Premium equipment list, V6 diesel power, properly off-roadable and strong towing promise the right SUV stuff for Oz. But does the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited add up to the sum of its parts?
In a world that exists on paper, the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited is an enticing amalgamation of 4WD-bred SUV goodness. Upon the foundations of Jeep’s beaten-track reputation and slew of inbuilt beaten-track trickery sits a unibody-constructed format with air suspension promising premium SUV-style family comfort.
From its gutsy diesel powertrain spruiking impressive outputs to the 3500kg braked towing capability, and from the heated and cooled leather-dipped seating to the comprehensive array of active safety features, the package leaves few boxes unticked.
Then there’s pricing. At $67,500 before on-roads, it promises a similar go-anywhere, trailer-hauling prowess to a high-spec Everest or flagship Thai-built dual-cab utes, each born of tough ladder-frame designs and commanding similar outlays. And yet, it’s piled with goodies and niceties you might otherwise expect of a large Euro SUV asking well into six figures.
We’ve surmised before that any oiler all-paw Grand Cherokee would be the pick for “off-road, towing or long road trips”, and there’s some argument this middling Limited spec might well be the sweetest spot.
The Grand Cherokee Limited certainly looks the well-stacked proposition in a paper universe (and perhaps bought by stick-figure families). In reality, the wider range isn’t as popular with Aussie buyers as ‘on paper’ suggests it should be and its popularity has been waning.
Reliability woes? That’s perhaps part of the reason. But as we found on test, this fourth-generation Grand Cherokee's seven-year-old genes are really starting to look and feel long in the tooth, despite the odd periodic spruce-up. And as impressively stacked as its features list looks, this mid-spec, large-statured American just doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts.
Climb inside and what was once a charmingly chunky and unpretentious interior design looks, in 2018, tired and passé, despite the driver’s instrumentation copping a semi-digital makeover some time along the way. There’s an ample mix of surfaces and textures, though little of it looks contemporary or attempts to feel upmarket. And that chunkiness seems a façade given the flimsy nature of the console or phone cubby lids along the centre console.
The front seats are a letdown: the Capri leather lacks suppleness, with unsightly sagging and wrinkles in different areas as signs of early wear, and the cut and stitching are a little, erm, haphazard. But the big gripe is that they’re innately uncomfortable, particularly the flat seat back, despite offering some scope for bolster adjustment.
The footbrake, the single-stalk control and the ageing switchgear don’t help the slightly tired vibe. Even the large 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen, an upgrade over the 7.0-inch version in the base Laredo models, lacks modern definition, clarity and intuition.
Yes, you do get CarPlay and Android Auto mirroring, proprietary sat-nav and nine-speaker 506-watt Alpine audio complete with a subwoofer mounted in the cargo area wall, but the navigation is clunky and rudimentary, and the audio has an annoying low-bass thump that’s seemingly impossible to dial out through equalisation. That said, the large and clear reversing camera, with guided lines, is something of an infotainment saving grace.
It’s not the roomiest cabin, feeling shorter and narrower than large-segment SUV benchmarks, though, to be fair, outright spaciousness has never been a primary drawcard for a model leveraging all-terrain, hard-lugging laurels. That said, the limited second-row head clearance and cosy shoulder room somewhat compromise five-adult long-haul comfort compared with many large-SUV competitors.
Row two does get decent appointments, though: rear air vents, dual USB ports (to match the count up front) and back rake adjustment for heated seats that are, mystifyingly, much more comfortable and supportive than the front buckets.
Boot space is quite decent: there’s generous depth, extra compartments (rather than simply extra space around the full-sized spare wheel) under the floor, and the 60:40 split-fold rear seat backs flip in one easy motion while stowing the rear headrests, leaving a reasonably flat load space. The powered tailgate, too, is a sound inclusion.
Like its in-cabin appointments, the Grand Cherokee Limited diesel’s motivational prowess stacks up impressively on a list, though at times and in certain situations, the powertrain doesn’t quite come together as nicely as you'd hope in delivery and execution.
It plies a heady 180kW/570Nm from its 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 through an eight-speed and a switchable 4x4 system featuring selectable high- and low-range and Jeep’s Quadra-Trac II traction smarts. As a mid-ranger, the Limited lacks the electronic rear LSD effect and ‘crawl ratio’ off-road capabilities of the Quadra-Drive II system that’s fitted to the pricier Trailhawk version, though the neat Selec-Terrain system with its five-mode (Auto, Snow, Sand, Mud, Rock) surface tuning is standard issue.
Impressive credentials if your yardstick of heavy-lifting measure is the Everest, say, or some flagship dual-cab diesel ute, once you factor in the proposed SUV comfort generally inherent in air suspension plied to unibody construction, and height-adjustable for maximum ground clearance (260mm) or low-lying (40mm below normal) ease of cargo loading.
The engine certainly has ample shove, but while it might be effortless shove, it certainly doesn’t sound or feel like it. It’s a surprisingly coarse and boisterous unit, especially for a V6, be it under full-noise acceleration, towing a trailer, or even one-up around town at part throttle. Herbs? Yes. Refined? Not really.
And it’s not aided by a surprisingly slurry and slightly recalcitrant eight-speed auto that ought to bring refinement to the powertrain, though struggles a little to do so. At least they’ve gotten rid of the old, infamously dangerous gear selector as fitted to older versions – that could roll away in accidental neutral without the driver present behind the wheel.
It’s also quite thirsty. No matter how we drove it, the Limited would trip into the low-teens and refused to dip below 10.5L/100km, despite an advertised 7.5L combined consumption claim (not to mention overly optimistic 6.5L/100km highway proposal). At least this oiler is measurably more frugal than the consumption of a petrol V6 Limited we once had on test, which averaged a laughable 16.1L/100km average over a week of driving.
On the road, around town, the chassis can be a bit of a mixed bag too. The air suspension does add a large degree of compliance over large bumps, though the damping is flaccid and the body control lacks enough discipline to control the vehicle’s considerable heft. Ask for a bit of mild wheel articulation – entering a driveway at an angle, say – and the Jeep wobbles around like a dinghy in a storm.
In reality, the Grand Cherokee Limited doesn’t confidently deliver the plush yet controlled Euro-SUV-like ride quality the format suggests, but instead something of a midpoint between what you’d hoped for and the rigid, blood-curdling ride you find in most ladder framed, big buck, dual-cab utes.
Of course, there’s that 3500kg towing ability (with a braked towing GVM of just over six tonnes), so we loaded up a trailer with a car for a combined weight of around 2.4 tonnes. On a country loop that included negotiating some steep hills across the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, it lugged around without much fuss or negative impact on its admittedly already thirsty consumption of diesel, while the trailer (anti-)sway control delivered on its promise.
Speaking of assistance systems, what's neat about the Limited spec is that it loads in a lot of standard safety equipment not offered on the cheaper Laredo, including forward collision and lane-departure warning systems, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and advance brake assist (collision-mitigating AEB), while also bundling in active cruise and parallel/perpendicular parking assistance. We didn't find the alert systems too intrusive or excessively over-calibrated during our week with the Jeep, so no gripes there. With its complement of seven airbags, it's also five-star ANCAP rated.
However, our tester also felt a bit tired and, sure enough, it ticked over 11,000km on the odometer during our week with it. On the one hand, this is a lot of mileage to sample as a ‘new’ press vehicle and deserves a degree of critical leeway, though the caveat to this is that it shouldn’t feel so tired after what’s ostensibly only nine months of normal ownership. Perhaps this particular example has had an unusually tough life to date, though Jeep does like to trade on reputation more than fit for more than a bit of regular rough play.
There’s five years and 100,000km of warranty, but given the spate of recalls recently and less-than-stellar reputation for reliability, this is more basic surety than much of a selling point. At the time of writing, FCA offers a nice sweetener of three years of free scheduled servicing, which is some saving given the 12-month/20,000km intervals stack up: first and third services are $665 a pop, and the 24-month/40,000km second interval is a whopping $1095.
For overall value and for what’s a $72K-odd on-road pitch, the Grand Cherokee Limited takes an otherwise enticing on-paper proposition and offers a lot, but there's just not much of it executed particularly well or to degrees that properly impress. And that's something of a head-scratcher given that the diesel 4x4 Limited version should by all rights be the range’s sweetest point. More capable than the why-bother 2WD cheapies, more sensible than the less gutsy and much thirstier petrol Limited, and amply endowed so there's no need to venture higher in the range to the excess of the Trailhawk or the ludicrous Trackhawk hot rod.
In short, this should be deft duality of comfort and toughness that’s easy to recommend, but instead there's a little too much mediocrity in too many areas – at least where expectations lie for SUV refinement and goodness in execution right now in 2018.
I really liked the Laredo when it launched. And I was quite impressed by the 4x4 diesel's off-road capabilities at the launch of the eight-speed transmission update a few years back. But what was once a certain, unpretentious charm underpinning the Grand Cherokee's 'American premium' angle is starting to seem a little old-hat and a bit low-rent by today's measures. The world has moved on, whereas the Grand Cherokee hasn't in enough tangible and conspicuous areas.
However, if your tastes aren't that discerning about finer details, the Jeep's 'super supreme' ingredients list on something of a margherita budget is a tough act to match shopping elsewhere on the diesel 4x4 SUV market for similar coin.