People are holding on to eight-cylinder sedans. Some for reasons of nostalgia, others for the dependability and strength that come from an old-school pushrod V8 engine.
Another issue could be the lack of a logical upgrade. Affordable, V8 petrol cars with a dotted line to performance don't really exist anymore.
In fact, the closest you can get to that theme is indeed Australia's cheapest petrol V8 SUV – the 2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee S-Limited. It starts from $72,950 before on-roads, which is priced a tier above those Aussie V8 hero sedans of the day, but still in the realm of affordability.
It looks the part channelling some energy from the more expensive SRT model. It wears a bodykit that helps hunker it down, as does the colour-coding of its black plastic cladding. My favourite part is the 'sport hood', which is stars-and-stripes for a bonnet with two deeply set vents that are actually functional.
|2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee S-Limited|
|Engine||5.7-litre naturally aspirated V8|
|Power and torque||259kW at 5200rpm, 520Nm at 4200rpm|
|Transmission||Eight-speed torque-converter automatic|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim, combined||13.0L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||13.4L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up / down)||782L / 1554L|
|ANCAP safety rating||Untested|
|Warranty (years / km)||5 years / 100,000km|
|Main competitors||Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-9, Toyota Fortuner|
|Price as tested (excl. on-road costs)||$73,845|
Our car was equipped with 'Velvet red' metallic paint, which added $895 to its cost. The only other option in the range is a twin-pane sunroof, which is a staggering $3250. It feels overpriced, but you judge how much you'd like a sun-laden cabin.
Interestingly, at the S-Limited grade you can opt for either a 5.7-litre Hemi V8, which we have here, or a 3.0-litre V6 diesel for the same cost. The V8 version was initially offered as a limited-edition. However, it's now here to stay.
It produces 259kW at 5200rpm and 520Nm at 4200rpm. Its might is managed through an excellent eight-speed auto, and then through 'Quadra-Trac II' – Jeep-speak for an all-wheel-drive system that uses braking to mimic the effect of limited-slip differentials. It also features low-range as a kicker.
Despite appearing down on power compared to modern-day, small-displacement turbocharged engines, there's still a lot to love. The linearity of its performance is enjoyable, and the soundtrack is a reminder of what's missing nowadays in the new-car market.
Power builds strongly, and there's a subtle hike in acceleration as it spins past 3500rpm. Spend some time enjoying the accelerator pedal's incredibly long travel is the key takeaway here. A claimed 0–100km/h time of 7.2 seconds is commendable given its 2.4-tonne kerb weight.
Those who tow will be drawn to the allure of a V8 for reasons other than just outright capacity. In this case, it's 3500kg braked, 750kg unbraked with 350kg down ball. Despite solid weights, the integration of the towbar itself is quite poor, with the removal of a subsection of the rear bar creating an unfinished look. Check the gallery, as you'll find a visual explanation there.
The German-sourced ZF eight-speed automatic is a delight. It's also proof that unless you're in a full-bore sports car, torque converters reign supreme. Kickdown is responsive enough in this application, and its calibration doesn't show indecisiveness, even with eight forward gears to pick from. It matches the right gear to your throttle input, and is provided enough torque to not down-change uphill or when the speed decreases.
Over the duration of the loan, the Jeep Grand Cherokee S-Limited used 13.4L/100km, against an official combined claim of 13.0L/100km. Clearly this engine is a consistent performer, unlike more modern, highly advanced engines.
It's an endearing powertrain that reminds one of a bygone era. Those who are searching for the soul of an Aussie V8 may find solace here. But long-in-the-tooth attributes don't just stop at the engine, sadly.
The rest of the experience is of the same ilk. Unsurprising, given the Grand Cherokee remains relatively unchanged since 2011, despite being mildly updated throughout its life.
First is the interior experience. A vast array of arguably defunct buttons litter its dashboard. For example, I counted no less than 25 switches on the front centre stack, with not one relating to the seat heating function – that's managed through the touchscreen.
Cabin design has moved on, and a quick look around at competitors proves this. Fit and finish are patchy, too, with odd gaps and surfaces not quite meeting up. On the upside, the material quality itself is decent, as is front-row occupant and storage space.
There are touches of modernity to be found, such as two USB ports up front. A traditionalist may enjoy parts of the vibe, however, as it has the largest digital speedo readout I've ever seen, as well as an ergonomically sensible foot-operated park brake. See, some of its more basic qualities still retain relevance in today's age.
Back to my gripes. Second on my list is packaging. The front seating position, which is awfully comfortable and finished in leather, mind you, is situated oddly. It's quite inbound, which creates some distance from you and the car's far outer reaches. As a result, it feels much bigger than it is, which may feel daunting to some.
The second row doesn't escape either. Its rear door openings are too slim, which makes loading young ones in confined spaces quite challenging. There's also a seat base with a low hip point; something you'll notice as you fall into the back seat, as opposed to slot in. I'd say decent ingress and egress traits have become an expectation from a modern SUV to not burden your limbs and muscles unnecessarily.
All of these concerns can trace their roots back to the product's inception in 2010. In the years since, competitors have introduced newer cars, all of which address the subtleties of packaging and seat heights. Consider the Grand Cherokee a product of its era.
As for room in the second row, I was presented with 1–2cm of knee space when sitting behind my own seating position. Some SUVs from the light- and small-SUV classes offer more in this regard. Foot room was good and head room excellent.
A large child seat, one that functions both forward and rearward facing, fits well on the large, lower seat base. However, expect front passenger room to take a hit, especially if your kids are younger and still facing rearward. Rear air vents and two more USB ports are nice-to-haves, though.
The Grand Cherokee remains a five-seat proposition only. Jeep claims 782L of boot space, but this measurement is to the roof and not to the height of the back seats, as most other brands quote. Be aware of this when comparing things. Space can be extended up to 1554L with the rear seats folded in a 60:40 split.
Some weird ergonomics strike again, courtesy of a parcel shelf that mounts at two-thirds the height of the back seats. In turn, you lose a stack of space if you plan to use the parcel shelf. There seems to be no apparent reason why it couldn't have been mounted 10cm higher. Its current position is utterly bizarre.
Novelties aside, you'll find good width on offer, meaning a flat-folding stroller will pop in nicely up against the seat back, leaving plenty of room for groceries or four smaller suitcases at best. A small section is lost to a subwoofer, but in exchange there's a handy hard-plastic storage pocket on the opposite side – perfect for muddy football boots after a wet day at training.
On-road dynamics are pleasant and likable. The Jeep Grand Cherokee avoids stiffness for the most part, coming across calm and sedated over poorer sections of road. There's some 'jellyness' to the ride, but it feels apt given the badge it wears.
Chucking it on a swift rural road and handling it roughly will be met with oodles of understeer as it rolls up on the tyre edge. Slow and steady wins here, with gentle inputs needed in order to prevent its mass from overwhelming things. It can be driven at pace – it just takes a dab hand.
This behaviour is in stark contrast to the highway, where it does all you want it to do. It glides along with comfort as its main agenda. A big American cruiser with a Hemi V8 under the bonnet. As for meeting expectations, or stereotypes, I'll give it top marks.
As for protection on the move, all the regulars are found here: blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, semi-autonomous parking, and the rest. ANCAP never gave the V8 version an official rating, but V6 cars wear a five-star rating having been tested in 2014.
I can see those who've come from V8 Australiana seeing sparks of joy in this car. It has an honest personality, and a big gutsy engine that reminded me of my old HSV Clubsport.
Call me old-fashioned, but there is a place for an SUV with this particular driveline. It's the main event, the drawcard – a reason to rationalise a Grand Cherokee into your garage.
With a diesel, you'd want to be sure to check out Ford, Toyota, and Isuzu's upcoming MU-X before deciding on one.
With a V8, well, you're snookered. A big Nissan Patrol comes to mind, but it's not the same experience. It doesn’t have the star-spangled personality you really only find in Jeep, GM, and other American eight-cylinder engines.
Is the Hemi V8 good enough to set aside some funky, dated aspects? Let me frame it another way. Knowing what I’ve told you – how deep is your love?