I loved the Jeep Grand Cherokee I tested last year, suggesting at the time it was a viable alternative to the Land Rover Discovery. Since then, it has been updated with an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox and given a new, sleek visage so things have only got better, surely?
But this is the world of the premium SUV, in which ambling along is the same as running backwards. Few automotive categories are as closely contested as this and with some calling the new Range Rover Sport (rightly, in my opinion) the Best Car in the World the Grand Cherokee might find that a mild facelift just doesnt cut the mustard anymore.
Lets find out, shall we?
Laden with more jewellery than an East End bouncer the new Grand Cherokee is big, brash, and bluff, a position aided and abetted by the (670 and optional) Brilliant Black coachwork of my test car. The updated Grand Cherokee has new front and rear bumpers and smaller headlights, bringing it into synch with the new pretenders, against which it is fighting.
(New pretenders? Yes, Jeep has been about since 1941, something they triumph on the inside of those lovely new headlights. A heritage like this makes that of Land Rover seem awkwardly nouveau)
This interior is unique to the European market and is almost convincing. Ergonomically its fine and any reservations I have are more to do with the quality of some of the materials used: the plastic boot was scratched quite badly; the faux wood trim on the dashboard was coarse and unattractive to the touch; and the seat leather was hard and slippery.
There is plenty of space in there, though. Headroom is excellent and the legroom in the back is almost limo-plentiful. Boot space is ample and with the seats folded itll double as a decent-sized van. Trim levels are generous throughout the six trim specifications on offer and in my one-from-the-top-of-the-range Summit delivers all your 21st SUV needs.
That means a twin panoramic sunroof, auto-dipping mirrors and lights, heated, ventilated, and electronically adjustable leather seats, a leather and wood heated steering wheel plus assorted pieces of leather trim throughout the cabin, a powered tailgate, 20-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, Hill Descent and Hill Start Assist, forward collision monitor with Crash Mitigation, sports suspension, a premium Harman Kardon stereo, Bluetooth, sat-nav, and a parking assistance system.
All that equipment is nice to have but it does feel a bit like Jeep is giving it to you in the hope that you wont notice that this isnt a Premier division SUV anymore.
The three-litre diesel engine makes a decent fist of moving the Jeep but the Grand Cherokee is a big old hunk of Detroit iron and you can feel every pound on the road. The steering is communicative and reasonably direct but body control, even with the Summits adjustable air suspension which gives you a choice of ride heights, is poor.
The new eight-speed automatic gearbox is a vast improvement over the old gearbox though, working almost imperceptibly to keep the engine in its sweet spot. (This is more than can be said of the foot-operated parking brake, which is anything but imperceptible and still catches your left calf when you are driving.)
Jeeps of old were renowned for their off-road prowess, something that I doubt can be said of the new model. The Quadra-Trac II drivetrain sounds impressive and suitably New Frontier but it struggled on even moderately slippery surfaces.
Its almost as if the old warhorse has forgotten that it is an off-road machine; faced with mud it scrabbles around until it remembers that it can send drive to the front wheels too, at which point equanimity is restored. It is effective, but unsettling and can only be over-ridden in low range. Which is fine if you are happy to travel at a third of the speed you might otherwise want to.
The 247bhp three-litre engine produces 420lb/ft of torque dragging the Cherokee to 62mph in a not-too-bad-at-all time of 8.2 seconds (and onto a top speed of 126mph).
Its a gruff thing, but not unattractive in its own way. Fuel consumption should be mid-twenties though, which is too high, especially given the official fuel consumption figure is 37.7mpg. CO2 emissions are 198g/km.
Value for Money
My test car cost a not unreasonable 50,000, which sounds fine until you look at the competition, most of which does a better job for similar money. True, the range does start in the mid-thirties, but if youre going to have bling then you might as well have Bling.
When I drove the previous model Jeep Grand Cherokee I wrote: There is no denying that the Discovery is currently the best in its class, yet Id be sorely tempted by a Jeep. Its a just that little bit different, engaging to live with, and stuffed with personality and if its rivals are sleeker, more efficient, and possibly more reliable, none of them is more fun. Jeep calls the sunroof CommandView, the air suspension Quadra-Lift, and the four-wheel-drive system Quadra-Trac II. It understands that in a homogenised, half-fat, guilt-ridden world some people still want to enjoy driving and car ownership.
That was written after a week with the Grand Cherokee in which I enjoyed some of the best weather I can ever remember; the roads were dry, the sun was shining, and I was blasting the length of Wales along some of the best roads in the UK. This year was different. The roads were wet and icy -and mud and leaves lowered the coefficient of friction even more. Under these circumstances -circumstances the Jeep should have shrugged off with the nonchalance of a Gaul being confronted by his mistress,the Jeeps four-wheel-drive system floundered. Rear wheels spun for a second or two until the Quadra-Trac II system caught up. Until it did I was no longer a driver, I was a passenger.
But the biggest problem the Jeep faces now is the new Range Rover Sport, a vehicle that wasnt on sale last summer. The fifty grand youll need to find to buy my Grand Cherokee 3.0 CRD Summit gets you into a 3.0 TDV6 Range Rover Sport, a car that is pretty much faultless. Thats a tough position to find yourself in