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Does the full-time 4WD Jeep Grand Cherokee emerge victorious through the test of dense concrete jungle?

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Jeep is finally making its comeback in India, and this time it’s offering more than just the crude 4x4 utility vehicles that our country has been associated with in the past. Fiat is responsible for giving Jeep a new lease on life in India, with the aim of gaining the Americans’ assistance in reviving its sagging brand image in the country.

The 2014 Grand Cherokee, soon to be on offer here, is a far cry from Jeep’s classic associations in India. Sure, this Summit variant of the Grand Cherokee comes prepped with four-wheel drive, Selec-Terrain traction control system with low-range transfer case, three levels of air suspension settings, electronic slip differential for the rear axle.

But this Jeep is rather unconventional given what it has on offer, with a mile long list of kit, and the flashy look of something straight out of a convicted-felon-rapper video.

Considering the fact that the people who buy this SUV will barely ever take it off-road, we ran the Grand Cherokee through some everyday activities to see if this gung-ho Native American did any good in the one environment where it will, in all probability, be driven most often – the big city.

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Daily drive to work test

If you’re one of those who sets out to work early, you’ll be pleased to know the 3.0-litre V6 diesel motor under the Grand Cherokee’s hood is not the type that’ll wake up the neighbourhood with a resounding growl. Instead, it fires up in a very calm and collected manner. Driving to work, this Jeep gives you little reason to take your hands off the wheel en route, and it’s not just the involving driving dynamics we’re talking about. The steering wheel is loaded with more than 20 buttons that let you scan through a lengthy list of features, including messages list, 4WD setup, and radar-based cruise control, among many other functions of little use. It took us a while to get used to some of the Grand Cherokee’s ergonomics, including the single stalk that operates the wipers, headlights and indicators.

In the city, its pliant ride handles broken roads and speed breakers very well, so even the chauffeured will find the Grand Cherokee very relaxing. The suspension deals with large potholes impressively – the chunky 265/50 R20 Continental tyres can tackle anything that the municipal corporation can throw at it. A fair bit of road noise seeps into the cabin, but not enough to distract you from mentally rehearsing the team-building speech you’re working on.

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At a signal, when in line with your colleagues in their German SUVs, the Jeep isn’t the quickest off the mark when the lights go green, but it’s not exactly tardy, either. We clocked it at 8.41sec to 100kph, which is more than enough to get ahead of all those pesky hatchbacks and public vehicles.

A honk and a flash of the lights had most drivers ahead sporting their “what is that thing” look before quickly hopping out of the way. Even if they don’t oblige, the Jeep is agile enough to scoot around them without breaking a sweat. When stuck in heavy traffic, our starts were a bit jerky but the eight-speed ZF gearbox managed the engine’s 240bhp and 569Nm of power commendably, masking much of the Jeep’s 2,406kg weight.

Although parking in tight spaces can be a bit of an issue, if you pull up to the parking lot in this Jeep, your colleagues will certainly know you mean business.

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Start-shop test

Even if you’re not someone who drives down to the local bazaar for cheap and fresh vegetables, in the event that you do feel like it one fine day, you should know that manoeuvring around a crowded market area in this thing is not all that simple – with those chunky A-pillars and big ORVMs restricting visibility.

It was a bit tricky driving around crowded spots, but the blind spot monitoring and collision alert sensors were definitely working overtime here. The reverse camera with that 8.4-inch display proved really helpful in turning this mammoth Jeep around. The leather seats all around are heated/cooled – definitely a boon when stuck in traffic after a long day of shopping. There’s no third row seating in the Grand Cherokee, but the humongous 1,544-litre boot will swallow every possible mall purchase you can throw at it, including that new kitchen sink.

Stopping on the side of the road for a quick coffee is a strict no-no if you’re paranoid about curious passersby who prefer the hands-on-approach. We tried using the satnav system in an attempt to locate a particular shopping center, only to find the Jeep’s system kept taking us through the more scenic routes as opposed to the quickest one around. Good thing Columbus didn’t have one of these.

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Fine dining test

There are no footboards to help you in and out of this Jeep, but it’s quite manageable when the suspension is in the lowest Park setting. If the suspension settings are any different and you’re elderly, or short, smartly dressed and heading out to dinner with your heels on, you’ll find leaping into this cabin fairly challenging.

Once inside though, you’ll find commuting to be a breezy affair, with the spacious cabin designed to seat five full-size adults with ample head and legroom. The airy cabin is further helped by rear AC vents, those big side windows and a panoramic sunroof, and is insulated well from the outside world, allowing you to indulge in low-decibel chit-chat.

The ambient lighting coupled with a Harmon-Kardon audio system make for a very pleasurable drive. If you feel the need to build up an appetite, you have the option to engage Sport mode, in which the engine gets a bit gruffer revving to 4,000rpm to the next shift, bringing with it a heightened sense of urgency.

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Street cred check

The Grand Cherokee looks simply outstanding on the road. It’s definitely got road presence, with those broad shoulders and daytime running lights that look menacing in any rear view mirror. Then there’s the big shiny grin of that seven-slat grille, the classy chrome-accentuated air dam and those 20-inch Satin polished cast-aluminum wheels that attract attention like board pins to magnets.

Things did get a bit hairy at times with bikers often pulling up to this Jeep for a gander while cruising around. We lost count of the number of thumbs ups directed our way. Also, whenever we stopped somewhere, we had our fill of questions about the car – who’s bringing it to India, what it’ll cost, and of course its 6.9kpl mileage. The range of comments included this one: “It doesn’t look like a Jeep. What car have you modified?”,  which just goes to show the current local interpretation of the Jeep brand in India.

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The Grand Cherokee’s cabin is packed to the gills with quality material and feels like a well-finished product, but the Jeep lacks the luxurious feel and attention-to-detail class of its German rivals.

The Grand Cherokee scores points in the metropolis, with all its functionalities, and it’s shown great potential adapting to city life. Most owners will be content driving this Jeep in and around the city, with the added bonus of knowing their car’s also a capable off-roader.

If owning a burly-bling, Rs 65-70 lakh (est. ex-showroom) SUV interests you, the Grand Cherokee will surely deliver. We just wish the cabin tipped the flair scale more on the grander side. The Grand Cherokee emerges victorious after a bout with the city, and is right up there with the German opposition it will go against once it reaches a Fiat showroom near you.

(Words: Christopher Chaves, Photos: Rajeev Gaikwad)

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The numbers
Engine: 2,987cc V6 turbo-diesel
Power: 240bhp
Torque: 569Nm
Transmission: 8A, 4WD
0-100kph: 8.41 sec
30-50kph: 1.79 sec
50-70kph: 2.12 sec
80-0kph: 27.34m, 2.52 sec
Top speed: 257kph (claimed)
Weight: 2,406kg
Boot capacity: 1,544 litres
Fuel efficiency: City: 6.9kpl, Highway: 10.8kpl
Price: Rs 65-70 lakh (est., ex-showroom)

Pros: Long list of comfort features is staggering. Dominating road presence.
Cons: Interior doesn’t feel grand enough. Flashy wheels look very aftermarket.

The verdict
It’s got tons of appeal. Interior flair doesn’t feel on par with the competition – but that’s about the only drawback to an otherwise well-packaged product.

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