Outside America, Jeep is the best-understood major-car nameplate.
Cadillac failed here because people imagined overchromed land yachts and were given a sharp-creased wannabe 5-Series. Chevrolets aren’t apple-pie cruisers over here, they’re Korean-built sub-Vauxhalls. But everyone knows that a Jeep is a 4×4.
The all-new Grand Cherokee strikes pretty much at the meatiest part of Europe’s luxury five-seat SUV market: a well-equipped V6 diesel, with proper on-road abilities. Think the lower end of the VW Touareg, Merc M-Class and BMW X5. In mentioning this opposition, are we cruelly setting up the Jeep for a fall? After all, there are plenty of US cars that do a more-than-decent job on home turf, but flop over here. This one is different: we’ve driven it in Europe, and it feels natively competent here.
If you like your SUVs brash and showy, this one isn’t for you. It’s as if they were terrified of being labelled another Detroit gross-out. The metalwork is crisp but reserved, and the dash design is subtle to the threshold of forgettability. But it’s put together with bullseye accuracy. And the driving experience is equally well honed.
The V6 diesel kicks out 241bhp, turning in better acceleration times than the 5.7 V8 petrol they get in the States, while serving up Euro-competitive economy and CO2. Refinement is in the ballpark although not the very best, and the transmission shifts smoothly. The chassis has a sophisticated design and repays it with well-controlled cornering and braking. It’s obviously heavy, but the mass doesn’t loll out of control.The only debits are artificially strong self-centring on the steering, and high-speed wind noise. Best of all, it avoids the usual ‘sport-SUV’ error of a punishing ride; it’s supple and relaxing.
For serious off-roading, the Overland version fields the electronically controlled centre and rear diff locksand height-adjustable air suspension that the Germans have either shuffled off to the options lists or abandoned completely. The air springs don’t only allow it to tiptoe over towering boulders; at speed, they let it drop for better stability and aero, and it’ll also kneel for loading. Stick the two-speed transfer ‘box into low, and it’ll climb or descend what appears to be, as you approach it, a sheer cliff. For most real-life owners this is irrelevant, except it translates to mean that hauling a boator horse trailer up out of a muddy hole should be a cakewalk.
I’m not saying the Grand Cherokee is a clear class-winner. But it’s no let-down in any area, and when you look at the balance of price to equipment, it makes a case. And all this competence is quite an underdog achievement. This vehicle was conceived by Chrysler when the company was at its most chaotic and skint, first under the ownership of some bone-headed venture-capitalist tightwads, and then through bankruptcy. Only when the Fiat Group took over were the engineers given the time and money to polish it properly.
We like: Climbs obstacles you couldn’t walk
We don’t like: But who does? Get an Allroad
The verdict: No brash American, it’s carefully aimed at the European opposition.
Performance: 0-62mph in 8.2secs, max 126mph, 34.0mpg
Tech: 2987cc, V6 turbodiesel, 4WD, 241bhp, 406lb ft, 2350kg, 218g/km CO2
Tick this on the options list: It’s all included, really
And avoid this: White paint, chrome wheels