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Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Car Review | 2 January 2003

Driven January 2003

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It's not exactly the school run. We're 5,000 feet up in a white-out blizzard. The tarmac disappeared way back, the verges shortly afterwards and now the sky's thick with snow. All I can see are the thin poles marking the edges of where a road once was.

There are wolves and bears outside, pools of steaming mud just off the road and a drop of several hundred feet into a canyon just, well, somewhere over there. Fortunately, I am in a school-run motor.

It's a big 4x4. A Jeep Grand Cherokee 2.7 CRD Overland, in fact. It's just another day in Montana and I'm in Yellowstone Park where despite warning notices about charging bison and scalding mud, several dozen people get gored and boiled to death every year. (Pause for cruel joke about Americans.)

A charging bison can do 30mph - which would comfortably catch our Grand Cherokee in this white stuff. Even if it is

running in Quadra-Drive, which is Jeep's sophisticated torque-sensing 4x4 system and more capable than most.

However, I digress. The ability to cope with white-out blizzards is rather a theoretical requirement in the suburban jungle where this Grand Cherokee is most likely to be put to work. There, big plush four-by-four off-roaders are one of the vehicles of choice for rather different reasons. Status and physical presence being two of these.

The Grand Cherokee has been a tad left behind on both those counts by newer arrivals, like the BMW X5 and M-Class Mercedes. It didn't help its own cause by preferring good ol' - but expensive - US V8 grunt to the maybe less inspiring but more frugal diesels of its rivals.

A Daimler diesel was slotted into one model of the big Jeep a year back and now the same unit has found its way into the range-topping Overland to provide the sort of posh oil-burner we Europeans apparently want.

Which means it comes with all the trimmings - a 10-disc CD player, suede and leather trim, powered seats, redwood burl trim for the dash and five-spoke alloys - plus rock rails to protect the sills should you be eccentric enough to actually take it off road. The ride has been improved for 2003

models, and brakes and steering have both been made lighter - quite why the latter was thought necessary is hard to fathom as steering the big Jeep has never raised a sweat. Nor was the ride exactly brick-like.

The five-cylinder 2.7-litre common-rail diesel has the sort of easy-going pull you expect from such a unit. It produces 163bhp but, more importantly, 295lb ft of torque from under 2,000 revs. It fulfils all the requirements of a modern diesel: it's quiet (aside from a little background chattering noise at start-up), isn't too thirsty (29.1mpg), feels comfortable at motorway speeds and, while it isn't exactly quick, doesn't entirely disgrace itself when called upon to out-accelerate a bison from a standing start.

The Overland is being built in Austria for the Euro-market, but is unashamedly Yank in the soft seating, lush ride, and feel and style of the cabin. And why not? A few days Stateside reminds you that this is a place where going off-road means a whole lot more than putting two wheels up on the kerb.

Kevin Blick

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