpler Quadra-Trac II featuring a low-range transfer box, or the higher-spec Quadra-Drive II featuring an electronic rear limited-slip diff.
Jeep has even drawn inspiration from Land Rover in the fitment of its Selec-Terrain system, a dial in the centre console where the driver can choose between Rock, Sand/Mud, Snow, Sport and Auto settings and the vehicle then configures its all-wheel drive systems into the optimum configuration for the prevailing conditions.
Those of you seeing a 3.0 CRD badge on the back of the Grand Cherokee will be forgiven for thinking that this is a carry over of the stalwart Mercedes-Benz common rail diesel unit and there will doubtless be many owners who still believe their Jeep is powered by a hunk of Swabian metal under the bonnet. Instead, they'll be propelled by a unit built by Fiat in collaboration with VM Motori which generates a maximum power of 237bhp at 4,000rpm and torque of 550 Nm between 1,800 and 2,800rpm.
But it's all good news for the driving experience, with significant gains in the areas of ride comfort, steering feel and precision and general refinement.
Design and Build
Longer, wider and roomier than its predecessor, the Grand Cherokee uses more contemporary styling to partially de-emphasise its bulk. It's still recognisably a Jeep, though. The trapezoidal wheel arches, the high waist and turret-like glasshouse continue but seem even more accentuated on this generation car. The most noticeable change to the exterior styling is at the front, where the headlamps are now smaller and meaner looking, giving the Jeep a more focused and intense face. The front valance can be easily unbolted if you're planning off-road excursions, but for those who keep their Grand Cherokee on tarmac, it improves the styling of the front end and offers benefits in terms of aerodynamic efficiency. The front and rear overhangs have been shortened, too, giving better approach and departure angles when tackling more extreme off road terrain.
The interior is a big step forward when compared to that of its predecessor, and while there are still some hard plastics evident, the tactility of the switches, the quality of the upholstery and the simple but sensible ergonomics mean that this feels like an impressively considered vehicle. There's plenty of space for five and the rear bench reclines by 18 degrees to improve headroom and comfort. A huge 782 litres of boot space is an 11 per cent improvement over the outgoing model and that's with the spare wheel now being located inside the car rather than beneath it. You'll also find a built-in rechargeable torch and beefier luggage tie-downs.
Market and Model
If you've followed the fate of the Grand Cherokee down the years, you'll have noticed some ups and downs. The car was originally positioned as a rival for the likes of Range Rover and was priced accordingly. When models like the Mercedes M Class and BMW X5 appeared, the SUV sector shot into a different league, and one where Jeep appeared to have been left behind. Hindsight shows that perhaps Jeep was playing a smart card, understanding its core buyers and aware of the limits of its brand equity. With Grand Cherokee prices starting at £36,795 and rising to £43,995, the Jeep flagship finds itself in Land Rover Discovery territory, certainly a position it has no trouble justifying in terms of equipment or general sophistication.
Standard safety features include electronic stability control (ESC), electronic roll mitigation (ERM), anti-lock braking (ABS) with rough-road detection, four-wheel brake traction control system, Keyless Enter-N-Go, remote keyless entry, and both side and full curtain airbags. Jeep also offers an array of options including Uconnect Navigation and Uconnect Phone. A black olive wood trim works better than you might imagine and extends to the instrument panel, the upper door panels, and the leather-trimmed, heated steering wheel.
Cost of Ownership
Don't be too worried by the rather unspectacular residual figures of the old Grand Cherokee. Nobody paid list price for these vehicles and the actual residuals were far better. An aggressive upfront price and the scope for a deal may well continue that theme with the latest model too.
What's not up for negotiation is the fact that emissions have improved considerably, the latest Fiat/VM engine helping to cut CO2 from 270 to a far more acceptable 218g/km. Fuel consumption has been slashed too, with the mediocre 27.7mpg figure of the old car eclipsed by the latest model's 34.2mpg showing on the combined cycle.
Although the latest Grand Cherokee could hardly claim to have been born to stable parentage, it has nevertheless scrubbed up extremely well. It's recognisably a Jeep, but still manages to usher in some new design language. The 3.0-litre engine is massively more efficient than its aging Mercedes predecessor and offers more power. Air suspension has improved the Grand Cherokee's the ability to tackle even more extreme trail ability and the introduction of the Selec-Terrain system means that negotiating off-road hazards has never been simpler. On-road ride and handling have also taken a step in the right direction as a result.
Perhaps more impressive is the fact that in refusing to follow its erstwhile competitors in their dizzying reach upmarket, the Grand Cherokee now asks them some extremely awkward questions that, on a pure value for money basis, many would find impossible to answer convincingly. As unlikely as it might seem, a big American SUV born from the wreckage of the credit crunch may well have found its time.