The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a hamburger in a world of steak. But is that such a bad thing for the all-American SUV?
A hamburger with the lot. A statement that has transcended the simple yet tasty meal to become an idiom for something that has everything you need.
The 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited ticks the box on both counts, for it is a well-featured, go-anywhere, do-anything SUV; while at the same time acting as a four-wheeled metaphor for that simple yet tasty burger.
Because, bottom line, the Jeep GC will satisfy your hunger and fill your tummy… but it’s no steak. Go in expecting a premium sirloin experience, and you’ll be disappointed. Go in wanting something with egg, bacon and maybe some onion, and the big Jeep will see you right.
From the iconic seven-bar grille backward, the Grand Cherokee is that all-American serve you can’t help but like. Since its debut in 2011, the fourth generation WK2 GC has received broad acclaim for its smart and handsome styling. And, really, if Rolls Royce is going to copy your DRL signature, surely that's a good thing!
The $69,000 Limited Diesel (a 210kW petrol V6 is also available for $62,000) is the just second of five variants (with more to come!) in the GC range, but it’s no junior burger.
From the 20-inch polished alloy wheels to the nine-speaker Alpine stereo system, the GC Limited has everything you need and pretty much everything you want. Leather seats, parking sensors with rear-view camera, 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment screen that includes navigation and Bluetooth support, plus keyless entry and even a power tailgate.
Yes, you can spend an extra $10k to add the figurative beetroot and pineapple by stepping up to the Overland model, which has the addition of driver assistance technology and a more off-road centric four-wheel drive system, or even go all the way for a double-patty jalapeno-infused chipotle sauce-coated heart-stopper in the 344kW $90,000 SRT… but you don’t really need to.
As in the same way adding extra toppings to your burger tends to overcapitalise on things somewhat, straying too far into steak-price territory can confuse the positioning of the Jeep.
Always remember this is a $60-thousand-dollar car, not an $80-thousand-dollar car. There are elements that touch on being borderline cheap for the $60k price point, too.
Case in point, the seat memory button. This thing looks like it was made from a switch mechanism designed in the 1950s. It’s the cheapest, most unappealing piece of vehicle interaction I’ve used in a long time.
But does it ruin the Jeep experience? Not at all. It’s obviously something that was made to fit every single model that Chrysler could dream up and produced in bulk to save money. If you owned this car, you would honestly press it twice, so it’s not really a big deal… but it's that level of American ‘no problem’ attention to detail attitude that keeps the Jeep in the burger-zone.
Nobody at Jeep has thought about that switch. No-one has tried to make it better. It’s the switch they’ve always used, so they use it.
There are other areas where the materials feel cheaper than they should (lower dash plastics and centre console sides as a start), but conversely there are some nice touch-points around the cabin too. The trim on the dash console and around the 4WD selector are both quite nice, feeling solid and high-quality.
This is the 'reality' of the GC experience, and buyers need to keep it front of mind. Particularly as the Jeep approach to premium materials is the same way the brand approaches premium features.
Take the automatic high-beam function, for example. It may read well on a spec sheet, but it is no intelligent active LED matrix light wall that we are starting to see on some of the European cars.
To be fair, it does what it says. Switch it on and the high-beams will activate automatically in low light, and switch to standard beam when the sensor detects an ambient or oncoming light source. It’s just that in the case of the oncoming light source, you would usually find them flashing their high beams to tell you to turn yours off before the Jeep had done it itself. A premium feature with a less than premium experience - just imagine ordering a McTruffle.
None of this is overly crucial to the enjoyment of the Grand Cherokee, though. You just need to understand that American premium is very different to rest-of-the-world premium. They just manage to pull it off because while they don’t quite get ‘fancy’, they absolutely get charisma. And this is served with the Grand Cherokee like a huge side of fries.
Forget even the stylish exterior - that despite being close to seven years old, still isn’t dating - because the most charismatic feature of the GC is the drive line.
If the Limited is the firm favourite on the Grand Cherokee menu, the diesel is the chef’s own pick.
With a 3.0-litre turbo V6 outputting 184kW and 570Nm, the Limited diesel is an excellent highway tourer. Jeep claims 7.5L/100km on a combined cycle and with a weekend trip to Mount Buller thrown into our time with the big guy, we saw 7.9L/100km consumption.
Think of it, then, as a lean-beef pattie.
Lower speed sections, like the world’s most frustrating 80km/h section between Yea and Molesworth, saw instant consumption figures as low as 4.0L/100km. I guess the car was bored too.
At 2281kg, it’s a solid car and not supremely sprightly off the line. The 570Nm of torque peaks at 2000rpm and you can feel the car gather speed with progressive linearity, to your chosen speed, where it will sit, happily, all day.
Long country stretches are a breeze in the GC and overtaking moves, where you need to spend as little time on the wrong side as possible, are smooth and confident.
Even the ascent up Mount Buller, where the Jeep had a chance to stretch its muscles past some slower meals from across the pond, was a very relaxed process.
The car’s Selec-Terrain 4WD system stayed in automatic mode and at no time, even through some snowy patches, did we feel the need to worry about traction. We’re sure the Jeep could handle much more than a few slushy puddles but the key thing here is that there was no cause for even consideration of concern that the Jeep would be out of its depth.
Steering is light, with 3.5 turns lock-to-lock. Through tighter bends it does seem you need to wind on more angle than what naturally feels right, but it is not as if you are spinning a ship’s wheel.
The Limited doesn’t receive the air suspension package of higher-specification GCs and that’s not a bad thing. The ride on the coil springs errs toward the softer side and it will float rather than crash over bumps. You can feel it oscillate perhaps a bit too long, but it means a more comfortable ride in the long run.
There’s a bit of skipping from the rear over more extreme corrugations, but in general, the Limited’s ride is compliant and comfy, particularly over longer distances.
There is one big let down, though: the seats.
The driver’s seat, in particular, is straight-up hard. You’d be more comfortable on Forrest Gump’s park bench, such is the lack of padding and bum-care that comes from this chair. The style and bolstering is fine - it is just as though it has been filled with concrete rather than a squishy foam. Which is surprising given the American penchant for ass-comfortry.
In our otherwise juicy burger, that seat is the soggy afterthought lettuce that you kind-of wish wasn’t there. Fix this, please, Jeep, and you’ll have a great tourer.
Now, a word on gearboxes.
Like the bun on a burger, they can make or break the driving experience. Poor Jeep has copped some flak in the market about the gear-selector in Grand Cherokee and, in part, we agree.
The shifter itself is a terrible piece of usability design. The ‘tip’ back to drive seems fluid and easy, but the first time you need to parallel park and complete some drive-to-reverse movements, you want to throw it out the door.
There is no gate or stop between reverse and Park, or reverse and neutral going the other way. So casually bumping the shifter and aiming for reverse puts it in Park, so then you tap the other way – a little bit too hard – and stick it in neutral. So on and so forth.
What never seems to happen, though – despite the hype from North America – is accidentally finding the car in neutral and just hopping out to have the Jeep roll away. Any issues with this are what tend to be described as ‘organic’ or ‘user initiated’. This is like leaving a manual car out of gear with the handbrake off and watching it roll down the street – all while blaming the car.
The shifter is rubbish, sure, but that is really the extent of the issues.
On the move, the eight-speed auto is smooth to shift gears and does a great job of selecting the right one when left to its own devices. You don’t tend to get the hunting-change of other eight- or nine-speed boxes, nor is there an overly long lag on downshift when kicking down to overtake.
The cabin is roomy with great space for rear passengers and ample storage in the 782-litre boot. The wheel arches do protrude into the space a bit more than we’d like (there's a giant subwoofer there), but the cargo area is wholly usable.
Up front the layout is ergonomic and again, very usable.
In between the analogue dials of the instrument cluster is a multi-function LCD display which offers a huge array of information. I’d go as far as to say you won’t ever use most of it, and changing between menus can be a tad tricky, but it’s great to have the info there if you need it.
A favourite feature of the Jeep when up above the snow line, was the temperature dependent activation of the heated seats and steering wheel. Chilly outside? Big Jeep has got your back and automatically fires up the warmers. It even turned things off when it assumed my mitts were toasty enough.
Jeep’s UConnect infotainment software has been in the mainstream press recently as the gateway to much publicised ‘hacking’ of Jeeps in North America. To be very clear – the system and software in question is different to what we have in Australia, and local cars cannot be infiltrated through their back-to-base communication – because there isn’t any.
It’s fundamentally a good system though and has a stack of handy features like phone call conferencing and vehicle information.
What wasn’t great was the iPod integration. Connecting a phone with a cable (to keep it charged) and playing music through the UConnect interface would allow music to be played, but hit skip a few too many times (the curse of any large library on Shuffle) and the interface would stop working.
I tried a number of times and two different cables, and ended up connecting the phone via Bluetooth to listen to music – which meant the phone couldn’t charge.
Navigation can also be frustrating by settling to a really ‘tight’ zoom on its automatic setting. When chewing up miles at 100km/h, I want to know what lies kilometres ahead, not what I’ve just passed.
So, then, the ownership points.
I’ve spoken to a great many Jeep owners over the past few years and the stories do range from good to bad. We know that FCA has had issues with customer service and recall timing, but we also know the company is working on this.
Servicing, though, isn't quite at Drive-Thru pricing. This 2016 model-year Grand Cherokee has 10,000 or six-month service intervals that will cost (over a period of three years) about $3200. That is an expensive meal.
Moving forward though, Jeep is looking to expand this to 12-month intervals which will dramatically lower that ownership cost. In the interim, perhaps leverage this knowledge to help with getting a better deal.
Dealers too have learned from the mistakes of the past and are implementing a new relationship management system to better communicate with owners so as to address any issues in a more timely manner.
Too little too late for some, no doubt, but knowing these activities are in the works can only serve to help improve buyer negotiation when it comes to purchase time.
And in terms of reliability, aside from the glitchy iPhone interface, this one hasn’t skipped a beat.
The Jeep is a car built to a price. The American brands are all very similar in trying to do an awful lot for not very much. In a way they are trying to make a burger that competes with a steak – but it doesn’t, and, without some major changes, it won’t.
But, that’s okay. Go into a Jeep with a clear, juicy, melted cheese, tomato and onion mind. It hasn’t been smoked, aged or grain fed. It comes with fries not gratin. You order a Coke not a Romanee-Conti Grand Cru to enjoy on the journey... and yet, you will still enjoy your meal.
Fix the iPhone connection software. Fix the seat. Communicate better with owners, Jeep, and you’ll start to regain some lost ground.
Burgers are back in fashion in all manner of ways. Simple, tasty and quality enough to befit the name is what it’s all about, and so is our Jeep.
The 2016 Grand Cherokee Limited Diesel is a hamburger with the lot, but make sure you shop around for price and get your order right, so that you can savour every bite.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward and Tom Fraser.