ABOVE: Grand Cherokee in various trim levels.
Below: Cherokee and its new toothy village-idiot grin.
YES YES YES oh YES: stylish exterior, luxury cabin, loads of kit for the doh, fab engines
Oh Dear Me No: do we need cars this big, foot operated parking brake (pet hate), some cabin plastics a bit on the cheap side
Imagine, if you will, a bright sunny day. It is warm, and there is a light sea breeze, and you’ve arranged a play-date with the hottest man you have ever encountered. His classically chiselled features perfectly match the muscles straining against his tight T shirt and even tighter jeans. You arrive to take him to the beach in your new wheels. There you are beaming like a demented Cheshire cat about to eat bucket loads of cream, and you are in your Toyota Corolla. He laughs and signals a friend who is cued to call with a pretend emergency in the event that the date goes tits-up.
Now, imagine the same scene, but instead of the Corolla, you are seen looking down at him from the driver’s seat of a big, butch Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit. You push your sunnies up into your thick wavy hair and smile a naughty yet innocent come-get-me smile.
Which scene do you prefer?
I don’t need to wait for the answer, you would choose the big butch Jeep Grand Cherokee wouldn’t you, and isn’t it pretty? It’s like Bear Grylls in an Armani suit, sipping a cocktail, and smoking a Havana. Something has happened to American cars while we weren’t looking. They no longer look like the incontinent village idiot with a face like a bag full of busted mangos. No longer are they unable to do anything other than go quickly in a straight line, because they wallow sideways at the first corner. No, they are now handsome, intelligent, athletic and very very “willing”, and we like “willing” don’t we?
In all trim levels the Grand Cherokee has a machismo that can’t be faked. They are deeply sexy, and although looking very posh, don’t feel snobby. Don’t get me wrong, if Range Rover didn’t cost 3 times the Jeep I’d be in like Flynn, but as it is, who would bother with the Brit? Besides, Jaguar Land Rover is now owned by the Indian car maker TATA, so is it still all British?
The models include: Laredo, Limited, Overland, Summit and the fabulous SRT. Except for the SRT, the range is really just a change of every more expensive frocks. The SRT (which we will be driving in a few weeks’ time) has that sublime 6.4L V8 throbber that makes you feel 18 again. And by 18, I mean an 18 year old with a V-shaped 30”-waiste body with heavily rippled abs.
The optional height adjustable air suspension (standard on Overland/summit) rides like a limo and even has an extra low setting so you don’t ladder your silks trying to get in. It’s ride is so smooth (how smooth is it?), it’s so smooth that it turns your bit of rough into a bit of refined smooth, unless of course the bit of rough is sitting beside you in the passenger’s seat.
The aggressive exterior looks angry yet chic. The LED daytime U-shaped running lights switch off on the side where the indicator is flashing for added affect.
Even on the lowest ride height, you still need to heave-ho up into the cabin so the side steps are a worthwhile option.
I’ve said before that it’s difficult to do something unusual with a 2-box design, but that was before I saw Grand Cherokee’s little sister, the Cherokee. She has a face only a mother could love, while Grand Cherokee is magnificent in its chunkiness. She still has a smiling-face grill but it does not appear to be squinting at you like it does on the Cherokee.
It’s chunky and macho and is the reason that there are so many of the new model Grand Cherokee on the road. The last 2 years has seen an explosion of Jeep sales and justly so. The top models get a power tailgate because when open, the handle is a very long way away. It’s a confident piece of design and is certainly as attractive as any SUV out there.
Some say the grille looks like an electric shaver, but I don’t know….
What a triumph. I simply don’t know where to start. Like the 300 SRT we drove a little while ago, the cabin has benefitted from and huge upsurgeance in the popularity of Chrysler products. Jeep has basked in the sea of success and it has tempted the blokes in control of the money to loosen the purse-strings. Many a bean counter has buried a half decent car because they are too stingy to properly invest in design. Having done that, they then manacle the manufacturing to a level of cheapness that only accountants have the chutzpah to attempt. The end result is a mean resentful little box trying to pretend it is something it isn’t. Such is not the case here and the cabin feels luxurious and well appointed. The exception being the odd bit of cheap plastic, but the Jeep starts at $45k drive-away for a full sized 4-by, so let’s be reasonable.
The seating is fabulously comfortable. There are power adjustments every which way for the toastily heated front seats. The toastiness extends to the rear passengers in all but the pov-model, but don’t think the entry level means cheap and nasty. Model selection depends on the level of niceness you can afford. My advice is reach deep if you can but even the bottom of the range feels good.
The infotainment system is common throughout Chrysler and is easy to use as well as being responsive and intuitive. The home screen is customisable with charms that you can add as you wish. Audio and vehicle functions can be probed and prodded with most options being only a click or two away. Even the Satnav is easy enough to use without a nose having to be glued to the user guide. The impressive sound gets better the further up the range you go with even the base model Laredo sounding concert-hall-like.
The auto Air Cond is set and forget but I like a car to be deep arctic so I tend to use most of them in manual mode to the chagrin of the other chaps onboard. It is multi zoned so you don’t have to high-beam if you choose not to. You simply dial down the arctic in you zone. The steering wheel buttons are standard fare, and like all the switch-gear, has that solid classy feel about it. On those really cold days skiing at Perisher, you can opt to heat the steering wheel, which is ever so civilised. The car feels rugged yet refined.
The gear selector takes a bit of getting used to. It’s a T-bar of sorts but it really just an electronic switch. It’s easy to go past the gear you want with the clicks feeling almost undetectable. Going from forward to reverse can be a chore if you are the type to get flustered. The steering wheel, also common to the 300, has the manual shifting paddles at the rear along with the aux audio controls. The audio switches are easy enough because they are on the rear surface of the wheel and you can’t hit them by mistake. On the other hand, the paddles are so close to the back of the wheel that you can easily slap them without meaning to. You find yourself roaring off from the lights (especially in the sublime V8’s) getting to a billion RPMs before you realise you’ve hit a paddle by mistake. The paddles will operate whether you are in manual mode or not. Although returning to auto mode means holding the UP paddle for a second, you have burnt off the GDP of a small African nation in the meanwhile. You’ll find the 4WD settings on the centre console but most of us will never need to touch them, so read up on what it does in the user guide!
This car is 100% about lifestyle, the one you want, not necessarily the one you have. I’ve captained other SUV’s which drive like cars like BMW’s X3 and X5. None was a true 4WD. Sure they have All Wheel Drive, but take that too far off road and you’re bound to come at the least convenient time. Their fancy-schmancy diffs are great on tarmac, and quite good at dirt, so naturally are brilliant on the rally track. However, try walking them over stones or through deep sand, and the story is quite different. They’ll have a tough time with deep water too, so it is for this reason that a huge percentage of the SUV’s sold will never see a challenge greater than that of the gravel drive of a holiday home. A true 4WD has hi/lo ranges in its gears, and diffs that lock so there is usually a wheel with grip, however tenuous that grip might be. There are also locking hubs sometimes, but who knows what they actually do? Certainly not I.
I’ve mentioned the adjustable suspension already which can come in handy. It is more often seen on Range Rovers and proper luxury 4WD’s. Our drives took in various conditions including the now famous 40k stretch of chassis-buckling goat track near the Wombeyan caves. It is on this track where the Jeep took a short side trip for pictures. It involved terrain that would make a suburban mode of transport puce with envy. The angles of attack and departure make you feel as if you might have the ability to climb and almost vertical wall. The ride feels luxurious most of the time but can get a bit choppy if I was to be particularly picky. It is here where we chose to pause for some photo ops. She climbed off the side of the road onto a small plateau without turning a hair. The neat graphic on the dash tells you how the wheels are placed in all planes at a time when you would do better to watch where the car is going.
You sit high as you do in most SUV’s which gives you a commanding position. It is this position that gives soccer mums the impression they are the only ones on the road, and it is this which gives SUV’s a bad name. Parking for anyone with a modicum of ability is dead easy with the rear camera even warning you if traffic approaches as you reverse out of your spot. It is astounding then that soccer mums manage to double park blocking the street, or park over the lines using two spaces at Coles. They simply don’t care, but it certainly isn’t the fault of the car. It is a simple process to get the Jeep into the middle of a park every time without causing World War III.
There is no doubt the big Jeeps are at home off-road, but it’s the suburban safari they are more likely to encounter. It’s here where you’ll notice the steering is slightly woolly. You simple can’t have such massive wheels, with tyres the size of a planet, and expect sports car handling. If you want sports car handling, buy a sports car.
Even the base model’s silky 210kw/347Nm 3.6L V6 petrol is very economical considering it’s pulling around a car the size of a small asteroid, but could use a little more torque. The V8 is 5.7L with 259kw and a planet-moving 520Nm of torque, though it’s not quite so economical even with cylinder shutdown. The diesel is great, and my favourite, but costs a lot extra and the fuel is usually at a premium.
Grand Cherokee has value, class, economy (unless you drive like a moron), and good looks, so what’s not to like. It feels like a brick-outhouse, is easy to drive, and is crammed full of kit. It is modern, and in many ways, a leader. All models have a thoughtful LED torch secreted within the rear cargo area always charged and ready to go. It doesn’t drive like a sports car, it drives like a well-mannered 4WD because that is what it is. Lose the god awful foot operated parking brake and the Jeep is hard to fault. Some of the cabin plastics could be improved, but then again it is still streets ahead of the opposition. I love the radar guided cruise control and the keyless start to name but a few of the gadgets.
Would I buy one? Yes, happily.
Laredo 4×2 V6 $43,000 ($45,000 driveaway)
Laredo 4×4 V6 $46,000
Laredo 4×4 V6 diesel $51,000
Limited V6 $56,000
Limited V6 diesel $61,000
Limited V8 $61,000
Overland V6 $66,000
Overland V6 diesel $71,000
Overland V8 $71,000