The Jeep Grand Cherokee took out the prize for top selling large SUV again in August. Having lived with the 3.0-litre turbo diesel Overland model for more than three months now, this tester can see why it keeps winning.
With an exterior look that has shed Jeep’s traditionally boxy WWII design and an interior laden with impressive tech features it has served us well primarily as a city car, despite its intimidating size.
But if we believe the marketing departments of the car companies, it is outside the urban boundaries that vehicles like the Jeep Grand Cherokee are able to show their true mettle. So with that in mind, it was time for a road trip to central west NSW to visit Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo.
Leaving Sydney on a Friday afternoon is never a good idea, and while we made good time weaving the 2.0-tonne Overland through Sydney’s westward traffic snarl it wasn’t long before my wife insisted that we ignore the satellite navigation on the 8.4-inch touchscreen and take the Bells Line of Road over the Blue Mountains.
After an hour moving at an agonizing crawl, we were finally able to let the Grand Cherokee’s 184kW/570Nm 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 loose and appreciate its satisfying, un-diesel-like engine noise. It made a ferocious roar when pushed hard to accelerate in the far right lane. The pick-up was as immediate as you could hope for in a car this size but settled perfectly when approaching the speed limit.
With a yearning for nostalgia it dawned on me that Bathurst’s Mount Panorama road circuit would be an ideal detour as we passed through the region. Having only ever experienced the Bathurst circuit while watching TV, I was a little excited to experience the mountain myself.
The Grand Cherokee Overland’s hulking mass didn’t feel exceptionally balanced though some of the tighter turns at the top of the mountain, but any loss of faith cornering at speed was supressed thanks to the Quadra-Drive II four-wheel-drive system that benefits from an electronic limited-slip rear differential.
Conrod straight permitted me to slip the transmission into sports mode and gave me license to experience a 0-60km/h dash in just a few seconds. Imagining I was about to take the chequered flag, I rounded Murray's Corner and swapped down a few gears using the paddleshifters handily placed behind the steering wheel.
Back on the highway we were encouraged to witness the Overland’s blind-spot monitoring system flash and chime when needed. It has to be said that while the flashing orange triangle on the side mirrors adds peace of mind, the constant beep as other drives passed us (and vice versa) became a tad annoying. Thankfully the audible element of this feature can be switched off.
More offensive to some drivers, but no doubt a potentially life-saving safety feature, is the forward collision warning detector. My wife nearly ejected through the sunroof when we got a little too close to the car in front of us at 108km/h. Rather than an a warning system that beeps faster as you get closer to the object, the Grand Cherokee’s front warning system blasts out a single deafening horn. It will surely wake any fatigued or distracted driver and make them feel like they’ve just triggered a radiation leak.
Highway kilometres were otherwise dispensed with effortlessly, though this tester also found that on winding 100km/h stretches of road, the transmission was eager to hold on to fifth gear for a little too long, and the eight-speed gearbox does feel quite highly strung.
The following day we woke to a typically frosty Orange winter’s morning. Within a split second of pushing the engine start button, my wife pushed the passenger's seat heater button the control console and I went for the heated steering wheel – an option only available in this Overland spec.
Between Orange and Dubbo we decided to test the off-road capabilities of the Overland, and a local directed us to some hilly tracks. It was a perfect opportunity to play with the variable drivetrain system, controlled by a circular knob haloed with options to select either snow, sand, mud or rock mode (there is also an auto setting that leaves it up to the car to control its traction limitations).
Assessing the terrain, which at best could be described as a muddy, puddled slope, the mud option was employed.
Although not entirely necessary on this track we thought it novel (read, pushing buttons is fun) to invoke the air suspension ride height system and lifted the car to its highest ‘Off-Road 2’ elevation. It handled the 20 per cent gradient easily, comfortably and confidently.
Our return loop back to Sydney took us via Mudgee so it was on the freeway again that we noticed the air suspension automatically drops to its lowest setting to help aerodynamics and in-turn manage a more efficient fuel economy that was stable at 9.2 litres per 100 kilometres.
When conversation ran out over these long distances, we connected an iPhone via Bluetooth and streamed my wife’s imaginatively named ‘good songs’ Spotify playlist.
The Overland’s truly awesome Alpine sound system had us both singing along to Marlena Shaw, Rudimental and Beyonce ... don’t judge me.
An even more grin-inducing feature of this car is the diesel engine. As mentioned, it's not the quietest hauler on the road but you can imagine how pleased we felt with the Grand Cherokee when we did our first fill up when re-entering the Blue Mountains on our return home. That’s an impressive 750km covered on one 93-litre tank.
I really do have to admit that both my wife and I struggle to find many negatives about this Jeep. Our initial gripes about the fiddly gear-shifter and fears that it would be too big for us are now becoming easily forgotten. It has turned out to be a brilliant long-distance companion and one we’re becoming increasingly more attached to.
As a pretty typical city-dwelling DINK couple we both agree that the Grand Cherokee would be an ideal car that, unlike this driver, won’t have exterior looks that will age quickly.
With the Overland too, you do get the benefit of a more luxurious feel thanks to the leather seats, detailed stitching and soft touch plastics aplenty.
All the nice trims aside, our token off-road foray onto dirt tracks has given us the desire to test this Grand Cherokee on some more ‘extreme’ terrain before we give it back to the folk at Jeep. So watch out for the 3rd
long term review where we’ll test its boulder-busting credentials.
Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
Date acquired: June 2014
Odometer reading: 2450km
Travel this month: 896km
Consumption this month: 10.2L/100km