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Car reviews - Jeep - Grand Cherokee - 5-dr wagon range

Launch Story

Jeep logo31 Jan 2011

By MIKE COSTELLO

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

31 January 2011

JEEP is pushing for a much larger slice of the Ford Territory and Toyota Kluger segment with its completely redesigned, fourth-generation Grand Cherokee.

Dipping below $50,000 for the first time in almost six years, the mid-sized SUV series starts off from an unprecedented $45,000 for the entry-level WK Laredo 4WD four-wheel drive.

That’s just $110 and $510 more than the respective equivalent Ford Territory TX AWD and Kluger KX-R AWD five-seaters.

No seven-seater Grand Cherokee is available, while Jeep is keeping quiet on whether the rear-drive versions available overseas will be Australia-bound to reduce the approximate $5000 price gap with the two-wheel drive Territory and Kluger models.

While that $45,000 WK Laredo opener is priced $15,000 below its less well-equipped WH predecessor, the base newcomer employs V6 petrol power (albeit all-new) instead of the old model’s acclaimed Mercedes-Benz-built V6 diesel.

The same applies for the new mid-range Limited model, which is priced at $55,000 for the V6 petrol and $60,000 for the V8 petrol compared with $68,990 for the old V6 diesel Limited.

The new $69,500 Overland V8 petrol is $560 more than its V8 petrol-powered WH equivalent, but boasts thousands of dollars worth of extra features.

Chrysler Australia will not introduce vital new diesel variants until a VM Motori-sourced 3.0-litre V6 debuts in the middle of this year.

Rumoured to develop around 185kW of power and 550Nm of torque (versus 160kW and 510Nm for the old Benz 3.0-litre V6 diesel), this Italian engine is reportedly the last-minute replacement for a fresh Mercedes diesel that was originally slated for the Grand Cherokee until pulled by new Chrysler overlords Fiat in September 2009.

Touted as ‘A New Direction’ for the series, the WK is said to improve on its predecessor in six key areas – off-road capability, on-road manners, ‘premium experience’, powertrains, safety and security, and value for money.

Development commenced in 2005, before the dissolution of DaimlerChrysler two years later, and shares much of its architectural hardware with the next-generation W166 Mercedes M-class, which is due later this year.

Like the old model, the new Grand Cherokee is a monocoque body design, and maintains Jeep’s famous off-road abilities by employing a torque-on-demand 4WD system.

As before, all models are “Trail Rated”, which Chrysler says means that “the vehicle has been designed to perform in a variety of challenging off-road conditions identified by five key consumer-oriented performance categories: traction, ground clearance, manoeuvrability, articulation and water fording”.

But the American company acknowledges that consumers are changing, so it developed a new four-wheel independent suspension layout, as well as its first air-suspension system called Quadra-Lift – a development of a Mercedes design – for simultaneously improved ride and rough-terrain ground clearance.

Quadra-Lift is standard only on the Overland, but available as an option for between $2500 and $3250, and brings five ground clearance settings ranging from 167mm for easier loading and roof-rack access while parked to 271mm for maximum off-road clearance.

With the extreme off-road setting (Off Road 2) and the front air dam (easily) removed, the Grand Cherokee with Quadra-Lift can tackle approach, departure (to rear recovery tow hook) and breakover angles of 34, 27, and 23 degrees respectively. Fitted with regular steel springs, those figures change to 26, 19 and 24 degrees respectively.

Front overhang is 887mm, rear overhang 1020mm and water-fording depth is rated at 508mm.

The WK comes with a choice of two 4x4 systems known as Quadra-Trac II, a two-speed transfer case that uses sensors for throttle, tyre grip and other factors to channel up to 100 per cent of torque to the axle with most traction, and Quadra-Drive II, which uses an electronic limited-slip differential to deliver torque to whichever wheel requires it most. The old mechanical LSD is no longer offered.

Jeep has also introduced a Land Rover-style ‘Selec-Terrain’ traction control system, which is standard on all WKs, allowing the driver to choose five different drive systems according to the outside surface environment via a console-mounted rotary knob.

Available settings are Snow, Sport (for on-road dynamics), Auto (default setting), Sand/Mud and Rock (rising to the maximum 271mm ground clearance).

A dozen different powertrain, braking and suspension systems work in unison to make Selec-Terrain work, including the standard ABS brakes, traction control and electronic stability control devices.

Among the almost 50 safety and security features are electronic roll mitigation, hill-start assist, trailer-sway control, hill-descent control, full-length side-curtain and seat-mounted side thorax airbags, and active front head restraints.

No ANCAP crash-test rating has yet been ascertained, but the WK scored a ‘Top Safety Pick’ award from the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Jeep claims torsional stiffness is 146 per cent better for than the old Grand Cherokee and is now more rigid than the BMW X5.

An evolutionary design featuring the trademark seven-bar harmonica grille, flat roof, and trapezoidal (read: square) wheelarches, the Grand Cherokee is more aerodynamic, recording a 0.37 coefficiency of drag rating – down from 0.404.

The body’s basic measurements increase in every direction to create a slightly longer but much roomier cabin, with even more rear-seat legroom than the now-discontinued full-size Jeep Commander.

Its wheelbase increases by 135mm to 2915mm, overall length stretches by 46mm to 4822mm, width is up 76mm to 1943mm, and height varies from 1764mm (air suspension) to 1781 (steel springs).

The doors open wider (78 versus 67 degrees), there is 100mm more rear-seat knee room and luggage space increases by 17 per cent – ranging from 782 to 1554 litres with the rear seats folded.

Other convenience features include a larger glovebox, covered storage bin, flat-folding front passenger seat on some models, and removable dual storage bins in the spare wheel well.

Front suspension is a new independent set-up with coils, shockers, upper and lower control arms and anti-roll bar, while the rear uses a multi-link design, twin-tube shocks, and an anti-roll bar.

Steering is hydraulic-powered rack-and-pinion with 3.6 turns lock to lock and an 11.6m turning circle, while the brakes are vented measuring 350mm up front and 330mm at the rear.

Chrysler’s ‘Pentastar’ 3.6-litre petrol engine, which replaces the old 3.7-litre unit that was discontinued in 2008, is a Euro V emissions-compliant all-aluminium 60-degree V6 with double overhead camshafts and variable valve timing, producing 210kW (up 33 per cent) at 6350rpm and 347Nm (up about 10 per cent) at 4300rpm.

Mated to a Mercedes-based five-speed automatic transmission (no manual is available), the Grand Cherokee V6 petrol returns 11.4 litres per 100km – an 11 per cent improvement – emits 265 grams per kilometre of carbon dioxide, accelerates from 0-100km/h in 9.1 second and has a top speed of 206km/h.

In contrast, the auto-equipped V8 – a 5.7-litre Hemi with variable valve timing and Chrysler’s fuel-saving Multi-Displacement System (MDS) – delivers 259kW (up from 240kW) at 5200rpm and 520Nm of torque (up from 500Nm) from 4200rpm, uses 14.1L/100km, emits 327g/km, does 0-100km/h in 8.7s and tops out at 224km/h.

The V6 models weigh from 2191-2279kg and have a maximum braked towing capacity of 2268kg while the V8s tip the scales at 2307-2424kg and can haul 3500kg.

Chrysler claims it achieved “a world-class interior by using fine materials and maintaining a laser-attention to details”.

The completely redesigned interior features a new double dash design, increased use of anti-noise/vibration/harshness material, ‘acoustic’ side windows and soft-touch materials.

Standard features on the base Laredo include Selec-Terrain, reversing camera, high-intensity discharge headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, true keyless entry and heated seats.

The Limited model adds leather trim, a memory function for the driver’s seat, a premium audio system, 20-inch alloys and front and rear parking radar.

At the top of the range, the Overland offers Quadra-Drive II, vented seats, a heated steering wheel, leather trimming on the dash and door cards, a dual-pane sunroof with electric sunshade, satellite navigation, radar-controlled active cruise control and a blind-spot monitoring system.

The WK is built at the refurbished Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit.

Chrysler is confident demand will outstrip supply once word gets out that the latest Grand Cherokee can be bought for up-spec Territory money. It therefore expects the base Laredo will replace the Limited V8 as the bestseller in the range.

Last year only 441 Grand Cherokees were sold – a far cry from the 2000-plus sales heyday of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

However, while the company will not be drawn on specific sales targets, cracking 2000 units annually again is the unofficial goal and selling as many as 5000 a year is the long-term target.

Chrysler said the massive influx of new luxury SUVs like the BMW X5, Audi Q5 and Q7, Lexus RX and Volvo XC60 forced Jeep to rethink its pricing strategy after years of declining WH sales.

Not coincidentally, the WK Grand Cherokee’s resulting ‘value proposition’ is based on a similar strategy employed by Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific at the launch of the W204 C-class range in 2007 – a model that new Chrysler Australia manager Clyde Campbell was closely involved with during his long tenure there.

In addition to the 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel due later this year, a new version of the SRT-8 high-performance model is expected to be unveiled overseas during 2011, powered by a new 6.4-litre Hemi V8 said to have been benchmarked against the BMW X6 M.

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