The Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland is, at least for now, the top variant of the best-selling large SUV in the country.
When an American brand such as Jeep manages to convince more Australian buyers to pick a Grand Cherokee over such established names as Toyota Prado and Ford Territory, there must be something to it.
Firstly, it’s a looker. The Jeep Grand Cherokee, updated in 2013 with sharper and even more aggressive styling, has been a big hit with Australian buyers as it blends tough American style with sophisticated flowing lines while maintaining a city-friendly appearance.
Then there’s the price. Starting at just $43,000 for the base model (rear-wheel-drive) Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo, the Fiat Chrysler group (which owns Jeep, as well as Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati and Dodge) continues to make some rivals look uncomfortably overpriced, given the high strength of the Australian dollar.
On the entry model there’s 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlamps, bi-xenon HID headlamps, LED daytime running lamps, rain-sensing automatic front wipers, 7-inch TFT display in instrument cluster with 5-inch central display, dual-zone air-conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters, audio, cruise control, heated front seats with 8-way power adjustment and more.
The Overland is priced from $66,000, $20,000 more than the Laredo, but for that you get 20-inch wheels, automatic tailgate, tinted windows, an 8.4-inch display unit, leather-trimmed heated seats (front and rear) and instrument panel, ventilated front seats, a massive sunroof, blindspot monitoring system, forward collision warning (auto braking), adaptive cruise control (follow car in front) and plenty of other goodies.
You also get a class-leading 4WD system (which can be optioned on the base model for another $2000), and it’s genuine off-roading ability that sets the Grand Cherokee apart from many rivals that aren’t as capable off the bitumen as their design may suggest.
For the purpose of this review, we headed off-road near Mount Beauty in the Victorian countryside, about an hour out of Albury – and pummelled with massive amounts of rain.
Adding to the challenge, our Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland review car wore its standard 20-inch, low-profile road tyres and had no additional modifications.
With the Jeep’s Quadra track 4WD system engaged to Mud mode, we were ready to cross some pretty deep rivers and climb some spectacular hills. It’s important at this point to mention that had this car actually belonged to us, we would never subject it to such conditions, so its off-roading ability is well and truly beyond the needs of everyday Jeep Grand Cherokee buyers.
With the air suspension at its highest point (271mm), the Grand Cherokee would make a great choice in the event of a zombie-apocalypse. It’s a go-anywhere, no-BS type vehicle that doesn’t compromise (much) on its road-going behavior. More importantly, there’s not an awful lot you need to know to be able to conquer some pretty tough terrain.
At one point the other half took the helm and managed to complete a river crossing without too many tears.
We climbed hill after hill and crossed dozens of rivers until we finally covered the wheels in so much mud that we get stuck halfway up a hill-climb. But despite its gripless road tyres, it simply took a few goes to complete the climb.
Simply putting on some off-roading tyres would help the big Jeep tackle pretty much any terrain.
There’s no doubt the Toyota Prado is equally capable off-road, but doing it in the Jeep just seems like a better experience, mainly because the Jeep makes more sense as a daily driver as well.
While it has more off-roading ability than you’re likely to ever need, it’s the on-road ability that has improved with the latest generation.
On bitumen the Grand Cherokee drives like most regular SUVs: the ride is comfortable, the steering is light (if almost a little over-assisted) and its overall driving mannerisms are as you’d expect from a big vehicle.
The big wheels and wider tyres on the Overland models help with cornering grip if you’re fond of having a little fun, but do have a slightly negative impact on ride quality over the smaller-sized rims. On the plus side the cabin is well insulated from outside road noise so there’s not too much compromise in noise, vibration and harshness.
Our test vehicle was fitted with a 3.6-litre V6 coupled to an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox – pretty much the standard go-to eight-speed transmission these days, widely used within the automotive industry including premium brands such as BMW and Jaguar (which further emphasises the Jeep’s value for money).
The update from a five-speed to an eight-speed gearbox with the 2013 facelift has changed the Grand Cherokee’s characteristics significantly. There’s no longer a shortage of gears or a clumsy shift. The eight-speeder is smooth, always in the right gear and allows for much better power delivery and fuel economy than before.
The additional gears are well matched to the V6 petrol engine and pretty much negate the need for the 5.7-litre V8 option (although no one can argue against the 344kW 6.4-litre HEMI V8 in the SRT, if that’s your thing). In some respects, it also begins to question the diesel option, which adds a $5000 premium to the price.
If we were to compare the fuel economy of the two (given the current price of diesel at $1.58 and petrol at $1.50), it would take roughly 135,000km for the diesel’s 7.5L/100km fuel economy figure to repay the extra cost over the petrol 4×4 that uses 10.4L/100km.
Inside, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is rather American, but definitely more Los Angeles than Detroit. While there’s plenty of hard plastics around the place, the overall cabin ambience is surprisingly good, with a big 8.4-inch screen taking central focus and the buttons and switchgear doing their part well.
It’s no Range Rover inside, of course, but its interior betters those of the rival Ford Territory Titanium and Toyota Prado. At a $66,000-plus proposition, though, the Overland finds tougher comparison against a Volkswagen Touareg 150 TDI.
If you’ve got between $50,000 and $70,000 to spend on a big SUV and off-road ability isn’t high on your list, it’s also worth looking at the Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander, Kia Sorento Platinum and Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring.
Nonetheless, the Jeep Grand Cherokee remains one of the best packages combining versatile motoring and sharp pricing.