The big Grand Cherokee SUV is a pivotal car for the new Chrysler, but benefits from its old association with Mercedes. The chassis and suspension were part of a joint-development program with the Germans and led to the development of this independent suspension with isolated suspension cradles.NEARLY 70 years after it started building vehicles with a reputation for off-road ability, Jeep's finally been able to reproduce the feat on-road.
The result is a car that is a much more refined on-road ride than any Jeep before it. It takes serious provocation to unsettle the 2.3-tonne beast and then it's a predictable case of compensating for pitch and roll. And that's what makes the Grand Cherokee such a step forward, because it still copes with extreme off-road runs that would ground most SUVs.
Explore the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee range
A starting price of $45,000 will put the V6-powered Laredo on more than a few shopping lists. It sells with standard Bluetooth, a 30GB hard drive in the six-speaker media system and 18-inch polished alloy rims. The air suspension is a $2500 option and premium paint will add $450.
Step up to the Limited and the V6 is $55,000; the 5.7-litre V8 another $5000. The extra spend buys 20-inch rims and more creature comforts such as front and rear parking sensors, though the options checklist is also more extensive, from $495 for premium paint to $3250 each for the panoramic sunroom, air suspension and powered tailgate/heated steering wheel.
The range-topping Overland at $69,500 has all the kit, the rear DVD screens is the only notable option, but that comes at the expense of the panoramic sunroof. A five-speed auto drives all models and a diesel will join the line-up within a few months.
The Grand Cherokee comes with two versions of its four-wheel drive system. Quadra-Trac II uses sensors linked to the two-speed transfer case to determine tyre slip and route up to all the available torque to the axle with the most traction.
The Quadra-Drive II system has a rear electronic limited-slip differential for what Jeep calls "industry-leading tractive capability". The system can distribute torque to tyres with traction, rather than just one axle.
Both systems come with the Selec-Terrain traction control software, controlled by a rotary dial in the centre console. The system lets the driver choose from five driving conditions, snow, sport, auto, sand/mud and rock, to adjust settings such as ride height, throttle response and electronic stability and traction control.
A wind-tunnel workout has trimmed the Grand Cherokee's drag by 8.5 per cent over the outgoing model. The new sheet metal is smart, it's urban Jeep chic not Rubicon Trail rugged, but it is inside where the big improvements have been made.
"We believe the interior is a world-class design," Chrysler Australia's product management chief Craig Bradshaw says.
Jeep says it focused on quality and interior comfort and the cabin looks upmarket, with a wood trim running across the dash and softer plastics on the dash and doors. It's a similar story with the seat, which is big enough for any posterior, but has power-adjusted bolsters to ensure a snug fit when cornering.
There's a new two-gauge instrument cluster with back-lighting, which apparently makes it easier to read at night and the three-spoke steering wheel with tilt and telescoping function is another new item.
The fitout and features is on a par with the Europeans and Jeep admits BMW's X5 was one of the benchmark vehicles.
There's a full array of airbags and as many traction control systems as modern technology can pack on a circuit board. That means hill ascent and descent assist, electronic roll mitigation and trailer-sway control along with the regular stability and traction control systems.
Given this body will underpin the next generation Mercedes ML and GL models, there shouldn't be any questions about it's capacity to take a hit if the worst does occur. The ABS brakes work well on bitumen, but struggle to pull the Grand Cherokee up from speed on downhill gravel roads.
Carsguide noted at the Grand Cherokee's global launch in July last year that its bitumen ability was a huge leap forwards and a drive on local roads confirms it. Jeep has a genuine winner on its hands and it is priced to demand comparison. Not surprisingly, the V8 is the pick of the engines.
The V6 does a great job of shifting the Grand Cherokee, and fuel consumption was a reasonable 14 litres for 100km on the test run, but a muted buzzing is evident in the generally quiet cabin when overtaking uphill. It takes a decent hill and a decent prod of the right foot to make it happen, but same task in the Hemi V8 was performed without getting more than a lazy burble from beneath the hood, though fuel use was 19 litres for 100km. On paper the V6 is only .4 of a second off the V8's 0-100km/h time of It's the towing option to go for until the diesel arrives.
The fine gravel tailings in a disused Tasmanian tin mine quarry proves the Grand Cherokee is capable of much more than most owners will throw at it. The big SUV powers up and down the slopes, shows off its independent suspension and wheel articulation and came away with no more than a wipe-away scuff mark on the front lip. And you can take that off if the going gets really serious.
It was stable on the road and the traction control only intervened on a combination of fine gravel on a hard-packed base, when the back end got taily under heavy braking. Smooth the controls out and it is a sure-footed runner though sweeping bends. There's a little body roll, but no worse than its European SUV rivals. And that's where Jeep is aiming in terms of features while pricing it at a point to compete with Ford Territory and Toyota Kluger buyers.
Jeep will have a long-term future if the Grand Cherokee lasts as well as it looks.