Car reviews - Jeep - Grand Cherokee - range
Slick auto, cabin upgrades, improved connectivity, lower start price, off-road prowess, SRT punch, diesel refinement, great styling
Room for improvement
Light and numb steering, ponderous handling, still some cheap cabin bits, hard-working V6 sounds thrashy when pushed, loss of flip-up window in tailgate, foot-operated park brake
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2 Dec 2014
IF looks could kill, the latest Jeep Grand Cherokee is set to be another serial thriller.
A facelift of the fourth-gen large SUV launched three and a half years ago, the newcomer builds on its handsome, well-proportioned styling with detailed updates designed to keep the US 4x4 icon contemporary.
Blessed with such attractiveness, the Grand Cherokee has found one of the Holy Grails of the automotive industry – luring conquest buyers from segments both above (luxury SUV/sedan) and below (mid-sized SUV/sedan).
To date the outgoing model’s running rate is at 3.5 times that of its rather beige looking predecessor.
Now the WK Series II is set to build on that success with the new entry-level Laredo V6 4x2.
Positioned within reach of base Ford Territory and Toyota Kluger buyers, the American SUV trumps both in terms of specification (including a slick-shifting ZF-built eight-speed auto to the others’ six-speeders) and standard features.
From the bi-Xenon LED headlight stare to the wide stance afforded by the 18-inch alloys, the Jeep looks like it might cost twice as much as its more mainstream rivals.
The same, too, applies inside – to a point.
A new analogue/digital instrument cluster is a massive improvement over the old, partly obscured dials, with interesting graphics, a scrolling smorgasbord of details and a classy overall design.
Ditto the Uconnect centre-console sited touchscreen infotainment system, bringing the Grand Cherokee bang up to date in terms of usability and connectivity.
Add a good-looking steering wheel (with excellent paddleshift and remote audio/cruise-controls) and a stylish little T-bone gear lever that could have come out of a BMW, and it is abundantly clear that the Americans had the luxury Germans in their competitive-set crosshairs.
Indeed, much of the previous Grand Cherokee basics are still good enough – there’s plenty of space to move, heaps of storage areas, a comfy driving position, supportive front seats, and a feeling of upmarket goodness.
You could say that – as has happened with the exterior – it is the Euro-fication of the Jeep’s interior that has made the latest version a much more rounded experience. We can thank Chrysler overlords Fiat for that.
But why is there an awkward and at-times intrusive foot-operated park brake? Why are the centre-stack plastic materials like off-cuts from a PT Cruiser program? And where has the natty flip-up tailgate window gone?
With around 2.1 tonnes of big Yankee SUV to haul around, the still-pretty-fresh 3.6-litre V6 petrol unit has its job cut out as well.
Yes, the new ZF eight-speed automatic is a delightful affair, flicking through the ratios as slickly as a card shark shuffling out a pack at a crusty old casino, and making the most of the available power and torque outputs.
As a result, at lower speeds, or when ambling around, the performance is more than adequate, with the Grand Cherokee feeling as sweet and refined as the upmarket appearance promises.
But on the open road – and almost all of our driving in and around the Gold Coast hills involved country driving – the Pentastar V6 needs every one of its horses for overtaking. Unfortunately, while the engine is ready to dish out the revs, the thrashy exhaust note that accompanies it is no music to our ears.
We doubt most buyers will really notice how light and feedback-free the steering is in most normal urban driving situations, but on the open road the helm’s lack of weighty substance is another drawback.
The result is an SUV that feels bigger and more ponderous than its sophisticated specification suggests, particularly around corners where the whole vehicle feels a bit unsure.
While we didn’t have a Territory to drive over the same roads, from memory the Ford feels far more tied down and response than the Jeep. It is our single biggest gripe with the Grand Cherokee, and one that we communicated (ironically as suggested ‘feedback’) to the chief engineer present at the launch.
Moving on to brief drives of the 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel 4x4, the steering felt marginally more tied-down than the 4x2 Laredo, while the substantial 570Nm of low-down torque really livened the performance as well as refinement considerably.
Considering how much more economical the diesel also is, we think this is the sweet spot in the latest Grand Cherokee – though we would stick with the Laredo’s 18-inch wheels rather than the firmer-riding 20-inch items of the more up-spec variations.
A brief blast in the monstrously powerful SRT only proved how insanely ridiculous and pointless it is driving around in a gorgeous sounding 6.4-litre V8 SUV rocket, while we missed out on our chance to sample the 5.7-litre Hemi V8 that proved to be such a silky yet punchy unit last time around.
Finally, a trip across a dedicated 4x4 course in the diesel underlined the impressive off-road abilities that has helped make this series one of the great all-rounders in the eyes of large SUV buyers across the country over the last three and a half years.
From a showroom point of view, then, the Grand Cherokee has the upgraded features and smooth new looks to keep the customers coming into Jeep’s ever-growing dealer network.
But while we applaud the cheaper opening price, genuinely brilliant automatic transmission, and improved quality interior experience, we think the Americans need to develop a meatier steering system to more fully suit Aussie tastes.
We don’t believe such criticism will do much to impede the Grand Cherokee’s progress, though. Its good looks do more than enough for most large SUV buyers.
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