As a member of CarAdvice’s operations team I get the rare privilege of watching the ever-pleasing procession of new cars like the Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland come into our garage. However, my enthusiasm is usually short-lived because as soon as they’re in, they’re out - albeit in the capable hands of one of our journalists to review.
So when the big wigs upstairs decided that it would be a good idea to put me (a mid-30s, newly married bloke who had been forced to sell his beloved French hot-hatch in an effort to enter into the outrageously pricey Sydney property market) in the Jeep for an extended period of time, I jumped at the opportunity.
I’m a man easily swayed by looks, and in my opinion the Grand Cherokee represents the best looking model in the hotly contested large family SUV segment. From the outside, Jeep appears to have retained the rugged off-road menace thanks to that front grill while adding sleeker, more sporty lines.
My car is the 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6 Overland model, which is priced at $72,000. Its engine produces 184kW of power and 570Nm of torque. As a petrol-only driver, my only hesitation was what a diesel car would be like to drive.
My first impression of the interior was one of surprise. The Overland’s application of wood trim on the dash, doors, and on the upper quarter of the steering wheel gives it a luxury feel. My wife was keen to follow my lead and touch the soft dash with its white stitching. Everything is highly visible thanks to the natural light provided by the Overland’s panoramic roof.
The first few weeks of driving this car were frustratingly limited to weekend inner-city shopping jaunts to pick up some of those gifts we received from the wedding. Thanks friends and family! This actually turned out to be a great city parking test for the 4.8-metre long Jeep.
The task of parking the Jeep Grand Cherokee in Balmian’s narrow lanes would have been made infinitely harder if it didn’t come with both front and rear parking sensors as standard. These are aided by the brilliant reverse-view camera displayed clearly on the Grand Cherokee’s large 8.4-inch touchscreen and side mirrors that automatically reposition so that you get a better view of the pavement. Not that scraping the alloy off its 20-inch wheels is an easy task given the higher profile rubber will shield the rims from most drivers who like to park by brail.
With most of the newly purchased table lamps and bath towels securely placed along the full width of the Grand Cherokee’s rear leather seats, it was time to put the foot down as we had a date at Ikea. Unseasonably warm weather meant some fiddling with the air-conditioning controls, but they were simple to operate, even from behind the wheel, blasting a pleasant 19-degrees through the car from the Overland’s dual-zone climate control. Better still was the discovery of vented seat coolers in both the front and rear.
Driving this beast down Newtown’s notorious King St in peak hour traffic at a rather smug driving height felt refreshingly comfortable for this 6 foot 2in tester. Remember, as a driver newly divorced from his French hot-hatch, I was used to getting out of the car happy with the fun drive but wincing at the condition it had left my back in. The Jeep, in contrast, and like all good American cars should, has comfort firmly in mind. Lower, middle and upper back bolster support controlled electronically is brilliant.
Once on the Princes Highway we had a chance to appreciate the full grunt of the Grand Cherokee Overland’s V6 diesel engine. "Torquey" is a word liberally sprayed around the office by our journalists and we immediately found that term applicable once I revved it beyond 2000rpm. Channeling the boy-racer in me, I put the pedal down to experience its impressive acceleration.
You might expect the suspension to be soft and squishy for a big American SUV, but the large, heavy wheels means it can be a tad firm over they bumpy stuff. However, the comfort on smooth surfaces is unquestionably good.
Having jumped into a few SUVs that have come through the garage when the writers had them in for comparison tests, the Jeep didn't feel as secure as some through quicker corners, and that the steering takes a bit of effort at lower speeds - when parking at Ikea, for example.
After a laborious two hours of following Ikea’s yellow brick road labyrinth picking up unpronounceable Swedish bookcases, chairs and shelving units it was time to load up the boot after folding the seats down. Anyone who has had to negotiate one of those Ikea trolleys laden with what feels like a tonne of unassembled plywood will share my appreciation for the Grand Cherokee Overland’s keyless boot release. This allowed us concentrate on managing the trolley across the undulating Ikea car park with the knowledge that we’d have an open boot ready to alight our home kit.
Ready to leave Ikea, I tried to put the Jeep in reverse. Upon looking down, I noticed I had put it into neutral, so I tried to put it into reverse except it went into park. Finally, after a few more goes, I got it into reverse. Herein lies my biggest criticism of the Grand Cherokee – the automatic shifter is not intuitive and requires a look down every time a new gear is requested by the driver. The journos in the office agree - it's frustrating.
Looking to avoid a return journey along one of Sydney's most clotted arteries we employed the help of the sat-nav and found that it guided us home brilliantly - displaying directions on the high-resolution instrument cluster display panel as well as on the main screen. While it was quick and easy to establish a route, it did require the car to be at a complete standstill to input an address - a small annoyance that I’m sure is installed to prevent drivers from tech distraction while in motion.
After my first few weeks with this SUV it is apparent why Jeep is on to a winner and why I'm seeing so many on the road. For my wife and I it scores highly on a number of key areas, and it's an SUV we have placed firmly in our consideration set.
City driving alone is not why we are considering this car, however, as we’re keen to test it on the open road and even test our 4WD skills off-road. A trip to Dubbo in central-west NSW will give us a chance to test the car's off-road abilities, as well as our own.
Stay tuned for our second long term report in the coming weeks.
Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
Date acquired: June 2014
Odometer reading: 1290km
Travel this month: 796km
Consumption this month: 12.9L/100km