First Drives

01 March 2013

First drive: Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel

The Chrysler-Fiat bank will be opening its Indian account with the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Should you pitch in with your savings? Sriram Narayanan reports...

Sriram Narayanan
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Jeep is something of a Xerox or a Bisleri in India. We never ask for a photocopy. We ask for a Xerox. We never ask for bottled water. We ask for a Bisleri. And for a long time, any big, off-road vehicle was called a Jeep. Whether it was a Trax, a Sumo and of course, the vehicles built by Mahindra under license from the original makers of the Jeep.  Smaller towns still have toll booths with lanes marked car, bus, truck and jeep (sic). Stand back then. Because the original will be here by September 2013 courtesy Chrysler-Fiat. And here’s a quick report of the grandest Jeep, the Grand Cherokee that TG drove in the USA.

As a design, the GC isn’t great. Remove those vertical slat grilles and the vehicle looks like any other generic modern SUV. But then, if the word Jeep conjures up images of shuddering gear sticks, rattling teeth, exposed body parts in the cabin, then well, the GC is planets ahead. Everything is as smooth, safe, refined and comfortable as the best from Germany and Japan. In Jeep’s family, the Grand Cherokee range is head of the house.

On the road, it’s comfortable and quiet. But it’s no Porsche Cayenne. The steering is light and easy, ride is comfortable. Push it hard around a corner and there is manageable body roll. In fact, on-road dynamics are better than an Audi Q7. What? No, the GC will be five seats only. Where the GC truly shines over the Europeans is off the road. It’s a luxurious, comfortable car that brings along baggage like weight, size, trick suspensions. Baggage you don’t want for going off the road. But does it go off the road. It has differential locks, low range and while it doesn’t go as effortlessly or quickly as the other Jeep -- the Wrangler -- the Grand Cherokee never got flummoxed in that Texan ranch we were driving in.

It’s still not as uncompromising an off-roader as hard-core ladder chassis veterans like the Defender or G-class. But for a monocoque chassis, the Grand Cherokee is extremely able over challenging terrain.

India will get the 3-litre V6 diesel sending 240bhp to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox. The company is still figuring out pricing as these cars are going to come in as full imports. On the road, stuff like the Merc ML and VW Touareg have a slight edge. Off the road the GC has essentials like lockable diffs and low range modes to have the Germans licked. The key is going to be pricing. If Jeep manages to price it closer to the Rs 50 lakh mark – near the Audi Q5 -- this will be one phenomenal machine. And quite a grand bargain over the Germans.

For more on the incredible Jeep Wrangler and the track-focussed Grand Cherokee SRT wait for TG’s April issue.

Tags: grand cherokee, jeep

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