By Wayne Gorrett
Jeep have refreshed the Grand Cherokee – a full-size SUV boasting significant road gravitas – for model year 2014. I was at the recent UK launch in Manchester to pilot WV13 GXZ for a tootle over Snakes Pass and around the Peak District.
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A cursory glance belies a number of changes over the previous model and closer inspection reveals a raft of cosmetic enhancements and technological improvements.
The range commences with the ‘Laredo’, progressing upwards to ‘Limited’, ‘Limited Plus’ and ‘Overland’. The ‘Summit’ variant peaks the 2014 line-up. All variants use the well-performing 3.0 litre V6 diesel, delivering 247bhp at 4,000rpm / with 570Nm of torque nicely low down at only 2,000 rpm. The engine in the entry-level Laredo only is available in a lower state of tune – 188bhp at 4,000 rpm, with torque a very respectable 440Nm available between 1,600 – 2,800 rpm.
The power plant is now a far better match for the new eight-speed automatic gearbox sourced from Germany’s ZF Friedrichshafenand and currently used in Range Rover, BMW and the Rolls-Royce Ghost. It is a welcome replacement for the ageing five- and six-speed units. For more enthusiastic driving, progress may be controlled manually via paddle shifters.
Fuel economy is improved by around nine percent thanks largely to the spread of eight ratios on the new gearbox and the inclusion of an ‘eco’ driving mode which optimises gear shifts and throttle sensitivity and triggers the stop/start system. The Eco setting is activated by default on start-up but may be disengaged via a centre console button for a more spirited and engaging drive.
Inside, all models benefit from the Fiat Group’s new Uconnect system via an 8.4-inch touchscreen which controls the radio, media, comfort, climate, satellite navigation, phone and vehicle settings. A new 7-inch TFT liquid crystal instrument panel displays basic information but may be significantly customised to suit the type of progress and terrain information required by the driver.
Externally, all models include the narrow, bi-xenon adaptive and directional headlamps incorporating LED daylight running lamps. Pronounced chrome trim treatment is given to the lower front facia, which also encompass new fog lamps and binnacles. Chrome side accents compliment the side profile and the rear is dominated by dual rectangular exhausts and lower body cladding.
Some of the better points:
* The Grand Cherokee is very comfortable, roomy and spacious. Jeep’s investment in NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) reduction is evident, resulting in a quiet and refined ride, throughout the power band.
* With a starting price of £37,000 for the well-equipped Laredo, it deserves strong consideration for those wishing to adopt the full-size SUV life-style the marketing chaps depict.
* The switchgear is tangibly better than previous and all controls fall ergonomically to place for the driver.
* The overall ride and drive quality is good. Cornering dynamics are well improved with much less blancmange under seat than before.
* Strong, torquey diesels which deliver their best work at around 2,000 rpm.
* The ZF 8-speed auto box is smooth, precise and hunt-free and changes are almost indiscernible, delivering calm, fuss-free progress.
* Fuel efficiencies are improved by 11% thanks in large to the new gearbox and accompanying ‘Eco’ mode.
* New centre console and instrument cluster adds class and elegance to the overall mix.
* Quadra-Trac II permanent AWD is standard on Laredo, Limited and Limited Plus variants, while…
* Quadra-Drive II, with its limited slip differential with central transfer case, is offered on the Overland and Summit models.
* All models come with a myriad of preventative, active and passive safety systems.
Compromises to consider:
* Steering is a little vague to the dead ahead and while cornering dynamics are very much improved, there remains little feedback emanating from the black stuff.
* It’s still not a seven-seater, which considering it’s bulk, is surprising.
* Visibility is restricted by bulky ‘A’ pillars and a bulky box of sensors behind the rear view mirror, which lowers the mirror into the driver’s line of sight.
* It’s more suited to those distinctly less fussed by the inherently high costs of driving and living with it.
* While much improved to a full band lower than previous Grand Cherokee models, emissions are a lofty 198g/km, resulting in annual road tax of £475.
* It remains a bit of a beastie with imposing road presence and weighing in at around 2,500kg. Reducing excess fat resulting in greater efficiency gains should be Jeep’s next priority.
Price wise, the Grand Cherokee Summit comes in a tad under £50,000 which leans it perilously close to the stomping ground of the all-new Range Rover Sport – an inspired target of excellence confessed to me by a senior Jeep official, in a refreshingly welcome wave of straight-talk.
In addition, the Grand Cherokee is in desperate need of a fridge alarm. Range Rover set the weight-loss trend by engineering the loss of 400kg in one model replacement. The priority for Jeep must be to dispose of a minimum of 200kg. The result will be a fitter, more efficient Grand Cherokee.
While Jeep must be applauded for the new engineering and technological improvements made in the new Grand Cherokee, it’s cost-of-ownership requires a long, hard look through the numbers. That said, the brave with favoured fortune will be richly rewarded because it is really rather good.
For those wanting greater seven-seat versatility, a little bird from Jeep-UK told me there’s a larger version on the way possibly branded the Wagoner, which I suspect may meet that need.
More details when I have them.