Car reviews - Jeep - Grand Cherokee - Limited V8
Creamy smooth V8, interior presentation, off-road sophistication, ride comfort, value
Room for improvement
Interior packaging, suspension refinement in high settings, fuel range
4 Nov 2011
By PHILIP LORD
ONE thing that has typified Jeep products since the Cherokee arrived here in 1994 has been a lack of sophistication. A new Jeep always looked fantastic, with fashionable, neat presentation and an interior packed with the right gadgets, but lacked the fit, finish or resale of something like a Toyota. A new Jeep was about here and now forget tomorrow’s hire-purchase hangover.
However, the 2011 WJ-series model took the traditional Grand Cherokee strengths – tough looks, excellent off-road manners, good performance and a fine audio system – and added much engineering substance and refinement. There is far more depth to this Jeep.
The cabin feels like it belongs to one of the higher-end luxury SUVs, with its satin chrome accents and neatly moulded and joined plastics and leather.
The seats are supportive and hold up well over long country hauls, and the instruments and controls are not a major driver distraction.
My favourite is the central information display that, aside from the usual tripmeter functions such as average and instant fuel consumption, adds information such as coolant, engine oil and transmission oil temperatures. And this display takes up little space on the dash considering the comprehensive information it provides.
However, someone should gently take the Jeep designers aside and quietly convince them that thick roof pillars are not compulsory. This and the lack of foot room for the driver seems to be a hereditary thing at Jeep and no end of bleating has changed things in the last 15 years or so.
Thick pillars make the interior feel darker than necessary and, more importantly, make seeing to the sides or rear more difficult for the driver. The narrow footwell doesn’t bother everyone, but some drivers will find a long drive gets uncomfortable because you can’t move your left leg around.
The 5.7-litre V8 has been used in Jeeps before and power is not a problem. It may not be a Porsche Cayenne twin-turbo competitor, but among the V8 SUVs the Jeep acquits itself well. Smooth and responsive at low rpm and just as comfortable (though increasingly vocal) as it sprints for the redline, the V8 rarely lacks sufficient get-up-and-go.
The five-speed auto slides through its ratios with the slickness you would expect in a luxury SUV and the steering wheel-mounted manual-shift mode is simple to use.
Fuel economy in a petrol V8 SUV is never going to be great, but the Jeep does surprisingly well on an easy cruise, dropping to around 10.8L/100km cruising at 100km/h unladen, and rises to around 12.0L/100km in more give-and-take driving on the open road.
When you find your right foot pushing to the floor more often, though, the Jeep, like any of its eight-cylinder competitors, has to keep its hungry engine fed with plenty of fuel. And loads will knock it about, too. Cruising with a 2300kg trailer yielded around 22.0L/100km while sand driving or press-on touring with a caravan saw consumption rise higher again.
The Jeep prefers a premium unleaded diet, too. A couple of tanks of standard unleaded added between up to 1.5L/100km to the consumption in high-load conditions.
This exposes the dilemma faced by anyone using the performance of a petrol V8 for towing or off-roading – higher fuel costs and a lack of range. When you’re beginning to look for fuel after only 250km, you know you can’t afford to miss a servo.
Few SUVs feel truly razor-sharp in corners, and some feel as if the steering is linked to the front wheels with Play-Doh, but the Jeep is one of the better corner-pointers. Ford’s Territory is well ahead in steering feedback and precision, but the Jeep is much better than the Toyota Prado and Nissan Pathfinder. It may not be the flattest of its ilk tracking through corners, but the grip is good and the progression to understeer is gradual.
The Grand Cherokee as tested had air suspension, which in the standard ride height mode was superb – it provided a lush, stable ride over long, undulating bumps at speed or when negotiating brittle, slow-speed off-road tracks.
But in the higher ride settings (for better off-road clearance) the ride took a dive. The suspension clunked and banged as it reached the extent of its (downward) travel and the ride turned to a brittle, uncomfortable jiggling.
Jeep has at last built a truly international product. It still displays the brand’s quirks, but the Grand Cherokee can now be pitched against upper-spec medium SUVs, with the right price, features and overall ability to make a far more compelling argument than ever.
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