Car reviews - Jeep - Grand Cherokee - range
Big, comfortable, honest rig with plenty of heart
Room for improvement
Electrical niggles in test car raise raises old ghosts
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31 May 2017
By TIM ROBSON
ON THE face of it, there’s really very little reason that the Jeep Grand Cherokee can’t be a regular top three seller in the large-SUV sector. People who buy the likes of Toyota Prados and Hyundai Santa Fes are generally looking for a roomy, comfortable and capable large wagon that can tow a boat or caravan on occasion – and the Grand Cherokee fits the bill to a tee.
The scoreboard shows, though, that buyers are opting for more road-going cars (Mazda CX-9) or smaller, 4x4 ute-based wagons (Toyota Fortuner, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport), eating into sales of the rigs that have ruled the roost in recent years.
Jeep Australia has decided to throw a new variant into the mix that takes the best of the Grand Cherokee’s attributes and mixes it with a bit of off-road nous. The Trailhawk is also an all-model message that the company is serious about hawking its dirt-born heritage to as wide an audience as possible.
Based on the 4x4 diesel Limited, the Trailhawk adds a locking rear diff, longer travel air suspension and a set of (somewhat ironically) Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain 18-inch tyres to the spec, along with trim pieces like a bonnet decal and tow hooks.
It’s powered by Jeep’s 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 diesel that makes 184kW and 570Nm, and it also uses a second-generation ZF eight-speed automatic transmission that’s now standard across the Grand Cherokee range.
Jeep claims a combined fuel economy figure of 7.5 litres per 100km, and after nearly 500km of on- and off-road testing, we recorded a figure of 8.2L/100km.
The electric power steering system that debuted in the Chrysler 300 in 2015 has been added to the Cherokee line-up for 2017, and there have been changes to the front and rear suspension set-ups.
Alloy knuckles up front replace steel items, while hollow sway bars front and rear also reduce the sprung weight of the big Jeep.
With ground clearance of up to 260mm thanks to an air suspension system that can be adjusted on the fly, the Trailhawk has one of the most sophisticated off-road set-ups available right out of the box.
A comprehensive array of off-road specific electronics also give the Trailhawk greater abilities off the beaten track, with hill descent control joined by hill ascent control – think of it as cruise control for the dirt at up to 8km/h.
Tackling a tricky, slippery grass and clay-line course after a good overnight soaking, the raw ability of the Grand Cherokee is revealed in stark relief. At road-going air pressures, the Goodyears are surprisingly adept – though lowering pressures for off-road work should be common practice, and would have helped the tyres better tackle a couple of slippery ascents more easily.
Clearances front, rear and middle are good, and the extra ride height, basic underbody protection and dual-range transfer case give it an extra layer of ability, while off-road-specific pages in the multimedia system are fun to look at but really don’t offer too much in the way of useful info, other than the ancillary gauges page.
It’s on road where the Jeep really shines, though. It’s always been a comfortable, capable and quiet distance eater, with vast space inside for people and gear (though it’s not the largest in the category), plenty of toys like a digital dash screen, touchscreen Uconnect multimedia system, heated front and back seats and plenty of USB ports for front and back seaters.
Even fitted with the more specialist tyres, the Grand Cherokee is still pretty quiet inside, and the air suspension lends it a cosseting, comfortable ride to boot. The tyres are definitely harder and a bit stiffer than regulation road-going versions, but the taller sidewalls of the 18-inch versions gives them enough compliance to get away with it.
Over two long road legs across New Zealand’s North Island, about the only things we missed on the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk was radar cruise control and blind spot monitoring it does offer AEB as standard, as well as seven airbags.
We’ve spent plenty of time in Cherokees over the years, and the 3500kg braked trailer towing capability of the diesel is no fib – it’s amongst the best towing vehicles we’ve ever tested, with effortless performance no matter how ungainly the trailer. The rearview camera can now be flicked on to check the load while at speed, too, while trailer sway control is also standard.
The only gripes with the Grand Cherokee come down to niggles that have, rightly or wrongly, affected people’s perceptions of the model over its life our tester’s front USB panel, for example, and the company still insists on using a foot-operated parking brake which prevents the use of a driver’s left foot rest.
The car has been in market for seven years, and this example costs a not-inconsiderable $74,000 before on road costs (a $5000 premium over the Limited upon which it’s based). Niggles should be a thing of the past.
Even though it has a five-star ANCAP rating, driver aids like radar cruise and blind spot warning should really be standard inclusion at this price point, too a Safety Activity Package that includes these features and others is an eye-watering $3250 option.
Some might point to a lack of a third row of seats, but not everyone wants the extra weight and reduced load capacity that those two extra, often underutilised seats provide.
Overall, though, the Grand Cherokee is an enormously capable and comfortable large SUV, and these mid-life changes are an effective update to a car that’s enjoyed success locally.
With the changes being made to the way the company works behind the scenes, as well as its commitment to its new five-year warranty program, the signs are there that the Trailhawk has come at the right time for Jeep.
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