Jeep Grand CherokeeOn sale from 19 July in the UK, the new Jeep Grand Cherokee is still a rare site on our roads.

The iconic American heavyweight in its new form is in so much demand in its home market that the supply of right hand drive models for the UK are very limited. Nothing says more about the heritage of the Jeep brand than the latest Grand Cherokee models and are still built in motor city Detroit, albeit a significantly updated production line with retrained quality conscious ‘motown’ line workers.

Jeep, still part of Chrysler but both now under the control of Fiat Group Automobiles, had expect to sell around 2,000 units this year of the new Grand Cherokee, if they can get the supply. After the initial rush-to-buy in the USA is over, next year’s UK sales should be around 2,500 units.

Since its launch in 1992 the iconic Grand Cherokee has been slow to move with the times, trouble is different markets require different things. In Europe for instance even heavyweight 4x4s have become more sophisticated and refined, not to mention expensive, as they chase younger affluent image conscious customers rather than the traditional past customers such as country estate owners, farmers, contractors and the like. In the USA, its home ground, the Grand Cherokee’s image still epitomises motoring freedom and the great outdoors even though most new Grand Cherokees do the school run with ‘Mom’ or travel in nice neat speed controlled lines on the freeway downtown to work with ‘Dad’.

At its core the new Grand Cherokee remains a genuine heavyweight off road 4x4 with its body on a ladder chassis design, huge suspension travel, high ground clearance, the clever all terrain system and a 3.0-litre, V6 turbodiesel engine with a new eight-speed automatic transmission at its heart. I should mention at this stage that there is also available a 6.4-litre V8, 461bhp HEMI SRT petrol model which at £59,995 is a huge £10,500 more expensive than the top 3.0-litre CRD V6 Summit diesel model. Why? Jeep must see a demand and of course Range Rover models, the leaders of the heavyweight 4x4 pack and BMW also offer petrol engines but sales are very small.

Jeep Grand CherokeeJeep Grand CherokeeApart from the SRT V8 variant, all other new Grand Cherokees are powered by the latest versions of their 3.0-litre, V6 turbodiesel engine but now with Fiat’s MultiJet 2 diesel engine direct injection, turbocharging and electronic mapping systems. Fuel economy is better, and CO2 emissions are lower due to the Fiat technology input.

The Laredo starter model in the range, priced at £36,995, gets an 188bhp version of the CRD unit. The Limited version costing £38,995, the best selling Limited Plus priced at £41,995, the Overland at £45,695 and the Summit at £49,495, all use the 247bhp version of this engine. Torque from this unit is a hefty 570Nm (420lb ft) from 2,000rpm.

Standard right across the range is a new ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox. This is slick unit offering seamless gearchanges with top gear really coming into play during high speed cruising so improving fuel economy; around 38mpg is the official figure. My recent very short test drive returned 29.6mpg but 34mpg should be achievable in real life.

I say I had a very short test drive because the new Grand Cherokees are like ‘hen’s teeth’ in the UK due to the high demand in left hand drive markets. With no test vehicles available yet from the UK importer’s press fleet, Jeep UK, wishing to take part in the recent SMMT Media Test day, did manage to borrow their Marketing Department’s 3.0 CRD Summit version, the most expensive model apart from the V8 petrol SRT, in the range. Being a Marketing Department vehicle of course the Summit version is fully blinged-up with lots of chrome finishings outside and in – very ‘new money’ aimed at the city business community rather than the usual understated but well-off rural buyers.

Only the Laredo version has cloth upholstery, all the rest have leather in one grade or another and most are well equipped as is the ‘norm’ for American vehicles. The Laredo and Limited versions have 18-inch chrome wheels, the remainder get 20-inch alloys and all but the base model has a power tailgate. All versions have five seats, but it is likely that Jeep, for Europe at least, will have to offer a seven seat option as that seems to be common in the large SUV market these days. Of course air conditioning, electric front seats, windows and door mirrors are more or less standard right through the range and only the base model doesn’t have a reversing camera and front and rear park assist function.

The hand of Jeep’s new owner Fiat can be seen and felt in the new Grand Cherokee. The quality and design of the facia is improved as is the overall look and feel of the interior but there is still some way to go before it reaches BMW/Audi/Range Rover levels. There are still lots of controls and switches which need reducing in number and their ergonomic layout improving. The new central controller allows various permanent 4WD modes to be selected easily, snow/sand/auto/mud/rock, plus a push-button to engage 4WD Low mode.

Jeep Grand CherokeeJeep Grand CherokeeJeep Grand CherokeeUnfortunately the foot operated parking brake is retained and harks back to a bygone age, although Mercedes still use them. Descent control, hill start assist and cruise control are all standard right through the range. The Summit test model had Quadra-Lift air suspension so it was difficult to get a feel as to whether Jeep has been able to refine the on-road handling of latest Grand Cherokee to European standards. That’s not an easy task when it comes to using a body-on-chassis design rather than the new, lightweight, aluminium monocoque construction techniques that most SUVs/4x4s adopt today. Certainly the air suspension gave a relatively controlled and comfortable ride limiting body-roll during cornering but the vehicle did tend to float through corners rather than feel planted. I also suspect the standard shock absorber and coil spring system will be less capable of coping with our worsening road surfaces. The steering response has been improved but it felt slow and vague on winding country roads. On the straight it was fine, a legacy of the American core design.

So Fiat still has more to do to encourage Chrysler/Jeep that in order to compete against today’s new generation European products, the iconic history, undoubted off road capabilities, bling trim and plentiful gadgets, do not guarantee sales success in more sophisticated markets.

MILESTONES: Jeep Grand Cherokee 3.0 CRD V6 Summit. Price: £49,495. (Best selling model will be the Limited Plus at £41,995). Engine/transmission: 3.0-litre, V6, direct injection, common-rail turbodiesel, 247bhp, 570Nm (420lb ft) from 2,000rpm, 8-speed auto as standard on all models, permanent 4WD, high/low ratio, multi all terrain mode selector. Performance: 126mph, 0-62mph 8.2 seconds, 37.7mpg Combined Cycle, CO2 198g/km, VED road tax £475 First Year rate then £260 per annum second year onwards, BIK company car tax 34%. Insurance group: 43. Dimensions/capacities, 5-door, 5-seater, L 4,846mm, W 1,943mm, H 1,792mm, boot/load area capacity 782 to 1,554-litres, max braked towing capacity 2,949kg (Summit version but 3,500 for all other diesel models). Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles. For: For some buyers its larger than life styling, lots of equipment and specification, improved interior in parts, 8-speed automatic, improved fuel economy and lower emissions. Against: A heavyweight 4x4 that’s too heavy for today’s requirements, good off-road, less capable on-road against the BMW X5 or Range Rover/Sport, top models are expensive, no 7-seat version – yet!  Miles Better News Agency

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