Car reviews - Jeep - Grand Cherokee - Limited CRD 5-dr wagon
Good value, ample equipment levels, excellent engine performance, good blend of on/off-road handling
Room for improvement
Narrow footwell, handbrake placement, wide turning circle
7 Aug 2008
By PHILIP LORD
AS THE four-wheel drive wagon market grows ever softer, there remain some off-road stalwarts such as Jeep, which keeps the faith with vehicles that retain some gritty, old-school charm such as the Grand Cherokee - a relatively svelte wagon in a luxury SUV market where big is seemingly better.
The Grand Cherokee may retain traditional 4WD components such as a live rear axle and a dual-range transmission for crawling around off-road, but it has bolted these up to an entirely modern monocoque body and modern powertrain.
In spite of the fact that the top-of-the-range Grand Cherokee, the 6.1-litre V8 SRT8, must be one of the most politically incorrect vehicles on the market in these green times, there are more leafy Jeeps - such as the turbo-diesel 3.0-litre CRD tested here.
The main updates to the Limited CRD for the belated arrival of the 2008 model year include a reversing camera, rear parking assist system, MyGIG information and entertainment system with 20 gigabyte hard drive, rain-sensing wipers, memory seats and mirrors and iPod connectivity.
The new 2008 model-year Grand Cherokee has a new dash design, new alloy wheel design and minor revisions to the front-end, including re-positioned foglights and slightly bigger headlights.
All Grand Cherokees now also have Hill Descent Control, Hill Start Assist and Trailer Sway Control systems, too.
The price of the new 2008 Grand Cherokee Limited CRD is $67,990 - $1000 less than the outgoing 2007 model and $1100 less than the WH CRD when it arrived here in September 2005.
Jeeps have always felt as if they were built to a price, with glistening interior plastics and rippled body panels that looked as if they were made of cheese.
But the new Grand Cherokee looks almost - almost - German in its tidy execution. Jeep’s now long-gone period of DaimlerChrysler ownership, the “merger of equals”, seems to have had some good effect.
Pull open a door and peer inside the Jeep and you’ll find sufficient if not generous space for five adults and their gear. Despite the competitive and ingenious interior packaging you see in competitors' interiors, the Grand Cherokee designers must have belonged to a much more genteel age, where one did not store large items within the carriage but had a man to take care of it.
Either that, or the WH development team was on an incredibly tight budget. Simply put, while not by any means objectionable, the space allocation and seat folding arrangement is surpassed by many of the Jeep’s competitors.
Then there are the obvious, almost ‘iconic’ right-hand drive Jeep features, too, such as the narrow driver’s footwell and a handbrake lever that is fitted over in the far west across the continent of a centre console. The engineer who signs off on Jeep handbrake placement clearly has leftist leanings and is oblivious to the right-hand drive market.
Yet there is plenty to like, with the WH’s firm front seats being the most comfortable Jeep seats ever, even if side support could be better.
The controls and instruments - barring the glaring exceptions already mentioned - are nicely designed and placed well: the dash layout is clear and there are enough storage spaces in the centre console trays, console box and in the lower doors. Two 12-volt sockets are fitted in the front, too.
The 60/40-split, folding rear seat - which is flat and lacks under-thigh support - automatically tips forward the head restraints, which is a neat touch, as is the reversible hard rubber storage plate in the rear. But, as previously mentioned, Jeep has not made the best use of the space available.
The 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel is a corker, however. It is smooth and quiet at idle, has a relatively short period of turbo lag and a thick beefy slab of healthy mid-range torque, teaming well with the five-speed auto and all-wheel drive system.
Fuel consumption on test ranged from an acceptable 10.0 litres per 100km on the highway unladen to a thirsty 14.0L/100km in the city and 15.1L/100km when cruising with a two-tonne caravan in tow (with which the Jeep coped admirably well).
The Jeep settles into a nice cornering attitude, with minimal bodyroll and quite good grip - for a two-tonne SUV wagon.
Steering is an odd one - the Jeep will go where you point it, but the complete lack of steering feel and somehow odd weighting can be disconcerting. You eventually become used to it, but there are more tactile-steering SUVs around, if that’s important to you.
Ride quality, which previous Grand Cherokees could not really claim to have in abundance - is surprisingly good in the WH model. It’ll absorb most bumps and settles over a serious set of high-speed undulations without much fuss.
However, hit a large hole in the road and the front-end thumps loudly and the rear-end will dance the characteristic live-axle shuffle. It is a poor substitute for independent suspension when it comes to stability on bump-riddled roads.
Off-road the Jeep is well set-up with an excellent dual-range four-wheel drive system and traction control. Only a lack of underbody clearance at the front and average underbody protection (although a skid plate package is available) hold it back. Certainly it rates among the better off-road luxury SUV wagons.
While the Grand Cherokee is becoming dated in some areas such as suspension and interior packaging, it has a strong and willing heart and excellent off-road hardware, wrapped in a relatively compact and stylish package.
The minor cosmetic enhancements and improved features list for 2008 add flavour the Grand Cherokee sorely needs to attract more buyers, too.
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