They’re plush, seat seven and can drive over everything in their way. But is Jeep’s new Meridian a better bet than the legendary Toyota Fortuner?
Published on Jul 26, 2022 08:00:00 AM
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481 litres with the third row folded. Easy to load too.
Upward folding seats eat into bootspace.
Many came, many saw and many conquered it in comparison tests too, but none could ever break the Toyota Fortuner’s dominance on the sales charts. Famously the SUV of choice for powerful politicians nationwide (in any colour, as long as it’s white), there’s no doubt its towering proportions and intimidating road presence are a huge part of its appeal, the other being Toyota’s rock-solid reliability. Accompanying this soaring popularity are soaring prices, as well as new competition, but none have taken the wind out of its sales. In fact, the departure of its rival-in-chief, the Ford Endeavour, has only diverted more demand towards it.
Now, in comes a new challenger to try and take the big guy down. The Jeep Meridian may not match up on sheer size and power, but in their place is loads of tech and a more modern approach to just about everything. Oh, and it’s a Jeep, so it’s bound to be good off the road too. More than any of that, it makes for a vastly better value proposition; in fact, for less than the price of the Fortuner Legender 4x2 AT we have here, you can get a fully loaded, better equipped, top-spec Meridian AT with 4WD.
|Jeep Meridian Limited (O) 4x4||Toyota Fortuner Legender 4x2|
|Suspension (f/r)||Independent, MacPherson struts coil springs and FSD/ Non-independent, multi-link with FSD and anti-roll bar||Independent, MacPherson struts coil springs/ Non-independent, multi-link with anti-roll bar|
|Engine||4 cyls, 1956cc, turbo-diesel||4 cyls, 2755cc, turbo-diesel|
|Power||170hp at 3750rpm||204hp at 3000-3400rpm|
|Torque||350Nm at 1750-2500rpm||500Nm at 1600-2800rpm|
|Gearbox||9-speed auto||6-speed auto|
There’s no doubt the Legender has the edge when it comes to sheer road presence. That said, when you park them side by side, you realise the Meridian isn’t as much smaller as you thought it was. It’s only 26mm down on length, and is actually 4mm wider, and has a wheelbase that is 37mm longer! It’s the Toyota’s massive 137mm height advantage that makes all the difference!
There’s a lot of appeal in the Jeep’s squared-off styling too. The link to the bigger Grand Cherokee will be appreciated, as will the liberal use of chrome, which is a premium touch that buyers in this segment adore. The Legender, meanwhile, foregoes this for sporty black bits, which have their own distinct appeal, and adds its own bling factor with a bolder set of LED headlamps compared to the regular Fortuner.
Over to the side, the more angular design of the Meridian and overall stance is lower than that of the high-riding Legender, giving the Jeep a more composed look. The more muscular Legender has some nice details, like a kink in the C-pillar, and while both get 18-inch wheels, the Toyota has the wider and chunkier tyres, beefing up the look. At the rear, the sleek LED tail-lamps on both SUVs look sharp, along with their angular bumpers, and again, it’s the Jeep’s greater use of chrome that gives it the classier look.
Meridian’s interior design, quality feels worthy of the price.
On the inside is where the jarring differences become a little less subjective. Where the Meridian appears sophisticated and luxurious, the Legender feels old and dated. The Meridian can pride itself on its leatherette-layered dashboard, plenty of soft-touch materials and bright upholstery. The dual-tone finish looks fresh and the overall layout is smart-looking as well.
The Meridian's dual-pane sunroof is a big plus.
The Jeep also gets a large 10.1-inch touchscreen that is slick to use and crams in a host of features and functionality. The ventilated seats can be adjusted from here, it gets wireless Apple and Android connectivity, and also dual-zone climate control. The instrument cluster is all-digital too, which wins it even more premium points. The seats are powered and quality is top-notch, with an air of desirability everywhere you look. The nine-speaker Alpine system is good too and the panoramic sunroof elevates the entire cabin ambience by a few notches.
Jeep Meridian's digital cluster looks sharp and futuristic.
The Legender’s interior, on the other hand, already felt behind the times and simply doesn’t cut it in 2022. While the build is solid and it feels like it could survive an apocalypse, it just doesn’t feel rich or plush enough for an SUV priced over Rs 40 lakh. The dark upholstery should be easy to maintain, but it does make the cabin feel cramped.
Interior shows its age on Fortuner. Dark materials and upholstery rob sense of space.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen is smaller than the Jeep’s, and is a bit too basic in its look and feel. And while it does get wireless charging and ventilated front seats, there is only wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. The instrument cluster is analogue and, crucially, there is no sunroof on offer. Both SUVs also get connected tech with their respective apps so you get geofencing, location monitoring, accident alerts, as well as driving data, on your smartphone. For safety, the Jeep gets six airbags, which is one less than the Legender, and a 360-degree camera, as opposed to the standard rear-view unit on the Toyota.
(Left) Second row of seats are comfy and the panoramic sunroof makes it airier. (Right) Non-adjustable middle row results in an uncomfortable third row in Meridian.
The Jeep’s second row is a nice place to be. Seat cushioning is supple, the windows are large and, of course, the panoramic sunroof helps with airiness. You can recline the backrest, but only by a little. A key advantage the Legender has is its sliding second row, allowing taller passengers to really stretch out when there’s no one sat behind them. Yes, you do miss a sunroof, but you’re sat higher up, which gives a better, stadium-style view forward, and then there’s the roof mounted AC, which feels more effective on a hot day.
(Left) Theatre-like seating position gives a good view out, but sunroof is missed. (Right) Legroom in the Fortuner can be extended by sliding middle row ahead.
Now, as is the case with most 7-seaters, the last row is seldom used, but for what it’s worth, it is the Legender that takes the lead here. That adjustable middle row really helps, letting you free up usable space for last-row occupants. Space in the Meridian’s third row is acceptable in isolation, but just for kids, and simply isn’t as much as in the Toyota. However, if you’re prioritising luggage over seating, the flat-folding last row of the Meridian is easier to operate and yields more usable space, while the cumbersome, upwards-folding seats in the Legender eat into the boot.
|Jeep Meridian Limited (O) 4x4||Toyota Fortuner Legender 4x2|
|Apple CarPlay/Android Auto||Wireless||Available|
|Connected car tech||Available||Available|
|Wireless phone charger||Available||Available|
|Ventilated front seats||Available||Available|
|Digital instrument cluster||Available||NA|
|Keyless entry & go||Available||Available|
|Auto climate control||Dual zone||Available|
|Powered driver’s seat||Available||Available|
|Sliding middle row||NA||Available|
|Electronic parking brake||Available||NA|
|Auto-dimming inside mirror||Available||Available|
|Rear-view camera||360 degree||Available|
|Hill start assist||Available||Available|
|ESC & Traction Control||Available||Available|
Powerful and quick engine on the Fortuner but not the most refined.
On paper, the Legender has a clear advantage, with a bigger and more powerful engine. The trusty 2.8-litre diesel makes 204hp and 500Nm, which dwarfs the Jeep’s 2.0-litre diesel that puts out 170hp and 350Nm. It’s not too surprising, then, that in practice too the Toyota is quicker, gapping 100kph in just 9.9sec to the Meridian’s 12.9sec, and it’s a similar story in kickdown acceleration as well.
Meridian's engine not as quick as the Fortuner but much more refined.
Off-the-line responses in both are good, with the Fortuner then continuing to rage ahead a bit longer. That’s because its max power and torque come in very low down, and there’s not much of a top end to speak of. The Meridian has a broader powerband and is more inclined to rev further, making it feel a bit more relaxed in its power delivery. The engine in the Toyota is loud, and refinement is where the Legender falls behind the Meridian. In the Jeep, the vibrations are better contained and the cabin overall is quieter.
The Fortuner's drive modes alter powertrain response.
What aids this refinement is the 9-speed automatic gearbox in the Meridian. It isn’t the quickest unit out there by any means and, in fact, is quite relaxed with its upshifts and downshifts. So, if you stomp on the accelerator, you will be greeted by nothing but the gravelly diesel drone as the Jeep wafts ahead leisurely. Relaxed cruising is what the Meridian does best, and once it gets to ninth gear, the engine is a lot calmer. You can take control of the gearbox via the gear lever, but even then, you will be left wanting for faster shifts.
Paddle shifters on the Fortuner add driver engagement.
The Legender, on the other hand, gets a 6-speed automatic that is a bit quicker in its shifts. The shifts are smooth too, provided your inputs are smooth, but if you kick down hard for an overtake, this old-school gearbox takes a moment to respond. What is appreciated, however, is the availability of responsive paddle shifters, and the Eco, Normal and Sport modes, which the Jeep misses out on.
A crucial difference is the chassis that underpin these two SUVs. Unlike the Legender which sits on a more traditional body-on-frame layout, the Meridian’s monocoque chassis results in a much more sophisticated ride, especially at low to medium speeds. Where the Legender is hard-edged over bumps, with a lot of shock felt through the heavy hydraulic steering, the Jeep is supple. Broken patches and bumps are dampened in the Jeep and bounced over in the Legender.
Both SUVs are at their comfiest over long drives.
However, as you go faster, the ladder-frame Legender starts to shine. When you simply hammer over them at speeds, those jarring bumps get absorbed by the tough suspension, resulting in less body movement. Admittedly though, for most owners, this will be the exception and not the norm, as these SUVs tend to spend more time on city roads than anywhere else, and on most roads, the Jeep is the more comfortable of the two. What helps is that it gets frequency selective dampers that offer a good blend of ride as well as handling. Its off-road capability is good too, thanks to a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system with terrain modes.
Both SUVs are from brands that are pioneers in off-roading, and while it isn’t common for their target audience to take them off-roading, it is the Jeep with its AWD system that has the advantage here. Sure, if you opt for the 4x4 Legender, which would further increase the price gap, it will be able to take on similar obstacles with ease, but the whole experience is a lot more relaxed in the Jeep.
Speaking of which, the Meridian, with its light and consistent steering, is also the better handler of the two. Sure, these big boys aren’t meant to carve corners, but in terms of convenience and comfort, the breezy steering on the Jeep makes the Legender, with its old-school hydraulic steering, feel like a big, heavy truck. Direction changes are easier in the Meridian too, and with a 720kg lighter kerb weight, it is the nimbler of the two.
|Jeep Meridian Limited (O) 4x4||Toyota Fortuner Legender 4x2|
|PERFORMANCE||Acceleration (from rest)||Acceleration (from rest)|
|ACCELERATION IN GEAR|
If you are someone who commutes mostly in city traffic, the Meridian will be a lot easier to manoeuvre. Out on the highway, both SUVs sit comfortably, but yet again, it is the Meridian that is the more composed, with fewer vertical movements. In bends, it sits flat, while the Legender, despite having ‘pitch and bounce control’ does wallow a fair bit. That, of course, will reduce when the car is loaded up, but the tall Toyota’s high centre of gravity is something that can’t be escaped.
There is no denying the rock-solid appeal of the Toyota Fortuner, to which the Legender only adds a bit more flair and a few more features. It’s an SUV that lets you tower over all and sundry, with a mighty engine and robust suspension that let you charge through (or over) anything the road can throw at you. And when you combine that with the peace of mind that Toyota’s famous reliability gives you, it really feels like a sound investment you don’t have to think twice about. But all the reliability in the world doesn’t quite justify the way Toyota has inflated prices for its big SUV, and even this 4x2 Legender costs Rs 40.91 lakh (ex-showroom); the standard Fortuner is only marginally cheaper. Clearly, that hasn’t stopped people from thronging Toyota showrooms, but that doesn’t make it okay.
|Price and verdict|
|Jeep Meridian||Toyota Fortuner|
|Variant||Limited (O) 4x4||Legender 4x2|
|Price (ex-showroom, Delhi)||Rs 36.95 lakh||Rs 40.91 lakh|
|Verdict||Not as hardy as the Fortuner, but is much more sophisticated and feels worthy of the price.||Carries forward its indestructible appeal, but interior and cabin feel old and fail to justify high price.|
Especially since for Rs 36.95 lakh you can have this fully loaded AWD Jeep Meridian. Even if you look past the vastly superior features list it offers, there’s plenty else that you get for your money. Better comfort, a more compliant ride, easier manoeuvrability, greater refinement, superior cabin quality, and though we haven’t done a full Autocar test, likely better fuel economy too. It’s a far more modern car that doesn’t feel utilitarian like the pick-up-truck-derived Fortuner, and though it might not have the flexible third row space, it’s a much nicer interior to be in. And while the Toyota brand stands for reliability, the Jeep brand does have a more premium perception. Ultimately, the Jeep Meridian is not just the better deal here, but the better car too.
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