Jeep’s latest Grand Cherokee stays true to the marque's glorious history but makes huge steps towards banishing the bad memories of cheap plastic and cabin rattles. David Linklater is suitably impressed.
Now under control of the Fiat Group, American giant Chrysler has apparently been given the hard word by its new masters to dramatically lift the fit/finish and build quality of its vehicles or face the consequences. Hello, pot? This is kettle. You're black.
Anyway, the number of Chrysler company people working specifically on product-quality has increased from 200 to 1500 over the past two years and it's all actually working if the latest Jeep Grand Cherokee is any indication. The first new Chrysler vehicle to be wholly developed under what the company calls its "all-new approach to quality", the new Grand is generations ahead of the model it replaces – still macho and rugged, but genuinely impressive in terms of the cabin experience and standard equipment.
While Jeep is fond of comparing its new Grand Cherokee to luxury oriented crossover vehicles, in truth it's still a heavy-duty offroader at heart. The 5.7L Hemi V8 is carried over from the previous model, the five-speed automatic transmission retains low-range but is one, two or even three cogs short compared with some rivals, and the unibody chassis construction still features integrated frame members for extra strength in the rough stuff.
Nonetheless, there have been engineering concessions towards more comfort and enjoyment on the road. The rear suspension is an independent multi-link arrangement and the combination of the Land Rover-inspired Selec-Trac controller and Quadra-Lift air suspension system, each with five different settings, makes it much easier for the driver to tailor the behaviour of this new Jeep to the application at the time – at the mere flick of a switch.
Don't expect the sports car-like handling of a BMW X5: true-to-brand offroad abilities mean the Grand Cherokee is a notch down from most rivals in terms on on-road handling and ride. That's not to say it's uncomfortable or unstable: it's a massive improvement on the previous model and still very competent on the blacktop, with a predictable cornering attitude and an excellent stability control system as an active safety back-up.
Being a bit tougher underneath also has huge advantages for a tow vehicle: the Grand Cherokee is rated for 3500kg, which will make it a very attractive proposition for those who want to haul big caravans and/or boats and still travel with plenty of style and luxury.
Before you step inside the Grand Cherokee, you should prepare for a shock: the finish of the plastics is consistent, the panel gaps are tight and the switchgear clicks with authority. No more wobbly buttons and rattles, which means the Grand offers a cabin ambience that actually justifies its $90k price tag.
The Kiwi distributor has avoided some of America's more questionable decor-taste in restricting the upholstery to dark leather only for our market, although one thing could not be avoided: the prominent wood grain trim inserts that surround you and your passengers. Oh well: baby steps, Chrysler.
At least if you're in the back you can keep your eyes otherwise occupied with the impressive roof-mounted DVD system, which can be listened to in private on headphones (supplied) or through the vehicle's own sound system. You can also watch on the front information screen, although only when the transmission is in Park.
A surprisingly good vehicle this, although we'd argue potential buyers might want to look at the powertrain alternatives. The Hemi powerplant is not particularly responsive for a big V8 and not especially economical for an engine with cylinder deactivation technology. We'd venture the 3.0L CRD (167kW/540Nm) will be a much better bet as it offers identical specification and towing abilities to the Hemi V8 version. It's great value.
Or even consider the all-new Pentastar 3.6L V6 petrol (213kW/347Nm), which is an outstanding new powerplant by all accounts. The V6 petrol is also $7000 cheaper than the V8/CRD; it wears a Limited badge but misses out on some of the luxury equipment like air suspension, satellite navigation, rear-seat DVD entertainment system and the powered tailgate. Oh, and be aware that the Pentastar is down on tow rating: you're limited to 2300kg.
See Jeep Grand Cherokee for sale.