We test the 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee off-road and on.
How the mighty have fallen – that’s probably an apt way of looking at the fortunes of the current-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Just 18 months ago the big US-made SUV was lighting up the sales charts – at the end of 2014 the Jeep Grand Cherokee had outsold the Toyota LandCruiser Prado, with more than 16,500 sales on the back of strong driveaway deals.
Since then, though, the Australian dollar has tanked, the deals have dissipated somewhat, and sales of the Grand Cherokee have consequently tumbled. From a baseline of about 1375 units per month in 2014, the numbers dipped to about 1000 per month in 2015, and this year the slump has continued: less than 700 per month. Yep, that’s a slip of about 50 per cent over that period.
As well as prices having risen incrementally across all models over that period, a slew of recalls surely hasn't helped the brand in assuring potential buyers of a smooth ownership experience. And then there was that viral music clip about citrus fruits.
Look, we even had a Jeep long-termer for a period of three months from late 2014 to early 2015, and the ownership experience was, let’s just say, painful. Our loan ended with the vehicle in the workshop.
All this paints a pretty bleak picture – and it would be understandable if you decided that a Jeep wasn’t going to be on your shopping list based on the recall issues alone.
But if you really, really want to be that person that people say “they bought a Jeep” about, read on.
Here we have the 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland diesel, a large SUV that now costs from $79,000 plus on-road costs – that’s up a huge $7000 over the 2014 model, and it’s also $3000 dearer than if you’d chosen a 2015 version – though nothing has changed to warrant the extra ask.
For that money you could get any number of go-anywhere off-road SUVs, and most with seven seats (the Jeep only has five), from the Toyota Fortuner to its bigger brother the Prado, or a Ford Everest. Heck, if you’re close to $80K you could even consider a BMW X5, Lexus RX or Mercedes-Benz GLE, albeit without serious off-road credentials.
That said, at the time of writing, Jeep is offering a $6000 cash-back on diesel models, and we’d suspect you’d be able to get even more off as sales aren’t exactly strong right now. And there’s an updated 2017 version in the works that will arrive here later this year.
What do you get for your spend? A serious off-roader with a fair amount of kit, including a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, leather seat trim, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel, an 8.4-inch media system with satellite navigation and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and a bunch of USB (one front, two charging rear) and auxiliary plugs (including aux, SD card and CD slot in the centre console). It has a nine-speaker audio system, too.
The interior of the Grand Cherokee is quite lush, with that big media screen playing its part in lifting the ambience, though the digital instrument cluster – with speedometer, trip computer and driver information screen for the Jeep’s off-road modes and wheel angle/tyre pressure monitoring – is even more impressive.
In the back there’s more than enough space in the second row for three adults, and the boot is sizeable, at 782 litres, but as mentioned, the seat layout is strictly for five, not seven.
Safety is accounted for by way of a blind-spot monitoring system, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, and seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee). Further, you get a rear-view camera and front and rear parking sensors standard.
Overland models also get Jeep’s Quadra-Lift adjustable air suspension to raise and lower the vehicle as required, and as with all 4x4 variants in the range, there’s Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system to help you get where you’re going when you’re off the beaten track. The available modes are Rock, Sand, Snow, Mud and Auto.
Under the bonnet of the Overland we have a 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6 engine producing a beefy 184kW of power (at 4000rpm) and 570Nm of torque (at 2000rpm). It features a proper high- and low-range four-wheel-drive system, and channelling the grunt is an eight-speed automatic gearbox with paddleshifters.
We spent time in the Jeep both on-road and off-road for this test, because if you’re spending about $80,000 on the most off-road-capable model in the range, there’s a chance you’ll want to use it for its intended purpose. It is quite a good thing off-road, but not nearly as supple over sharp bumps as, say, a Toyota Prado.
On Kumho Solus tyres (with 265/50 rubber wrapped around heavy 20-inch rims) there was no stopping the Jeep’s forward progress, even over craggy, loose rock tracks. This was managed in Rock mode, with 4WD Low engaged, which also raises the Jeep to its loftiest ride height.
The suspension compresses well but rebounds too sharply, particularly in its highest setting, with a disconcerting thumping through the suspension struts being heard (and felt) by those in the cabin. At lower heights it is still somewhat thumpy, too. When left to its own devices in Auto mode in the standard high-range, permanent four-wheel-drive mode, there was ample traction over some slippery surfaces.
The steering is communicative on poorly finished tracks, too, with surprisingly good feel through the wheel and not a lot of play on-centre. It’s a shame that isn’t quite the case on-road… That’s because the steering is slow, particularly when parking – it takes around 3.5 turns lock to lock, and while the tiller is light to twirl, it is annoying when you’re trying to negotiate tight car parks. At speed it is quite nippy, though, offering reasonably good response and accuracy in corners – though the higher the speed, the worse the amount of feel available.
That compromised ride isn’t perfect on the sealed stuff, either – we had numerous complaints of it feeling sharp from the rear seat, while up front it’s not much better. It tends to wallow over larger surface changes but the wheels stumble over smaller, sharper bumps more violently than you’d expect of a big SUV riding on air suspension.
The engine is a lovely thing – admittedly there is some low-rev lag when you take off from a standstill, but once things are moving it is smooth to drive. There’s more than enough pulling power with four adults on board, and there’s a level of refinement to the engine as it revs out that makes the experience quite rewarding.
The transmission offers clean and intuitive shifts, too, making for fuss-free progress whether you’re pottering around town or if you jump on the throttle for a quick overtaking move.
Fuel use isn’t deplorable, either – on test we used 9.3 litres per 100 kilometres, a little higher than the claimed 7.5L/100km.
The biggest annoyance with the drive experience is the gear shifter. Christian noted this in his long-term updates on the car in late 2014/early 2015, and the model currently on sale still has that selector (which has seen a global recall issued over its usability).
It is frustrating – with the incorrect amount of pressure on the shifter when you try to put it in P from D, it can go into R instead; or if you’re trying to get to R and you may shift it backwards it goes to D, then N, then P. ERGGGGH. This only gets more annoying when you’re off-roading, and you need to make a precise manoeuvre quickly.
In another blow for potential owners, the Jeep isn't cheap to maintain, nor is it overly convenient. Servicing is required every six months or 10,000km, whichever occurs first, and we obtained online quotes for maintenance over three years/60,000km that saw an average cost per annum/20,000km of $1088 – ouch. The warranty coverage is the bare minimum, too: three years/100,000km.
Look – for a week of driving the Jeep Grand Cherokee is arguably a solid proposition. It can go further off-road than many competitors, and the diesel drivetrain is smooth and user-friendly.
Whether it remains as solid a proposition over a longer period is a question buyers may wish to weigh up before signing on the dotted line. There are other, potentially better, ownership options out there…
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