- MT Expert
New Jeep Grand Cherokee first drive
Seventy years after it first turned a wheel, the Jeep brand has launched its most luxurious model so far.
The new Grand Cherokee builds on the WW2 legend of the Jeep brand which was enhanced 20 years ago with the first Grand Cherokee SUV.
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This latest version sits on a completely new platform which will be shared with Mercedes-Benz forthcoming R Class and utilises a more powerful, cleaner and economical engine, which will also find its way into new Chrysler models.
The 237bhp, 3.0,V6 turbodiesel unit is a joint development between VM Motori and Fiat Powertrain Technologies who developed its MultiJet cylinder head for the unit to produce a more powerful, stronger pulling, more economical and less polluting engine.
It comes with Jeep's familiar Quadra-Trac 2 4x4 system with its sophisticated traction control utilising brakes for ascent and descent assistance together with Selec-Terrain where the driver can choose between Mud, Sport, Snow, Rock or Auto settings at the turn of a dial. High and low ratios can be selected at the touch of a button.
Jeep Grand Cherokee looks
The new five-seat Jeep Grand Cherokee retains visual points from the previous series but it's slightly wider and longer and the wheelbase is much greater to stretch rear legroom and raise boot space to 782 litres with back seats in use and to 1,554 litres with just front seats used. Maximum braked trailer weight is 3.5 tonnes.
There are only two versions on UK sale, the £36,795 Limited and Overland at £43,995, but its worth stressing these are well equipped compared to rivals costing much more.
The exterior rounded look of the Grand Cherokee offers reduced front and rear overhang to improve off road ability once the lower plastic panels are removed. Inside, there is greater use of soft-feel materials, wood, leather and chrome with LED highlights.
Jeep Grand Cherokee specification
The seats are completely new and offer better support and greater comfort, with heating and ventilation available and a recline setting on the back split bench-seat.
The media-centre has a premium sound system, plays CDs and DVDs, is compatible with Bluetooth and iPods and uses hands-free technology.
Limited models include 18-inch alloys, parking sensors and camera, and leather upholstery while Overland versions gain a powered tailgate, adjustable air suspension, uprated brakes, sat-nav, cruise control, panoramic sunroof and better leather trim.
Jeep Grand Cherokee performance
The engine and five-speed automatic transmission allow the Jeep Grand Cherokee to reach 62mph from rest in 8.2sec and attain 126mph maximum with about 34mpg on the combined cycle.
Jeep expect to sell about 450 Grand Cherokee models this year, rising to 2,000 in a full year, and three-quarters will be the Overland, based on previous buying trends.
The new Grand Cherokee models will spearhead the brand's return to the UK under Fiat ownership and the present 46 dealers will be gradually increased to 70 by the end of 2012 and onto a predicted maximum of 90 by 2014 when a much wider range will be in showrooms.
Jeep Grand Cherokee first impressions
Visually, the new Jeep Cherokee is a striking 4x4 which seems to cleverly mask its size but climbing into the new Jeep Cherokee you are immediately impressed by the room, particularly for back seat passengers.
The sensible and large loadspace and the well shaped seats give the impression this is a 4x4 for occupants rather than the driver alone. There is reasonable oddments space and climate control is good throughout.
The powertrain is probably the lasting strong impression of the Grand Cherokee with its prompt start-up, good pulling power, very smooth changes in auto or manual modes, and its effortless economy of about 33mpg on the launch test drive through Derbyshire and parts of the West Midlands.
So refined is the powertrain that road noise is more noticeable with the big wheels and tyres but the entry level Limited also had appreciably stiffer suspension than the adjustable air system under the Overland, which was much smoother as well as quieter.
In a short but varied off-road section the ability to raise the ground clearance was useful and simple to achieve, the power came in easily and abundantly but I thought the hill descent actuation was not very smooth on its own and better achieved with soft application of brakes as well.
Jeep has a good name among owners and the trade so it will be interesting to see how the new series weathers the market and maintains residual value, particularly as it is highly specified when lined up against rivals which initially cost more and give less.
Jeep Grand Cherokee MILESTONES
Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland.
Engine/transmission: 3.0-litre, V6, direct injection common rail turbodiesel, 237bhp, 550Nm from 1,800rpm, 5-speed automatic, Quadra-Track permanent all wheel drive with high and low ratio transfer box and Selec-Terrain modes.
Performance: 126mph, 0-62mph 8.2 seconds, Combined Cycle 34mpg (33mpg on test), CO2 218g/km, VED road tax £ £589 First Year rate then £260 per annum onwards, BIK company car tax 35%.
Insurance group: 41.
Load\towing capacity: 782 to1,554-litres of cargo volume, braked towing weight 3,500kg.
For: The 4x4 legend returns under Fiat's control, improved in most ways, excellent new engine, rugged off-road performance, comfortable, well equipped, more interior space and load capacity, huge 3.5-tonnes braked towing capacity, limited supply so residual values should be better.
Against: Indifferent hill descent control, vague steering and the self centring is too strong, unsettled and bouncy ride at times with some body roll, high tax costs due to CO2 emissions.