By my own admission, I’ve never been a huge lover of jeeps / 4×4’s as purely road vehicles. Part of the legacy of our Celtic Tiger boom was that if you were a resident of certain post codes and / or had two or more children, a luxury SUV was the default choice. And given the lack of general imagination this was generally either a BMW X5, Audi Q7 or for those in a slightly higher pay band – a Range Rover. Although many in this section of society may have moved on, a lot still swear that a luxury SUV is the best and most suitable mode of transport for them. But what do you do if you now want something a little different from the crowd? Jeep are now making a big return to our shores, and heading up their return is the new Jeep Grand Cherokee which I’ve been driving for the last few days. Its styling is now bang up to date and looks like it is now genuinely capable of running with the big boys. Oh and this particular Jeep, brought in especially from the UK for this test, is powered by a 5.7 litre HEMI V8.
Walking up to the new Grand Cherokee, you do notice the size of it – its big, but it’s actually not too big. It doesn’t have that bloated look that the Q7 has, nor does it have that boxy look that the Range Rovers do. I wouldn’t quite call it understated but it does have a certain subtleness to it. You would expect an SUV from across the pond to be big brash & in your face whereas I found the Jeep to be actually rather refined. During the handover I commented that this seemed to have every bell and whistle under the sun added to it yet I was surprised to hear that this Overland spec is how virtually all of the new Cherokee’s will come as standard. Naturally this is a logical step for a brand trying to elbow its was back into the market place, but the winners of this strategy will of course be the consumer. The quality of the interior felt excellent – not quite the same levels of plushness as say a Range Rover Vogue, but it feels every bit as nice and solid as its German counterparts. I found all the features on the dash to be pretty intuitive and easy to to find whilst the (fully adjustable) seating position offered excellent visibility during the drive. Parking is made a little easier with the addition of a reverse parking camera.
The drive itself is definitely up to a high standard. Maybe I was being a little presumptuous but I hadn’t expected a lot from it, and combined with a whopping big V8 in the nose, didn’t expect handling to be one of its strong points. I’m pleased to report back that I was proved wrong. The engine firstly is refined and during town driving drops into an Eco mode which switches off four cylinders and goes some way to help with the fuel consumption (something it does very well!). As you would expect with an engine of this scale torque comes in bucket-loads and although it will surge forward like a scalded cat when you plant your foot down, the nicest aspect is just how effortlessly it will cruise around at virtually idle revs. By Jeep’s own admission, very few people are going to go for the 5.7 engine, they expect all sales to be made up of the smaller 3.6 litre V6.
In the handling department Jeep have really pulled up their socks. They’ve stiffened up the chassis, increasing torsional stiffness by a whopping 146% and Chrysler claim is better than the BMW X5. Pushing the Grand Cherokee on through the bends it certainly feels planted and with no hint of wallowing in the body and does give you the confidence to move at pace. The Quadra-Lift air suspension not only gives a pretty supple ride but also gives you the option of raising the ride height should you decide to actually go off road. Simply pressing the ride height function on the centre console adds up to 4.5 inches of lift span. Once back on tarmac and up to speed it will automatically lower itself back down to improve handling. Having driven all of the Jeep’s rivals over the last few years, the new Cherokee is definitely something that I think can now start to be classed as a serious alternative to the usual choices. The quality seems to be there now and the handling spec and drive are all greatly improved, the big test will be can the brand now re-establish itself and lure people away from their comfort zones.
Pricing will be released soon, for more info visit jeepireland.ie
Photography: Dave Humphreys & Morgan.ie