Back from the brink
SUDDENLY the swagger is back.
After being on the brink of bankruptcy during the global financial crisis, Chrysler has fought back.
Things are looking up for the embattled US carmaker, which now has Fiat as a key shareholder and has repaid some hefty government loans.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a beacon in its recovery. It’s big and brash – everything you’d expect from a Yank tank.
But most importantly, it’s a monumental improvement on the last model.
Chrysler’s team is standing proud with their hefty WK sports utility vehicle which is cooler, shapelier and more contemporary than the outgoing WH range.
This is a model which has the ability to mix it with the best.
And that’s partly due to their old friends at Daimler. The Cherokee shares its underpinnings with the next generation M-Class from Mercedes-Benz.
So it’s a marriage of Yankee brawn, German ingenuity and Italian passion…it’s an intriguing mix which somehow works.
Hard plastics have thankfully been banished. The Grand Cherokee again lives up to its moniker.
Soft-touch materials combined with some classy woodgrain inserts gave our test machine a luxurious ambience befitting the $60K price-tag.
Refined leather trim on the steering wheel, seats, console and door handles provide an opulent touch, and the only nasty plastic bits are out of the way on the base of the doors and centre stack.
Finding a good position up front is easy courtesy of the electric adjustment in just about every direction (include four-way lumbar and headrest options) while the steering wheel has rake and reach functionality.
Those in the back don’t face too many hardships either, with the rear seats able to be reclined by up to 12 degrees.
The dual pane sunroof (a $3250 option) gives a feeling of additional space and the cabin has ample storage, including two cup-holders in the middle and bottle holders in the doors.
Jeep has also improved the accessibility with larger door openings front and back.
On the road
Quiet and silky smooth, the bitumen manners of the Cherokee are a hefty step forward.
Even with a V8 under the bonnet the big beast remains composed and quiet – with just enough engine soundtrack coming into the cabin.
Our test machine was aided by Quadra-Lift air suspension (available for the first time), which is a $3250 option on the Limited but standard on the range-topping Overland model. It provides 104mm of height adjustment.
Base models make do with a steel-sprung suspension.
Another new feature is a multi-surface selector called Selec-Terrain which has specific settings for snow, sand/mud or rock.
For most conditions you can leave it in auto mode and let the Jeep figure things out.
There is also a Sport mode, which is designed for the black stuff. It is sharper, lowers the ride height to improve aerodynamics, reduces the stability control intervention and sends more power to the rear wheels than the front.
It all adds credence to Jeep’s ethos of making a true premium off-roader.
Despite its good looks inside and out, you have the ability to tackle challenging terrain if the need arises.
Most buyers would probably seldom want to take their sleek looking machine off-road but it is a key advantage over the competition.
The Cherokee also has no problem in urban areas despite its size.
The parking sensors and rear
view camera are a must, as tight car parks can be a challenge.
By all accounts the V8 mated to the five-speed automatic is the best drivetrain combination, and for the majority of driving the Jeep manages to find the right cog, although on a few occasions when summonsed to accelerate hard it felt clunky.
What do you get?
Apart from the air-suspension, you could easily live with the standard gear on the Limited model.
On the list are 20-inch aluminium wheels, dual zone air con, keyless entry with push-button start, leather trim, sat nav and stereo system with hard drive and 16.5cm touchscreen, automatic wipers and lights (including auto-dipping high beam) as well as heated seats front and back.
Extras worthy of consideration are the dual-pane sunroof and the power rear liftgate, which are both $3250 options (the liftgate comes in a luxury package that also includes a steering wheel heater).
There is a raft of safety gear associated with stability control, as well as roll mitigation technology and trailer sway control.
While the Jeep has the smarts and finish to tackle some of the best from Europe, in dollar terms its main rivals are the Ford Territory Titanium ($54,990), Toyota Kluger Grande ($60,990), Nissan Murano Ti ($57,890) and Mazda CX-9 Luxury ($57,015).
Fuel consumption figures have been improved with the V8, but it’s still one thirsty engine. It averages more than 14 litres/100km.
Depreciation can also be a concern, with Jeeps traditionally dropping value quickly once on the used car market.
Carting the family around in this big chariot is done with ease. Child seat anchorage points are easily accessed and there is a 60-40 spilt fold rear seat option.
The boot area isn’t massive, primarily because of the full-size spare (thank you Jeep), but when you drop the seats it expands to 782 litres of cargo space – 11% bigger than the outgoing model.
In the back there is also a rechargeable torch while the spare tyre compartment includes removable dual storage bins.
Dressed in black on big 20-inch rubber, the Jeep is an imposing brute. With some chrome touches, the traditional seven-slot grille, trapezoidal wheel arches and improved lines, the Cherokee is cool again.
The Cherokee is a vastly improved all-round package.
Previous models have been disappointing, but this variant puts Jeep back in the game among some heavy competition.
Currently hamstrung by the lack of a diesel option (one is expected later in the year), sales can expect to be bolstered when the oil-burner arrives.
Model: Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 5.7L
Details: Five-door four-wheel-drive medium-size sports utility vehicle.
Engine: 5.7-litre V8 generating maximum power of 259kW @ 5200rpm and peak torque of 520Nm @4200rpm.
Transmission: Five-speed automatic.
Consumption: 14.1 litres/100km.
Towing capacity: Up to 3500kg
Bottom line: $60,000.