From the time the first-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee launched 22 years ago in 1993, to the 2011 debut of the current fourth generation, owning one has often been rather polarising.
Some folk can’t get enough of their Jeep, while others can’t seem to give them away fast enough. Partly because of this – and partly because I don’t mind me a truck – I’ve always wanted to drive a Jeep, but never had the chance. Until now…
And what a way to start.
For the next seven days, I’m in the $58,000 Jeep Grand Cherokee Blackhawk Edition. Even though this one is draped in ‘Bright White’, just about everything else is black.
To name just a few items, the Jeep badge, 20-inch rims, grille, roof rails, and Capri leather and suede seats are all black. There’s even a fancy ‘Blackhawk’ badge on the tailgate. What makes it even more special is that the Blackhawk is a limited run model – only 800 of these beasts will be produced.
I know I’m not alone here, but due to this limited edition Grand Cherokee having an engine start button, I’m quickly looking for a place to put the keys. Typically, they end up in one of the cup holders, as storage space is limited.
The 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system takes a little while to become familiar with, but the in-dash driver’s display is easy to scroll through via the Jeep’s steering wheel-mounted controls. Jeep are clever with detail too. If you look closely, the background of the touchscreen matches the dashboard material. Neat.
After an effortless trip home from Melbourne to Shepparton, the next day I’m off to enjoy some serenity at Bonnie Doon – the thinking being that travelling through mountains on narrow roads should be a good test of the Grand Cherokee’s ‘go-anywhere’ ruggedness.
With a 782-litre boot (1554 litres with the seats down), there’s no issues with luggage space in the back of the Blackhawk, although a week’s worth of luggage for a family – rather than a single person – might be a squeeze. If you are travelling with four others, for instance, space in the second row is plentiful, even with the front seats moved back.
Propelling the 2267kg Jeep is a 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine that pumps out 184kW of power and 570Nm of torque. Heading into the Strathbogie Ranges, the Grand Cherokee Blackhawk easily eats up the steep hills.
Slowing the hefty car down are 328mm brakes at the front, combined with 320mm brakes at the rear. For a vehicle that weighs in at over a couple tonne, the brakes rein in the Blackhawk’s mass extremely well and feel strong and progressive, giving great confidence.
The Jeep has what the US brand calls ‘e-Shift’, so it gets an electronic shifter rather than your more typical gear selector, which is something both liked and loathed equally among a number of reviewers. Switching between Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive requires just a simple tap up or down on the lever. Once moving, however, the eight-speed automatic transmission is subtle in its changes. While it may polarise some car critics, I found the transmission easy to get along with.
There’s also a ‘Sport’ mode. And while the big Jeep will exhibit some body roll when pushed through tighter corners, flicking it into Sport – which triggers a lowering of the Jeep’s Quadra-Lift air suspension –significantly reduces the effect. Powering its way on through S bends, the Blackhawk isn’t just capable, it’s fun.
The Best of the Rolling Stones gets a cranking, and, when there’s a nine-speaker Alpine premium audio system on board, why not?
The album draws to a close just as I arrive at my destination at Lake Eildon – don’t you just love when that happens? Looking at all the cool ski boats, I wish I had been towing one behind me the whole way. Next time, perhaps?
Compared to the 3000kg towing capacity of the new Ford Everest, the Jeep Grand Cherokee wins with a rating of 3500kg. So, luckily, if you’re planning on transporting an elephant at some point in the near future, you’ll have the right car.
Driving down beside the lake, I gleefully encounter a muddy and bumpy track. Yes! Time to test out the Jeep’s Quadra-Trac II selectable four-wheel-drive system.
Adjusted via a dial and buttons in the centre console, there is a choice of ‘Snow’, ‘Mud’, ‘Rock’, ‘Sand’ or ‘Auto’ settings. As expected, the Jeep has no problems tackling the terrain.
The last three days of my week with the Jeep are spent in Albury/Wodonga. I regularly travel a lot of country kilometres, and on sealed roads the Blackhawk’s ride is smooth, and road noise is kept to a minimum.
During the week I drove the Grand Cherokee, it sipped 7.5 litres per 100km of diesel from its 93-litre fuel tank – matching its claimed figure bang on.
After hearing some negative feedback from friends who have Jeeps, I went into my week with the Jeep Grand Cherokee Blackhawk with a level of trepidation. What if they were right? But by the end of my week, I struggled to find fault.
With aggressive looks and impressive features, the Jeep Grand Cherokee oozes appeal. It’s also comfortable, capable and relatively easy on the bowser. So perhaps, next time you’re searching for a mid-size SUV, don’t just listen to others, go and have a drive for yourself. You might just be surprised.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Blackhawk images by Mandy Turner.