Us Brits should be forgiven for thinking Land Rover invented the luxury 4x4 with the Range Rover brand. In fact it was Jeep with its Wagoneer that created the segment, and by the mid 1990s, its successor, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, was just about everywhere in the US and ubiquitous in London too. Then sales of the biggest, coolest most luxurious SUV evaporated here, thanks to some very strong competition from companies including BMW, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and VW and a gradual backlash against so-called gas guzzlers (as if they were the only ones).
But now after a tricky few years, and with a renewed wind in its sails since Fiat came on board, Jeep has set out to reclaim its earlier glories with its new Grand Cherokee.
For my money this Jeep Grand Cherokee is the most handsome vehicle Jeep has produced. The new Grand Cherokee gets Jeep’s familiar seven-slot grille and the trapezoidal-shape wheel arches which wrap around some particularly smart 20-inch wheels. Together these features produce a car which – despite its size and weight – is less aggressive, and better looking, than its predecessors, indeed most of its rivals. It has been designed on an all-new platform and the resulting car is more refined and better to drive and all-round classier than any Jeep before it.
Jeep must be pretty hopeful too of a return to form in the UK as the fuel economy for the new Grand Cherokee is greatly improved, something that is becoming more and more important for car buyers even in this segment. We’re testing the 237bhp, 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel version, capable of 34mpg. But there is no other version. This is the only engine option available which tells you just how much the market has changed over the last ten years. Instead the car will be offered in two model options; Limited and Overland. Of the two, Overland gets a new air suspension system and more upmarket trim. On the launch we drove both but the Overland model is the one that impressed me the most.
Inside, the Grand Cherokee’s interior feels solid. Trimmed in nappa leather, chrome and wood, nice touches include a seat that automatically slides backwards the minute you turn off the ignition to give you more room to get out. The Overland model also has a glorious, panoramic sunroof – something I am beginning to like more and more – and all together the effect is the feeling of a spacious and high quality interior.
On the road the car is very quiet and refined. The engine noise was barely discernible and the car rides well. On the back roads and at lower speeds – and despite its bulk – the Grand Cherokee felt surprisingly agile thanks to its new air suspension system and comfortable steering. You can set the ride to three different heights depending on driving conditions. On the motorway, at speed, the wind noise did seem louder than I had expected and somehow it never did feel quite as quick as its official 8.2 seconds acceleration figures. A reminder then that despite its clever styling – when all is said and done – it is a heavy car.
Meanwhile, the Selec-Terrain system dial allows you to choose from sand/mud, snow and rock settings. It then selects the best combination of throttle, braking, suspension and traction control. You can even remove the front spoiler for really extreme off-road driving. Which means that the new Grand Cherokee is really rather good – genuinely – off-road. It not only feels like a proper 4x4, it genuinely is one and hooray – or I should say yippee – for that.
THE FACTS: JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE
TOP SPEED: 126MPH
CO2 G/KM: 218G/KM
MPG COMBINED: 34MPG
VALUE FOR MONEY