The Jeep Grand Cherokee is the top-selling large SUV in Australia so far this year — just like it was in 2014.
It is generally considered to be many things, each of which in part sums up its success: rugged off-road, well equipped yet decent value, the bearer of head-turning looks and — perhaps most importantly — in possession of an iconic badge backed by brilliant marketing.
You’ve all heard the tagline by now. You bought a Jeep? Yeah, you and thousands of others…
But one thing few people associate with the Grand Cherokee is proper luxury. You could argue it’s a quality product with loads of spec, sure, but premium? As in BMW X5 premium?
That’s what the company is trying here with the Summit Platinum, a new specification level designed to convince buyers of exactly that.
The Grand Cherokee Summit Platinum diesel we test here costs $78,000 plus on-road costs, $6000 more than the equivalent Overland specification. Only the petrol-fired Hemi V8 SRT8 tops it in the Jeep range, and even then only by $2000.
Yes, these are entry variants and the Jeep is at the (sigh) summit of its range, but never underestimate the power of the badge.
Not that Jeep has held anything back when it comes to standard equipment.
Unique features to the Summit Platinum include Platinum Chrome 20-inch alloy wheels, badges, grille inserts and various light surrounds; plus Active Noise Cancellation — more on that in a bit — and acoustic laminated glass on the windshield, rear windscreen and second-row side windows.
Completing the list are illuminated ‘Summit’ door sill plates and a ‘Deluxe Berber’ carpet mat in the cargo compartment.
So, basically some exterior accoutrements and some serious efforts at noise suppression. Jeep claims the reduction in noise while driving is 10 decibels (Db).
At a cruise, the sound-deadened Grand Checker does indeed sound hushed, though honestly given the regular model is refined itself, you’d not cross over hot coals for the extra 10Db. Wind and tyre noise are kept at bay by and large.
This bag of swag comes atop an already lengthy features list that includes a dual-pane sunroof; LED tail-lights and bi-xenon headlights; an electric tailgate; an 8.4-inch touchscreen with sat-nav (3D maps); a 19-speaker Harman Kardon audio system; heated front and rear seats trimmed in Natura leather (also with a cooling function up front); all manner of connectivity; and a seven-inch digital colour instrument display behind the steering wheel.
In addition, there is a forward collision warning system; blind-spot monitors in the mirrors; adaptive cruise control; all-round parking sensors and a reverse-view camera; keyless start; rain-sensing wipers and Trailer Sway Control that keeps anything you’re towing on the straight and narrow.
The interior itself is evidently loaded up with equipment, more so than most SUVs at this price, it’s safe to say. Those vast leather chairs (they’re not merely seats) are excellent, as is the intuitive central screen with a savvy Bluetooth re-pairing system.
Keep in mind that this basic system is used in the Maserati Quattroporte, so it has higher-rent applications. It’s a simple layout, with a series of icons on the screen’s dock to control things such as seat and cabin ventilation, media inputs and navigation.
Truth is, I’m a sucker for transmission tunnel-mounted rotary dials a la BMW’s iDrive, and would find this preferable to punching through touch menus. But that’s a simple preference. More objective is the notably clear reversing camera with guidelines.
Also objective are the frankly sub-par cabin plastics, in particular the creaky, goldy, cheap surfacing surrounding the transmission and fascia, which already exhibited scratches. The pop-open cubby ahead of the cupholders also felt flimsy. The plastics lining the inside of the B-pillar (the one next to your head) were iffy, and further undermined the lashings of leather on other touch points.
Don’t forget that proper luxury is as much about the quality of the fruit bowl as it is the fruit. The ambience in parts reminds you too much of a base sub-$50K Laredo, and below that exuded by the Germans.
As ever, the Grand Cherokee offers a spacious rear seating area for three, with heated rear leather pews feeling almost limo-like. Our car had a $2500 rear DVD entertainment centre with two flip-up hi-def screens with wireless headphones, a remote and USB inputs.
One negative trade-off is the disc drive in the centre console eats into cabin storage significantly.
Still only a five-seater, the Jeep offers 782 litres of room, expanding to 1554L with the seats folded. This latter figure is about 250L shy of the X5.
Under the bonnet is a familiar 3.0-litre CRD V6 turbo-diesel engine punching out 184kW of power at 4000rpm and 570Nm of torque at 2000rpm. For context, the base BMW X5’s four-cylinder diesel produces 160kW/450Nm.
It makes light work of the task of lugging about a vehicle with a hefty 2300kg tare mass courtesy of its low-down vein of pulling power, but it’s also kept relatively hushed, and scarce are the vibrations that permeate into the cabin.
Matched to the engine is an eight-speed automatic with T-bar shifter from German transmission wunderkinds ZF. It’s a better unit than the clunky nine-speeder in the Cherokee, though the short first two gears can send the odd jolt through the driveline at traffic light take-offs.
It’s a minor gripe, given the way it glides through ratios on the move with commendable savoir faire and keeps those engine revs in their sweet spot below 4500rpm. A further positive trade-off is the improved crawl ratio of 44.1:1, allowing for more nous off-road.
That small though occasionally fiddly shifter also has funky glowing blue diodes that make it a charm by night. Eighth gear is taller than Robert Wadlow (Google it, you’ll learn something), but if it doesn’t come to the party often, blame our low speed limits rather than ZF and Jeep.
You can also add some edge via a sports mode, as well as taking control via the wheel-mounted paddles — something you might opt to do while towing. You can legally lug about a 3500kg braked trailer, which is class-leading.
It’s safe to say many Summit Platinum buyers might have a decent fishing boat tucked away in the driveway, or perhaps a horse float.
Jeep claims combined cycle fuel consumption of 7.5 litres per 100km, though as ever the factory claim (from all manufacturers, we note) proved a little ambitious for actual driving. That said, we returned figures of about 9.5L/100km, which is very reasonable.
Less enjoyable than the punchy diesel and generally intuitive is the foot-operated parking brake just poised to bark your shins, and the lack of a half-way decent foot rest behind it. Jeep isn’t the only culprit here — looking at you, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz — but even still, it’s low rent.
As with the regular Grand Cherokee, the Summit offers a comfortable and cushy ride, with prototypical American softness to the suspension (edit).
Yet despite this, as well as the car’s off-road underpinnings, its body control remains pretty decent, with body roll kept relatively well lidded considering the setup.
The Summit comes with Jeep’s Quadra-Lift air suspension in place of conventional coil springs, allowing you to adjust the ride height to five settings — ultra low for car parks or nice and high to increase clearance and approach-departure angles off-road.
There’s also Jeep’s Selec-Terrain variable traction control system that alters its parameters to best handle a variety of surfaces, be it snow, sand, mud or rocks. The Auto mode uses sensors to choose the best setting for you.
The steering is light and numb on centre, but a car with such off-road credentials as this cannot reasonably be expected to be sporty, and the Jeep murders cars like the X5 off the beaten path.
From an ownership perspective, the Grand Cherokee — as with all Jeeps — comes with a three-year/100,000km warranty. Fiat Chrysler Group is one of the few big-volume companies without a capped-price servicing plan. The Grand Cherokee was also among the most recalled vehicles in 2014, leaving a few question marks.
So, conclusion time. There’s no doubt that $78K plus on-roads is a lot of coin for a Grand Cherokee. Is it worth the extra $6000 over the Overland? Debatable. Very debatable. Its cabin also lacks the premium feel and Teutonic quality of even a base Bimmer.
But then again the Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit Platinum remains a large, hugely capable and well-equipped luxury off-roader that also happens to look the business.
Click on the Photos tab to see more images of the Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit Platinum by Tom Fraser.