First DriveNew-look Jeep Grand Cherokee also gets new technology and improved performance to take on the class best
First DriveChrysler Group's crack tuning division, SRT, gets its hands on the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The result is bonkers, quite frankly...
They’re a loyal bunch, Jeep drivers. Over 16,000 of them in the UK bought the previous-generation Grand Cherokee and it’ll be difficult for rival car makers to tempt them away. They like the style and the substance of their vehicles, they like the toughness and the Jeep image and the kit, and it doesn’t matter that by most objective standards their vehicles are inferior to the new wave of four-wheel drives from Europe and Japan.Same applies to this handsome new Grand Cherokee. That is, it’s still inferior to the best European and Japanese offerings such as the Merc ML, BMW X5, Lexus RX300, Land Rover Discovery and Volkswagen Touareg – especially in terms of on-road dynamics – but it is vastly better than the outgoing model. Maybe that’s all it needs to be.Jump from the old car to the new and you’re immediately aware of the improvements. The interior is a major leap forward and feels a lot more spacious, with an extra 209mm of rear hip room and 26mm of rear leg room dispensing with the tight feel of the old car’s back seat. Build quality is ordinary, however, with yawning gaps in the dash trim and cheap-feeling switches and plastics. But the overall effect is acceptable, especially now that a full-size satellite navigation screen is available as an option.On the road, new independent front suspension and a five-link rear set-up give the Grand Cherokee significantly more poise and natural fluidity, especially over mid-corner bumps which would have the old model’s rear end hopping and skipping madly.But the car still feels overly tall and rolls too much when you try to push harder, almost as if the cabin is mounted high above the wheels and axles, monster-truck fashion. You never feel dialled-in to the driving experience in the way you do with the best of its competition: the flat, narrow seats have almost no lateral support, and the ride is a bit thumpy and unsophisticated in old-fashioned 4x4 style, tossing your head around on undulating surfaces. New rack and pinion steering is a big improvement over the stodgy old recirculating ball system, however, and while it doesn’t have the easy precision of an X5 or a Discovery, it’s not bad.To a barely adequate chassis, then, add a tremendous new diesel engine – the CRD will make up 85 per cent of Grand Cherokee sales in the UK. Jeep bosses are proud to tell you that it’s a slightly tweaked version of the latest Mercedes-Benz 3.0-litre turbodiesel from the new M-class. That means 218bhp and a whopping 376lb ft of torque, up 33 per cent and 28 per cent respectively over the old Grand Cherokee diesel.This lightweight common-rail unit gives the Jeep smooth, quiet and effortless performance at all speeds and mates well with the new five-speed automatic transmission. It makes the 4.7-litre V8 (231bhp and only 302lb ft) almost redundant, though a punchy 5.7-litre Hemi V8 will also be offered, packing 362bhp and 369lb ft.The Grand Cherokee 3.0 CRD Limited starts at £32,895, and for that price it’s well equipped, with leather seats, a Boston Acoustics stereo and lots of other goodies as standard.Oh, and it’s phenomenal off-road, too, with the new Quadra Drive 2 locking-differential system making it one of the best mud and rock climbers in the world. But do these qualities really matter? To Jeep owners they certainly do, and they’re happy to sacrifice a bit of day-to-day comfort in order to get them.Bill Thomas