Here in India, when someone mentions the name Jeep, what would usually pop into mind is the image of the ones Mahindra has had on sale here. There is some truth in this as these are the Jeeps of old. But it's been a while since products from this American carmaker have been seen here. Now, the Fiat-Chrysler alliance is set to bring the brand here and the latest products look like nothing that you are used to when you hear of Jeep.
The Grand Cherokee, one of the first models slated to make its appearance here, is, according to the manufacturer, the most awarded SUV of all time. So, what is this new-age Jeep all about?
Let's start with the looks. People first notice the slit-like headlamps and the aggressively shaped daytime running lamps incorporated in them. Then they see the big seven-slat grille, the broad shoulders and squared-off wheelarches; jaws simply drop. So, the Grand Cherokee has presence. What is surprising is that after all the drama of the nose, the rear is quite generic – it looks a bit like a Fortuner from afar. That and the massive chrome wheels that this Summit variant comes with, are the only possible turnoffs of an otherwise butch looking SUV.
Open the door, and you’re greeted with a rather high seat – there’s no foot board to assist your ascent into the cabin. Unless the air suspension is at its lowest Park setting, you have to climb into the seats. You will find them broad and accommodating with more than enough adjustment on the seat and steering to fit almost all sizes. Then there are the rear seats, which are a bit low, but have plenty of space and adequate thigh support. Tall people will find the seat squab a bit short, but it’s an airy place to be thanks to the big windows and panoramic sunroof.
There is no third row – the Grand Cherokee is strictly a five-seater, but the flipside is a big 1544-litre boot and space for an almost full-size spare wheel.
Back in the driver’s seat, you’ll see the dashboard dominated by an 8.9-inch touchscreen and, despite that, a huge array of buttons on the steering wheel and the centre console. All those buttons control the Cherokee’s long list of features – activating the voice control, scanning through the gazillion menus on the instrument cluster screen, controlling the air-suspension and the four-wheel-drive system, and setting the radar-based adaptive cruise control. It takes time to learn what they are – the steering audio controls, for example, are behind the steering wheel where your fingertips normally are. The list of equipment is long on this impressively named Summit variant – panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel, SD card, USB and aux-in ports, sat-nav, Bluetooth connectivity, parking sensors, keyless entry and go, reversing camera, an electric tailgate, two USB slots for the rear passengers – it goes on and on.
Driving the Grand Cherokee is a soothing and invigorating experience and its excellent chassis (borrowed and improved from the 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-class) and beautifully smooth drivetrain make it that way. Under the hood is a 3.0-litre V6 diesel that starts with a cultured hum, much like the V6 under the hood of an M-class. It is mated to ZF’s eight-speed automatic transmission that complements this engine’s 240hp and 570Nm excellently. The engine doesn’t rev much – even flat out and in Sports mode, the V6 upshifts at 4,000rpm. But with the linear way this engine makes power, 4,000rpm is all you need. It’s no slouch either – our VBox clocked it at 9.02sec to 100kph, which isn’t as fast as its German rivals, but is still plenty quick.
It’s fantastically stable at speed too, with a flat ride, unshakeable composure and a barely audible engine and this, along with the long legs of the eight-speed gearbox, makes the Grand Cherokee a phenomenal tourer. It’s got tremendous grip, the air suspension ably keeps body movements in check and the reasonably direct steering masks the SUV’s not so inconsiderable 2,406kg.
It is in stop-start traffic that you notice that the Grand Cherokee’s gearbox jerks as it engages first gear, and you have to be extremely gentle with the throttle to get around this. You also notice that visibility is a bit limited by the thick A-pillar (thanks to stringent roll-over regulations in the US). Apart from this, though, it is quite nimble for its size, and the massive screen means you don’t have to squint to see what the rearview camera is showing you.
And now, onto the faults. The single biggest complaint we have is with the interiors – sure, the top half of the dashboard is covered in soft-touch materials and there’s a nice slab of black coloured wood that runs the breadth of the dash, but it’s the lower half that’s a bit off sync. It’s made up of well-finished, but hard plastic that simply doesn’t feel of as high quality as you would expect in a luxury car. Then there’s the touchscreen, which isn’t as slick as, say, BMW’s iDrive or Audi’s MMI systems, and even the seven-inch screen between the dials has some annoyingly downmarket fonts and even cheap-looking overlapping text! The controls are also not the most intuitive – Jeep has gone for a single ‘super stalk’ like Mercedes, with wiper, headlight and indicator controls on it.
Then there’s all the confusing buttons on the steering wheel – 22 of them, to be precise – that simply don’t have the tactility that the Germans seem to manage so easily. The big slab of silver plastic on the centre console is pretty ‘Toyota Land Cruiser’ as well. It’s not terrible, but what the Grand Cherokee’s cabin is sorely missing is that last bit of attention to detail that makes the German cars feel special.
The fact that it is an iconic brand will, by itself, have a lot of people waiting at showrooms. However, the only stumbling block may be the prices – a steep Rs 1.03 crore for the top-spec Grand Cherokee Summit. The enty-level Grand Cherokee Limited is priced at Rs 93.64 lakh. (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
The Cherokee does make a strong case for itself. It pretty much competes head on with the competition on price, but has a lot more equipment and is quite enjoyable to drive or be driven around in. And, while we doubt many owners will go near that low ratio button on the dashboard, it’s likely that most will be happy simply knowing their car has a full range of abilities. If only it had a cabin that felt more special, the Grand Cherokee would have been almost unbeatable.