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

Our Opinion

We like
Engine refinement, quietness and smoothness on-road composure and dynamics off-road ability
Room for improvement
Downmarket interior limited driver knee/legroom unrealistic manufacturer's fuel consumption claims

29 Aug 2005

AS SYMBOLIC as the bald eagle and the stars and stripes, American patriotism runs deep within the Jeep brand. From the military-derived Willys Jeep through to the famous-faced Wrangler, Jeeps have always been distinctly American, offering edgy exterior styling and a trademark seven-slot grille, plus a tough ‘yee-haa’ off-road reputation.

But with the introduction of the third-generation Grand Cherokee - the brand’s flagship model - trading a bit of American excess for German precision, has created a leaner, more efficient and more refined Jeep that retains a modern American face.

Where the previous Grand Cherokee may have come across as slightly narrow and glitzy, like a tinsel-town benefit party, the new Grand Cherokee has a tough appearance that aligns it with the remaining Jeep range as a serious mud warrior.

Bigger, bolder and more angular than the last model, the new Grand Cherokee is said to be 60 per cent stiffer, and measures 139mm longer and 12mm wider. It also rides on a 90mm-longer wheelbase and has a 64mm-wider track.

A quick walk around the biggest Jeep with the imaginary salesman will highlight a blend of German and American styling influences.

Bold, squarish bodylines, a tougher rear-end stance with red and clear-lens tail-lights, a broader seven-slot grille and a tasteful amount of compulsory chrome ‘jewellery’ to lure American buyers paint an overall picture.

The company says the new scalloped headlights and extra bonnet lines and curves are designed to create a unified Jeep face and take some getting used to, and somehow don't quite speak the same design language as the rest of the vehicle.

It’s a good-looking 4WD in an American sort of way (it is a Jeep after all), which probably means the designers have achieved their goal.

And there is a majestic personality under that amphibian-like face.

So majestic in fact, that the Grand Cherokee has undergone an almost-complete character change, moving leap-years away from its too-small and too-soft predecessors, making it a real threat among the best of the current luxury 4WDs.

While the $71,990 5.7-litre HEMI V8 flagship may be striking hearts and headlines, it’s the all-new turbo-diesel common-rail diesel (CRD) model tested here - and priced from $69,090 - that’s the most impressive.

Built alongside sister brand Chrysler's 300C sedan and Voyager people-mover at the Magna Steyr right-hand-drive production plant in Graz, Austria, the Grand Cherokee comes with an all-new body structure, overhauled suspension and steering systems, new four-wheel drivetrains and a Mercedes ML-sourced 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6.

Weighing in at just 208kg, the 72-degree, long-stroke, all-alloy multi-valve engine is fed by a Bosch common-rail, direct-injection fuel system with a variable-geometry turbocharger.

The CRD meets Euro 4 emissions regulations thanks to a clean-burning fuel delivery system and twin diesel catalytic converters.

A completely different animal from its 2.7-litre five-cylinder predecessor, the new CRD has a healthy maximum power output of 160kW at 4000rpm (up 33 per cent) and a hefty 510Nm of torque from 1600rpm (up 28 per cent). According to Jeep, almost 450Nm is produced at just 1000rpm.

Many significant aspects become apparent when driving the CRD for the first time, but none more so than its arrival of German genetics and the departure of American bluntness.

Turn the ignition key and try to hear the sound of the turbo-diesel powerplant – which starts almost as instantaneously as a petrol engine - from inside or outside the cabin and many will ask: is the engine running?

Ah yes, these are modern times for oil-burners. But although there are some super-smooth and ultra-quiet turbo-diesels 4WDs around, possibly no other competitor (apart from Mercedes-Benz ML 320CDI, with which the CRD shares its engine) is as quiet as the Grand Cherokee. That includes the BMW X5, Volkswagen Touareg and Land Rover Discovery 3 diesels.

Under heavy acceleration, mainly all that can be heard is the sweet sound of a modern turbo whistling over minimal background diesel clatter.

During daily suburban runabouts or cruising along freeways the CRD barely lifts a finger, idling around 2200rpm at 100km/h and merely dozing around 1500rpm at 60-70km/h.

In fact, the loudest sound entering the cabin comes from the Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain tyres, which is a trade-off worth living with given their reasonable off-road ability.

But it is a newfound quality driving that really makes the CRD shine.

Whistling away about its business through the new, smooth-shifting five-speed sequential-shift auto, the CRD has plenty of take-off with a claimed 0-100km/h sprint of 9.0 seconds – half a second faster than the base 4.7-litre V8.

According to Jeep, the CRD delivers combined fuel consumption of 10.2L/100km, which appears ambitious given the fact the best we managed during freeway use was 11.9L/100km.

Tooling around town returned an average of around 12.3L/100km, which is still pretty good but not quite as good as the heavier Land Rover Discovery which averaged around the low 10s during our time with it.

Comparing the CRD with its siblings, the base-model 4.7-litre V8 has an official consumption average of 14.9L/100km, while the multi-displacement 5.7-litre HEMI V8 averages 15.4L/100km. A real-world test would be interesting.

For a two-tonne-plus vehicle (2169kg, to be accurate), the Grand Cherokee CRD is surprisingly neutral and enjoyable to drive, moving its mass gracefully and revealing almost car-like handling in most circumstances.

With an all-new suspension system, including an independent front-end and a 10 per cent increase in wheel travel over its predecessor, the Grand Cherokee feels stable and nimble through corners, presenting minimal bodyroll yet controlled plushness over bumps. Unlike many other popular off-roaders, the CRD cannot be described as agricultural.

As expected with any modern turbo-diesel engine, the CRD’s 510Nm mountain of torque is available almost instantly at 1600rpm, making overtaking a quiet yet satisfying pleasure.

Like the Grand Cherokee, the CRD uses the same safety mechanisms, including multi-stage driver and front passenger airbags, full-length curtain airbags, stability control, traction control, ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and Jeep’s electronic rollover mitigation system, which monitors driver input and lateral forces in a potential rollover situation and applies brake-force to the appropriate wheel.

Collaborating with the suspension set-up is the new variable-ratio rack and pinion steering system, which is confidently accurate and well-weighted with a relatively tight turning circle of 11.2 metres - convenient when challenging a tight parking spot or off-road manoeuvre.

Among its luxury SUV competitors that actually have off-road ability, some may require an off-road option box to be ticked. However, the Grand Cherokee rolls out of the showroom floor ready to rumble.

Goodyear Wrangler BSW all-terrain tyres (245/65 R17), full-length underbody protection, front foglights, the top-shelf Quadra-Drive II dual-range full-time 4WD system otherwise only available in the 5.7-litre version (4.7-litre models get the less sophisticated Quadra-Trac II), as well as electronic limited-slip front and rear differentials make up the off-road artillery.

Off the bitumen, the test Grand Cherokee felt right at home. Dense mud and rocky tracks proved little challenge for the CRD. Before any ambitious off-road attempts, low-range gearing is activated by selecting neutral while stationary and pulling the chrome ‘T-shaped’ lever to the right of the gear shifter. The system pauses for a moment’s thought and you’re off.

While the CRD's rorty performance, tough styling and accomplished on and off-road composure is impressive, the interior unfortunately is a disappointing experience.

Apart from minimal knee and foot room and a lack of a driver’s footrest, the Grand Cherokee is filled with cheap-looking plastics and fake wood inserts that make old-school Korean interiors look special.

The two-tone leather seats feel as sumptuous to touch as a cheap handbag a toy-like handbrake is out of reach thick A-pillars reduce frontal visibility a wonky and awkwardly-positioned indicator stalk causes accidental high-beam flashes when indicating and too many blank buttons make the CRD seem like a poverty-pack model.

On the other hand, the CRD interior is symmetrical, well laid out and fairly well appointed. Heated electric seats with driver’s-side memory are a huge improvement over the last model and become well appreciated over a long journey.

Some buyers may even enjoy the switchable "easy-out access", which moves the driver’s seat backward for a roomier entrance/exit. For most of us, this would be disabled after the novelty wore off.

The CRD also has the Jeep logo embossed on the front seats, a trip computer, dual-zone climate control, a Boston Acoustic 276-watt six-speaker with six-disc in-dash sound system, electrochromic rear-view mirror, leather-wrapped steering wheel with cruise-control and audio buttons, rain-sensing wipers and rear parking sensors straight off the Mercedes options shelf.

Other options standard on CRD and HEMI 5.7-litre V8 variants are a two-way sunroof, retractable cargo cover and a clever double-sided cargo tray.

Rear passengers receive adequate, though not class-leading, legroom and are subject to a B-class level of opulence compared to the front. This includes bench-style seating, no fake-wood inserts or anything to signify a luxurious feel, a storage pocket on the driver’s side only and a large blank plastic area behind the centre console that looks as though it’s missing something. A folding centre armrest with cupholders provides some consolation, though.

Contrary to the current 4WD craze for seven-seat capacity, the Grand Cherokee makes use of its seating for five by offering good storage, regardless of rear-seat positioning.

Cargo area behind the rear seats is 978 litres. With the 60-40 split/rear seats folded almost completely flat, storage expands to a large 1909 litres. The left and right headrests automatically fold down, conveniently eliminating the need to move the front seats forward. However, if the centre headrest did the same, rear visibility would be further improved.

Adding to the Grand Cherokee’s storage convenience is a tailgate with a separate glass opening: something that's now expected from all modern 4WDs.

There is no doubt about it, the Grand Cherokee CRD is the best vehicle Jeep has produced yet.

With an excellent turbo-diesel engine, a sophisticated transmission with low-range ratio, newfound on-road ability and trademark Jeep ruggedness, the new Grand Cherokee CRD is an impressive on/off-road vehicle - providing you are willing to overlook its interior shortcoming.

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