The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a seriously good handler for its size and weight.
You may have noticed Jeep's advertising blitz at the moment. Radio, television, internet - Jeep is going nuts promoting the brand. You can't blame them; Jeep has plenty of models on offer and it's also the company's 70th anniversary proving a long heritage of off-road machinery.
Sure, there have been some ups and downs along the way, but judging by its latest offering, the Grand Cherokee, things are on the up and up.
On test here is the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited V6, the second tier in the four-tier line-up. It's a $10,000 premium over the base Laredo, but for your extra money you get 20-inch wheels instead of 18-inchers, heated seats in both rows, full leather interior, privacy glass, parking sensors, tyre-pressure monitor and display, Alpine premium audio and Jeep's Memory System. This includes memory of seat settings, radio presets, steering wheel position and mirror positions, with each keyfob given its own settings; very handy for husbands and wives who like their own preferences.
Under the bonnet lies the 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 mated to a smooth-shifting five-speed automatic. The engine makes 210kW and 346Nm and is quiet, smooth and when revved has a nice note. It's a shame that its outputs are blunted by the nearly 2.3-tonnes of mass that the Grand Cherokee is carrying (and that's before you've got passengers), so it takes a while to get going.
Once you're past 4000rpm, the V6 will pulling quite strongly, even in first gear, and on the roll the engine is a reasonably willing performer. The 5.7-litre V8 (which is a $5000 option) will satisfy those with a thirst for power, with its 259kW and 520Nm outputs, however an urban fuel figure of 21.1L/100km means you'll be on a first name basis with your local service station operator. There is a diesel Grand Cherokee coming in a few months, too, so watch this space for our impressions on that.
The five-speed auto does a great job of shuffling ratios in a creamy manner and while the luxury SUV segment seems to have set six-speeds as the standard, it never feels a gear short. It did, however, clunk a couple of times in stop-start conditions in a traffic jam we found ourselves in, but not after that. That was perhaps the only blight on an excellent drivetrain.
Even its fuel economy isn't too bad. With our week split exactly down the middle between city and country driving, covering 400km of each, we settled on 10.6L/100km for the country run, and 13.8L/100km for the city jaunt.
In fact, our goal for the country run was to test long distance comfort, fuel economy and road manners at speed. The Grand Cherokee scores three out of three. We spent four straight hours behind the wheel on a round trip from Perth to Bunbury and by the end, we were most impressed.
What's surprising is that first impressions made the seats seem a little hard. But after hours behind the wheel, you wouldn't have them any other way. There was no fidgeting, no aches, just hopping out and feeling refreshed. The other surprise came when you threw it at some bends.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a seriously good handler for its size and weight. While there's no getting around the laws of physics, its firm suspension settles into a corner quickly and allows a lot of speed to be carried. It isn't flustered mid-corner by bad surfaces, and at speed, the optional air-suspension (as fitted to our test car) drops the car by 13mm, further improving its stability.
Sure, the ride is firm, but never crashy or thumping, so on the road it's still comfortable. Off road, it softens up further and the long travel absorbs challenging terrain without issue. With its air suspension, it'll climb to a whopping 271mm of ground clearance. Further helping its off road cause its the selectable terrain dial (called Quadra-Trac II®) which allows the driver to set the best mode for what lies ahead.
It also comes with a proper low-range transfer case, clearly showing its intent, unlike its rivals from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. It's an extremely capable and rugged off-roader, as we showcased in our launch drive (click here for the story). But that doesn't mean it's basic.
The seats are beautifully trimmed in soft leather and the interior design is definitely modern. At night there's a luminous blue-green glow coming from the cupholders, gearshift surround, behind door handles and in door pockets, putting you in mind of TRON. During the day, it looks classy, despite a few cheap plastics, but nothing that looks out of place - even the silver finishes look nice.
There are some worrying elements, like the sunglass holder whose plastic surround creaks loudly when you press it and the gear lever which can easily knock left into manual mode - simply by brushing your arm against it - due to the right-hand-drive configuration (it doesn't happen in a LHD car - knocking to the right doesn't change into manual). Another gripe is the thickness of the A-pillars. They are by no means small, and worse still, they thicken further at the base. Combine that with huge wing mirrors and your left-hand visibility coming up to intersections or roundabouts is quite poor.
While we're on the negatives, it would be nice for the rear headrests to detach or at least have some gap underneath them. The reason? Well, if you're in the family way, it's a struggle to fit child seats. If the straps are widely spaced, you could possibly go around the headrests, but for those close together it is almost impossible to feed the latch underneath the headrests. If you do manage (I got two seats fitted - one for each of my kids) you run the risk of scratching the leather, so be very careful.
The good thing is there's plenty of space to fit the seats. While from the outside the Grand Cherokee looks compact, it's a tardis inside. The boot is massive, swallowing two prams side-by-side if need be. Three abreast across the back row is no problem, and headroom is excellent, even for those over six-feet.
The front seats have plenty of (fully electric) adjustment and as mentioned previously are extremely comfortable on long journeys and the backrest is able to recline, further improving comfort.
The sat-nav (standard equipment on the Limited) is very quick and extremely accurate. Touch screen capability is helpful and you can control audio and phone settings from the screen or from buttons behind the steering wheel. You can play and recharge your iPod or iPhone using the cable inside the cubby-hole at the bottom of the centre stack, and setting up Bluetooth is as simple as using voice commands.
Fitted to our test car was the Luxury Group II pack which costs $3250 and comprises a heated steering wheel as well as an electric tailgate. Also optioned was the $3250 CommandView panoramic sunroof. Put another way, the cost of those two options could have paid for the V8 model, and some spare cash for extra fuel. I'll let you figure out what the best way to go is.
Whatever options you decide to specify, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited remains exceptional value for money. In the luxury SUV segment it is impossible to beat for someone who wants comfort and to be able to go off-road, too.
It's miles bigger than a Land Rover Freelander, and much, much more competitive than a BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz ML-Class. It's also more rugged and capable off-road than its German, Japanese and Swedish rivals, but still maintains excellent road-holding.
If it's a five-seat, luxury bush-basher you're after for under $60,000, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is currently the one to beat.