Five years. That's an eternity in the automotive industry; it's also how long it is since Jeep last introduced a Grand Cherokee to the local market.
GRAND? VERY MUCH SO: Handsome styling. Rubicon trail-rated off-road ability. Vastly improved refinement. Is this a "bargain" Americanised Range Rover of sorts?
3.6 V6, 5.7 V6
210kW @ 6 400-, 257kW @ 5 150rpm
347Nm @ 4 800-, 520Nm @ 4 250rpm
2 201-, 2 364kg
Double-wishbone, coil springs
R531 990 - R637 990
Land Rover Discovery, Toyota Prado, VW Touareg
Since the introduction of Grand Cherokee SRT8 back in June of 2006 fans of the brand (and dealers) have been aching for fresh product from Jeep at the top end of the premium SUV market.
NEW GRAND (AT LAST)
Well, it's 2011, and Jeep is back on the product offensive with its fourth-generation full-size SUV, the Grand Cherokee, that's always been regarded as something of a bargain ‘Americanised’ Range Rover but with powerful, naturally aspirated engines, sophisticated (and proven) off-road capable drivetrains and generous levels of standard equipment.
Jeep is marketing its fourth-generation Grand Cherokee as an unmatched value offering compared to Land Rover’s Discovery 4, Toyota’s Prado and VW’s Touareg. Beyond the corporate sales jargon, this is a rather important new car for Jeep because it now falls under the control of Italian auto giant Fiat. Local dealers and Jeep customers have been waiting nearly five years for new product from the brand; suffice to say, expectations are high.
The Grand Cherokee debuts with three derivatives, entry level being a 3.6-litre V6 in Limited trim, upgrading to Overland specification in either V6 or 5.7 V8 configurations. The equipment differences between the Limited and Overland include a powered tailgate and sunroof on the Overland models; V8s are distinguishable by their dual exhaust.
Chrysler’s promised to introduce a three-litre turbodiesel by the third quarter of 2011, ostensibly with an engine capable of accepting a variety of diesel grades…
Chart the new Grand Cherokee's price positioning on a market segment chart and it does undercut all major rivals. Price entry point is R531 990 for the Limited 3.6 V6, significantly below Discovery 4’s TDV6 S (R623 995), Toyota’s Prado VX V6 (R669 500) and VW’s scantly equipped Touareg V6 (R562 200).
CLEAN, SIMPLE DESIGN
SEEN THAT BEFORE?: Is it just us, or does this look vaguely familiar like Toyota’s Fortuner from the back? The dual exhaust the only exterior differentiator between V6 and V8 Grand Cherokees…
The Grand Cherokee has always been a particularly handsome large SUV, detailing American – instead of European – styling influences and being all the better for it. This time Jeep’s signature seven-slat grille has been retained, with short body overhangs, defined fenders and simple surfacing all adding up to a contemporary interpretation of the quintessentially American SUV identity that is Jeep.
A single point of criticism regarding the new Grand Cherokee’s styling concerns its tailgate design, which looks an awful lot like South Africa’s best-selling SUV, the Fortuner.
All things considered, the design is simple, clean, authentically Jeep and should (much like the second and third generation Grand Cherokees) age well in the market.
INTERIOR DESIGN QUALMS HEEDED
Jeeps products have always featured rather striking exterior styling but the interiors have been, at times, plainly abysmal with poor ergonomics, atrocious packaging and toy-grade plastic. Jeep’s designers have taken these criticisms to heart and a comprehensively revamped cabin comes with the new Grand Cherokee.
The new instrument binnacle has two recessed dials, a neater (simplified) centre console and redesigned steering wheel, featuring three spokes instead of four. Although the redesigned interior is a marked improvement, materials comprising its fascia and centre console are better instead of class leading.
By comparison, the Grand Cherokee has an infinitely better interior design aesthetic than Toyota’s Prado but its stills lags behind the elegantly crafted and impeccably executed European offerings from Land Rover and VW.
Whatever the interior architecture lacks in ultimate design sophistication or tactile quality it compensates for with the sheer weight of its specification.
CABIN DESIGN A HUGE IMPROVEMENT: Wood trim (especially on the steering wheel of the V8) not to all tastes. Foot-operated parking brake deletes horrid girdle-operated item from the centre console…
Every new Grand Cherokees is accessed by keyless entry and, once you are inside, eight-way power-adjustable seats cushion the first-row occupants while dual-zone air-conditioning keeps a passenger complement of five comfortable no matter the ambient air temperature.
An even greater boon for cabin comfort, considering South Africa’s seasonally variable weather conditions, is the presence of ventilated temperature control (heating and cooling) on front and second-row seats.
The rear seats, which Jeep claims offer class-leading legroom courtesy of the new car’s longer wheelbase opening up an additional 102mm of space in the back, can be reclined by 12 degrees, taking the strain of out long journeys for second-row passengers.
As with all other Chrysler products, a range of acoustically outstanding infotainment systems is available. In fact, infotainment capability is one of the very few indicators (one other being a leather-rimmed steering wheel) of the difference between Limited and Overland units.
The "entry-level" Grand Cherokee Limited’s infotainment system is hugely impressive with its full CD/DVD/MP3/WMA convergence, an audio jack, voice command, Bluetooth and enough hard-drive capacity to store nearly 6700 audio tracks and relay them via nine Alpine speakers (supported by 506W amplification). The Overlander derivatives add full satnav.
When you peruse the options list for both Limited and Overlander you’ll find precious few boxes to tick, unlike some of the European rivals.
It is huge capacious, too, swallowing 1090 litres of cargo and featuring practical wet/dry removable storage compartments in the spare-wheel well - which, coincidentally, houses a full-sized wheel and tyre combonation too.
OFF ROAD AIR SUSPENSION
Beyond its neat styling, finessed interior redesign and generous equipment levels the most fundamental engineering change Jeep’s engineers have introduced with the new Grand Cherokee is its suspension configuration.
Following market trends in the large SUV segment, the Grand Cherokee’s chief engineer, Phil Jensen, added an air-suspension system and changed the rear-wheel oscillation control from a solid-axle arrangement to independently suspended multilink.
CROSSING THE RUBICON: It may be independently suspended all-round but this new Grand Cherokee is properly trail-rated …
Hard-core Jeep 4x4 fans may howl in protest but Land Rover’s Discovery and VW’s Touareg are also independently suspended at every corner these days.
The adjustability of air-suspension combined with the benefits of four-wheel independent suspension are undeniable: more polished ride quality and easier packaging, which has allowed Jeep to swell Grand Cherokee’s fuel tank capacity by 15 units to 93 litres.
Although Jeep has been late to market with air suspension, the reason given was a desire from the engineering team to develop something commensurate with hard-core off-roading. To this end the Grand Cherokee’s air-suspension system is a closed-circuit set-up, drawing air from an on-board reservoir rather than outside.
Having an on-board reservoir has distinct advantages: quicker raising and lowering of the vehicle’s body and negligible risk of sucking contaminants into the system – especially when using it (as intended) in severe off-road situations.
At full puff the Grand Cherokee’s air-suspension is good for maximum ground clearance of 270mm (highway cruising clearance is 190mm), with incremental increases of 33- and 66mm selectable for off-road use.
NO TURBO NECESSARY
Jeep resisted both the downsizing trend and the quest for turbocharged efficiency for the Grand Cherokee. The company’s oversquare Pentastar 3.6-litre V6 has been significantly re-engineered and the result is an impressive 38% increase in power and 11% in torque over the old V6, with the new engine registering peak outputs of 210kW/347Nm. Despite this new Pentastar engine’s greater performance potential, Jeep says it has managed to trim average fuel consumption by 8% to 11.4 litres/100km.
Headlining the range (for now... rumours of a new SR8 smoulder), is Jeep’s seminal HEMI-branded 5.7-litre V8 that's capable of 259kW/520Nm. It can tow 3.5 tons so is sure to appeal to those who require secure traction when slipway-bound with a sizeable watercraft yet don't want to be late at their favourite watersport venue.
Jeep allowed us to sample the new Grand Cherokee on a circular route from Pretoria to the Waterberg and back, taking in an off-road trail along the way. The most favourable first impression concerned its improved interior, especially the seats – which are hugely comfortable, especially in second-row accomomdation. With eight-way power adjustment, drivers of all sizes will find a perfect posture behind the wheel.
Acoustically dampened heat shields, comprehensive engine noise insulation and a range of other noise suppression technologies are employed to ensure the Grand Cherokee is impressively subdued in operation, both in terms of road and drive train noise.
I sampled the V6 first and as nice as the promise of an additional 58kW sounds, the lack of forced induction does mean you lose quite a bit of the pledged power at altitude. The five-speed transmission is never quite ready to downshift with the required urgency when you’d like it to, either. Even attempting to manually override it with the side-to-side tipshift function had little effect in terms of coaxing the Grand Cherokee V6 into third gear.
The HEMI V8 feels appreciably quicker, primarily thanks to 50% more torque than the V6. Again, though, its swift throttle response thanks to an oversquare internal architecture (99.5mm bore versus 90.9mm stroke) and variable valve timing (albeit – amazingly - with only two pushrod actuated valves per cylinder) are undone by the five-speed auto’s lazy shift regime when required to swop ratios downward.
Despite the transmission foibles, the Grand Cherokee is relaxing to drive, with none of its Jeep siblings' wandering steering characteristics or choppy ride. In terms of ride and handling, it feels distinctly European.
SHACKLE FRIENDLY: An interesting feature of the new Grand Cherokee are its two exposed front recovery points, providing easy recovery access if things go awry, unlike some of its competitors…
DOES DONGAS EASILY
Off-road, the Grand Cherokee is - as expected - superb. The Grand
Cherokee’s Selec-Terrain (similar to Land-Rover’s pioneering terrain-response) now combines the functionally of locking differentials and selecting low-range with a simple dial. It has five settings (Sand/Mud, Sport, Auto, Snow
'n Rock) which adjust the throttle, transmission shift points and
traction control interplay to ensure optional traction. It's very simple to use.
Jack the Grand Cherokee up to 270mm clearance (courtesy of off-road setting '2' in the control interface), engage low-range by selecting ‘Rock’ on the Selec-Terrain dial between the seats, and it's as capable as anything else in its class, and yes – that includes Land-Rover’s Discovery 4.
In fact, I'd say the Grand Cherokee is better in some respects because its Quadra-Drive II system locks up the rear electronic limited-slip rear differential when any slip is detected on the front wheels.
Most modern all-wheel drive traction systems simply brake a slipping wheel to send torque to its opposite number. In theory these system have the ability to relay all available torque to a single wheel if traction demands have overtaken available tyre grip at all other drive wheels.
DOING IT DIFFERENTLY
At times, though, these systems can be found wanting, being just that fraction too tardy in their response and resulting in an impromptu pause in progress. There is nothing more frustrating than having an electronic terrain response system deciding it knows best, refusing to engage full rear differential locking in the interest of ensuring the most agile turning circle when you know that without 'locked' traction you’ll never get up the slippery, acutely angled obstacle before you.
Jeep does things differently. With its rear differential locking up the moment it senses traction issues between the front wheels, Grand Cherokee reverts back to tried and tested locked rear axle drive to get up and over (or out of) a challenging obstacle. Thanks to heavy overnight thundershowers, our off-road route in the Waterberg played true to its name, with muddy inclines and water crossings.
Despite the on-road biased, large diameter Kumho tyres (20" wheels are standard on all Overlanders) quickly clogging up, progress remained unhindered, proving the Grand Cherokee’s Quadra-Drive II system as an excellent synergy of old-school mechanically geared traction sensibility and modern traction aid technology.
LONG TIME COMING
For those Grand Cherokee customers who wish to venture deep into the bundu, Jeep has an off-road package with additional underbody protection, a 3.45 axle ratio and 18" rims with more aggressively patterned 265/60 tyres, rubber that is in fact standard on the Limited V6 derivative.
It's been a long time coming, but the new Grand Cherokee is a considerable leap forward in terms of on-road refinement without sacrificing any of the brand’s legendary off-road ability.
Competitively priced, with the promise of turbodiesel power towards the end of 2011, America’s ‘Range Rover’ is a very compelling alternative to established low range-enabled large SUV's such as Discovery 4, Prado and Touareg. Oh yes, and it's trail-rated too; for hardcore Jeep fans, that's all the validation they’ll need to go and take the Grand Cherokee for a test drive.
Jeep Grand Cherokee 3.6 Ltd - R531 990
Jeep Grand Cherokee 3.6L Overland - R581 990
Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.7 HEMI Overland - R637 990