The current Jeep Grand Cherokee is almost indescribably better than its predecessor

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When the first of the previous-generation Jeep Grand Cherokees arrived at our office for testing in August 2005, one tester wrote in his notes: “I don’t know what they were thinking of.” Five months later, when we named and shamed the worst car we’d driven all year, the Jeep got it without a single dissenting voice.

It was crude, cramped, overpriced and over here. Were its mediocrity not so prejudicial to its creator’s health, it would have been laughable.

The Grand Cherokee is a credible contender

But perhaps in time we’ll regard it as its equivalent of the Mk4 Ford Escort, a car so bad that it actually became a force for good, stinging the firm out of its complacency and into action. Ford’s next two cars were the Ford Mondeo and Ford Focus and it has never looked back.

We usually save this bit for the verdict, but there is something you should know now: the current Jeep Grand Cherokee is almost indescribably better than the model it replaced.

A mid-2013 update improved the new Grand Cherokee even further, adding an eight-speed automatic transmission and cosmetic improvements including changes to the lights, grille and rear tailgate.

The question, though, is whether it's good enough to compete with the likes of the Land Rover Discovery. Let's find out.




Jeep Grand Cherokee rear

Whereas the old Grand Cherokee used a Jeep chassis and a Mercedes engine, this one has turned the concept on its head by borrowing the platform from the 2012 Mercedes M-Class and powering it by its own engine, or at least one produced for Fiat, the majority shareholder in Jeep’s parent, Chrysler.

It is tempting to park the credit for all the manifest improvements enjoyed by this Jeep at Mercedes’ door, but the fact is that it’s still perfectly possible to make a pig’s breakfast out of someone else’s perfectly good platform, as Volvo has demonstrated on and off for some years.

This Grand Cherokee is 146 percent more structurally rigid than the last

Even so, the simple stat that this Grand Cherokee is – and this is not a misprint – 146 percent more structurally rigid than the last gives some idea of how far up the engineering ladder Jeep has been able to climb. Why does this matter?

Without a stiff chassis, your suspension can’t work so the car will neither ride nor handle and your NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) will run out of control. A run around the block in the old Grand Cherokee would illustrate this point nicely.

The engine is interesting. Built by VM Motori and apparently developed by Fiat, it has not only exactly the same 2987cc capacity as Mercedes’ 3.0-litre V6 but precisely the same bore and stroke, too, so we’re guessing not too much re-engineering of the platform was needed to make it fit.

But this apparently state-of-the-art engine was originally hobbled by the need to run through a five-speed automatic transmission. Given that, its emissions and economy figures are even more impressive than is initially apparent.

That engine will account for the vast majority of Grand Cherokee sales in the UK. However there are always a few people who cannot help but spend as much as is possible on a car they like regardless of how inadvisable that might be. Hence there is also the SRT8, equipped with a 6.4-litre V8 petrol engine, making 461bhp and priced at the best part of £68,000. Forgive us if we fail to major on this during the rest of the test.

Jeep has not followed its softer rivals in ditching the low-ratio transfer box, but height-adjustable air suspension – essential for anything more than the lightest of off-roading – doesn’t feature on the entry-level model. Manually locking differentials aren’t available, either. Nevertheless, different off-roading modes are selectable via a rotary ‘Selec-Terrain’ dial. And if you think that this sounds like Jeep is taking a leaf out of Land Rover’s ‘Terrain Response’ book, we do, too.

In mid-2013 a revised Jeep Grand Cherokee was launched, which featured cosmetic updates and a new eight-speed automatic transmission, something it was dearly crying out for. The new transmission helps improve efficiency by around 10 percent. That puts the Jeep on a more competitive footing with rivals like the six-cylinder diesel Volkswagen Touareg and BMW X5.

As for the styling changes, at the front the Grand Cherokee features a shorter upper grille, slimmer headlights, more pronounced fog lights and a front fascia that's been slightly elevated. The rear boasts larger tail lamps with LED lighting, a larger and more aerodynamic rear spoiler and a re-sculpted tailgate that offers greater rear-ward visibility.



Jeep Grand Cherokee front seats

Trim levels consist of entry-level Limited Plus, Overland and Summit. Laredo, Limited, Overland, Summit, SRT and 75th Anniversary. Entry-level Limited Plus models include bi-xenon headlights, power folding door mirrors, a reversing camera, electrically adjustable front seats, leather upholstery, heated seats and Fiat's Uconnect 8.4in touchscreen infotainment system complete with DAB radio, Bluetooth and sat nav.

Upgrade to Overland and you get a Nappa leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, a panoramic sunroof and air suspension, while Summit models include adaptive headlights, an Alcantara headlining, acoustic glass, active noise cancellation, Jeep's myriad of safety technology and a 19-speaker Harman and Kardon stereo system.

The Jeep is not only comfortable but also commendably quiet

The range-topping SRT trim is not only fitted alongside the mammoth 6.4-litre V8, but comes with launch control, Pirelli P-Zero tyres, Brembo brakes and an aggressive bodykit, while the limited edition 75th Anniversary trim includes numerous bronze detailings inside and out.

The fact that the cabin is not a total disaster should not, in itself, constitute good news. But if you’re coming at this Jeep Grand Cherokee with prior knowledge of many American cars, it might seem like Christmas.

There’s plenty of room front and rear and a sizeable, well shaped boot for all your clobber. The driving position is perfectly reasonable and visibility good in all directions, apart from over the shoulder, where a massive C-pillar obscures much of your view aft.

The devil, however, lies in the detail, and it’s no good pointing to its impressive list of standard equipment or the fact that it’s considerably cheaper than most rivals. The seats are covered by some of the smoothest, least textured leather we have seen in a while and much of what appears to be metal, both inside and out, transpires to be plastic.

The actual architecture of the driving environment is not much better. The ergonomics pale beside those of German rivals, and the optional navigation system is a nightmare to operate.

Faceflifted versions are notably improved, however. The materials used and build quality feel of a higher standard and the controls are more logically arranged. A new 8.4-inch infotainment system is a good addition and the available TFT instrument display can be configured to show a wide range of information.

On the road, the Jeep is not only comfortable but also commendably quiet – not always a given in tall, bluff-fronted off-roaders. Wind noise is well suppressed, as is the sound of the engine. There is some tyre rumble on concrete surfaces but, again, we think that the standard 18in wheels rather than the 20s on which we've driven the car would improve matters here.


Jeep Grand Cherokee 3.0-litre V6 engine

VM was the first outfit to put diesel engines in Jeeps sold over here, and if you’d driven one, you’d not need to be told why Jeep used the DaimlerChrysler amalgamation to snap up Mercedes powertrains for the last Grand Cherokee. But now that association is part of automotive history, VM is back in the frame and, to be honest, it was not difficult to keep a cap on expectations.

So it’s pleasing to report that the Grand Cherokee's diesel motor is fully competitive with those of its rivals. Even if it is a little coarser in tone than, say, the Volkswagen Group’s diesel V6, you can dress that up as character in a car such as this, as long as it’s quiet enough at a constant cruise, which it undoubtedly is.

A 6.4-litre V8, 461bhp SRT8 Grand Cherokee is offered for those who want the ultimate Jeep

Two versions are offered: a 247bhp version and the 461bhp 6.4-litre V8 Hemi.  There’s no shortage of power or torque, with 247bhp and 406lb ft, and despite being longer, wider and taller than the old Grand Cherokee, it’s also a fraction lighter, at 2272kg. This is not exactly snake hipped, but it’s still over 300kg less than the Land Rover Discovery 4 has to carry.

Acceleration comes in a strong and solid shove, but you have to wonder how much better even than that it would be were it equipped with a six, seven or even eight-speed transmission such as those found in its rivals.

As it is, the five-speed gearbox only just about covers its duties, and even then only because it’s helped by an engine with a wide powerband and some of the shortest overall gearing in the class. The shift quality itself is reasonable and it’s quite willing to respond to manual inputs, but overall you’d be forgiven for thinking that this gearbox is in the car not through choice but necessity.

On the road, it doesn't take long for the qualities of the new gearbox to become evident. It is a good match to the new Grand Cherokee's slightly perkier 3.0-litre V6 engine.

The set-up is more suited to cruising than sporty driving; although the engine has a substantial amount of grunt from low revs, it still has to haul almost two-and-a-half tonnes up to speed, and the 0-62mph sprint takes 8.2sec and feels comfortable rather than exhilarating.

If all this seems a little tame, you could consider the 6.4-litre V8, 461bhp SRT8 model. In the UK, it is simply insanity.


Jeep Grand Cherokee cornering

You don’t need a lengthy test drive to know that this Jeep rides like no other in history; you can tell before the end of the road. The chassis feels tight and poised, the suspension compliant and nuanced. You might wonder if you’ve stumbled into a Mercedes by mistake.

And, of course, although only in part, you have. But Jeep is to be congratulated for making the most of its proprietary underpinnings and creating a car with a ride quality you’d need a Discovery to beat. Indeed, its biggest fault is that on larger optional wheels it can stumble into and rattle around in big potholes, leaving hanging in the air the suggestion that on standard 18in rims it would be better still.

When off-roading, entry-level Grand Cherokees suffer from a lack of ground clearance and also a lack of traction

It’s not a bad thing to drive, either, at least by the standards of two-and-a-quarter-tonne SUVs. Despite quite soft springing, the dampers are always on top of the car’s mass, checking the body as it rises over crests or sinks into dips.

On dual-purpose tyres, there’s surprisingly good grip and even, would you credit it, something approaching feel through the steering. There are all-out American sports cars that haven’t cracked that one yet.

In fact, the Jeep Grand Cherokee would make an even stronger showing in this category had it not come substantially unstuck, both literally and figuratively, during some admittedly quite extreme off-roading. Despite featuring a selector control similar to Land Rover’s Terrain Response system – it allows you to tailor the car’s systems to what passes underfoot, be it snow, mud, sand or rock – it runs out of ideas fast when the ground is both slippery and uneven.

Fundamentally, it suffers from two problems. The first is a lack of ground clearance, which can only be fixed by spending extra on the Overland version, which comes with height-adjustable air suspension that puts nearly 7cm of extra space between you and that stomach-churning sound of the car bellying out on whatever you’re trying to cross. Its second issue is simply traction; lacking the ability to manually lock up its differentials in adverse conditions means it runs out of grip earlier than expected.

Of course, if all you’re going to ask of it is to tow a horsebox across a gymkhana field, it will do the job very well. But this is a Jeep, a company with an even longer, more concentrated history of making go-anywhere off-roaders even than Land Rover. So, if you want to buy something that's true to Jeep's traditions, opt for one of the higher-specification models.


Jeep Grand Cherokee

We’ll keep our comments in this section to the diesels alone, because the SRT8 is a curiosity at best and you don’t need us to tell you not to buy it if you’re worried about running costs. Or, indeed, even if you’re not worried about costs.

In terms of the diesel models, Jeep has decided to go in hard on price and stack it high with goodies. It’ll be quite frugal, too, given its weight, power and performance. Jeep claims around 34mpg overall, and while we couldn’t get close to that – in part because of normal test procedures but also an extended off-road programme – we still think owners should be able to see 30mpg in normal driving. Its emissions aren't bad either and put it on a par with class rivals.

Jeep has decided to go in hard on price and stack it high with goodies

Residuals are also good by the standards of such vehicles, even if the Jeep again lags behind the benchmark set by the pricier BMW X5



3.5 star Jeep Grand Cherokee

Jeep is to be congratulated for producing a car so improved. Perhaps for the first time, and certainly since the very first Grand Cherokee was introduced in 1993, it has a fully competitive and credible full-sized, all-purpose SUV.

Originally we felt it could have been better still and we wonder what effect a Mercedes seven-speed transmission would have on performance, economy and emissions. Only the interior, however, truly let the car down; for a car of this price and with this competition, it simply wasn't good enough.

There's a lot to like about the Jeep, which may come as a surprise to many

Jeep's revisions have made the Grand Cherokee a much worthier contender, however, and there is much here to surprise and impress. What’s more, if you need a full-sized SUV and like the low price, pile of equipment and the authenticity of the brand values, this is a Grand Cherokee you no longer need avoid.

After the last one, that’s a huge achievement. Just remember to specify it correctly if you want to maximise its off-road capabilities.


Jeep Grand Cherokee 2011-2020 First drives