First Drive: Jeep Grand Cherokee
Not so long ago Jeep was a goliath of the butch off-roading, school run world. But as Chrysler's star slipped from the heavens, the brand was subjected to some utterly forgettable and painfully ugly additions to its lineup.
Fortunately for the American manufacturer, Fiat now has its hand on the corporate tiller, and things are gradually looking up. It's in that vein that we are introduced to the Grand Cherokee – Jeep's all-new flagship model which is intended to steal back some of ground which has been lost to the Volkswagen Touareg and the Land Rover Discovery.
First impressions of the car are good, not least because the car is considerably better looking than its predecessor. The utilitarian profile has been significantly softened, but it retains the kind of svelte chunkiness which buyers expect in a current SUV.
The theme continues inside, where an added touch of visual class is complimented by a generous amount of kit. A high-quality stereo with a large hard drive, powered and heated front and reclining rear seats, and a huge sunroof on the higher trim level enhance comfort levels inside, while a lengthening of the overall wheelbase improves rear space by as much as 100mm.
There are a couple of question marks over the standard of the finish, particularly on some of the plastics above and below the immediate eye-line, but those keen to get the thing muddy will appreciate the level of terrain-tackling equipment which comes as standard. Low ratio gears, hill descent, locking differentials and a removable front air dam to improve the approach angle are all on the Grand Cherokee's menu.
It's a bit of a shame then that the Jeep can't quite replicate the performance on tarmac. Again the car is a substantial improvement over the previous model, but a rudimentary five-speed gearbox and slightly gruff engine means the Cherokee can't waft along like some of its more illustrious rivals. The higher trim cars come with an air suspension setup that helps matters though.
An increase in price over the old car is another hampering to the overall impression. There are just two trim levels, the Limited and the Overland, both with the same 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine. Neither is cheap, with the Limited starting at £36,795, and the range-topping Overland costing £43,995.
On top of this purchase price, you will also have to shell out a fair chunk more in fuel bills compared to the Grand Cherokee's rivals as it lags around 5mpg behind the likes of the Touareg. This has a knock-on effect on the CO2 emissions, which, at 218g/km, are a long way short of the industry best. Given that used values are unlikely to be the strongest in the class either, running a Cherokee will not be a cheap experience.
Its performance off road means the Jeep is just as capable as you would hope given the brand's heritage in many areas, but the interior finish and atmosphere is not yet up to the standard you might expect from a car that costs around £40,000 and is pricy to run.