American SUV icon Jeep, inventors of the famous CJ series of army off-roaders, could soon come to India. Part of the Chrysler group, now owned by Fiat, Jeep has been steadily dieselising its range of off-roaders to make them suitable for the European market, and that means they are now well suited to India too. Jeep President and CEO Michael Manley, a regular visitor to India, is well versed with the dynamics of the Indian market. “We recognise that Indian customers appreciate good value and we are keen to provide that with our Grand Cherokee”.
Today Jeep has a whole range of diesel SUVs and the Grand Cherokee could be followed by products like the Commander, Compass and Patriot, which are all currently sold in Europe. And Jeep will have other Fiat-based soft-roaders that could be well suited to the Indian market in the near future too. It’s currently evaluating a B-segment competitor that could be launched as early as 2014, and once Jeep gets a foot into the Indian market, it could be followed by Chrysler and Dodge at a later stage.
Even for Jeep, inventors of the SUV, the new Grand Cherokee is a landmark car. For a start it looks right, absolutely spot on. The toothy seven-slat grille has been given pride of place, the large bonnet has a tough-looking squared-off feel to it and the exaggerated wheel arches give this new car a planted, tough look. It is attractive-looking from the rear too. Then comes the fact that this really is a tough, solid vehicle. Built on the same platform as the Mercedes M-class due to Daimler’s earlier ownership of Chrysler, the new Cherokee’s chassis is the stiffest in its class. This helps ride, handling and off road-manners too.
Some Jeep traditions are carried over, like the low-ratio transfer case, but manually locking diffs aren’t part of the specifications list. What you do get is a Selec-Terrain dial which, much like Range Rover’s ‘Terrain Response’, allows you to select the kind of surface conditions you are driving on, after which the car automatically makes adjustments to various settings to get the best traction and performance.
The common-rail diesel motor under the hood has been designed and engineered by Fiat but built by diesel specialists VM Motori. Displacing the same 2987cc as Merc’s 3.0 V6, and using the identical size of pistons, the diesel maker has outdone itself by tuning the motor to deliver silky-smooth power and bags and bags of torque. You only get a five-speed automatic, strangely, and that’s not ideal.
On the inside, there’s more space than you expect. There’s a nice, airy feel to the cabin, the driver can stretch out and adjust the seat to a driving position of his choice, and there is plenty of legroom at the rear as well. Some traditions are carried over. The driver, for example, is greeted by the traditional round-boss steering wheel, and the detailing and switchgear look familiar too. Plastic quality however is not as good as either Volkswagen or Mercedes, and the general ambience of the cabin is more rugged than luxurious. But that’s what a Jeep really is – a tough, rugged, go-anywhere SUV. If Jeep manages to get local assembly – and later, production – in order, and manages to keep the price below Rs 40 lakh*, it could be off to a strong start.