“THE most powerful, most capable on-road vehicle we’ve ever built.” The claim, in a glossy American-market ad for the new Jeep Grand Cherokee, is a telling one. The brand’s off-road qualities are legendary. But, with the new Grand Cherokee, the manufacturer has aimed at making a Jeep that is as excellent on-road as it is off. These days, that’s an important requirement for a 4x4 wagon, given that 90 per cent of buyers use them mainly on-road, hardly ever exploiting their vehicles’ off-road credentials.

In South Africa, the new model is effectively cheaper, too, on a price-per-equipment basis, probably mainly as result of recent rand strength. It is being marketed in four versions, powered by three engines, two of them new. The more basic Laredo spec is offered with a choice of Jeep’s proven petrol-fuelled 4,7-litre s-o-h-c V8 or a new 3,0-litre Mercedes-sourced high-pressure diesel. The more comprehensive Limited spec is offered with the same diesel or – for the first time in a Jeep product – a 5,7-litre version of Chrysler’s famous Hemi V8. The latter derivative, the subject of this first test, sells for a competitive R468 900.

The overhead valve, pushrod Hemi is a revival of the iconic motor from Chrysler’s ‘60s –’70s muscle cars, but it has been completely revamped. The version in the Grand Cherokee Limited displaces 5 654 cm³ and has peak outputs of 240 kW at 5 000 r/min and 500 N.m at 4 000. Ninety per cent of the peak torque output is available from 2 400 to 5 100 r/min. The Jeep’s engine has electronic throttle control, and also features Chrysler’s “multi-displacement system”, or MDS, which deactivates half the cylinders during cruising and light acceleration, claimed to improve fuel economy by up to 20 per cent, depending on driving conditions.

Drive is taken to the four wheels via the same 5-45RFE five-speed automatic transmission as was used in the previous Grand Cherokee. The four-wheel drive system is Quadra-Drive II, which uses electronic limited slip differentials (ELSD) instead of the Vari-Lok progressive axles used in previous generation Jeeps. The company says the new system allows faster torque transfer, and almost 100 per cent of the torque can be distributed to any of the four wheels, a capability claimed to be unique to the Grand Cherokee. The system provides four-wheel drive on demand, and there is a 2,72:1 low range ratio.

Replacing the old recirculating ball steering set-up is a new rack and pinion system that provides a tighter turning circle than previously. There’s also an all-new MacPherson strut type independent front suspension that allows 10 per cent greater wheel travel than before. And a new five-link layout at the rear, with a track bar, is claimed to match the lateral stiffness of the front suspension to optimise handling. Braks are four-wheel discs with ABS and EBD and, for the first time, the Grand Cherokee now also has an ESP system that makes braking and throttle adjustments to help maintain directional stability.

The five-seater five-door unitconstruction wagon body is 139 mm longer than that of the outgoing model. It is also 12 mm wider, and rides on a 90 mm longer wheelbase. Front and rear tracks are up by 64 mm.

The bodyshell is claimed to be 60 per cent stiffer in torsion than the previous model’s, and has a Cd of 0,41. It features new, chunky styling quite unlike that of its predecessor. Up front, the traditional seven-slot grille is flanked by four headlights under a scalloped bonnet reminiscent of that of the smaller Cherokee. Depending on the beholder, its appearance is either aggressive or, as one team member who felt quite strongly about the looks remarked, “slightly startled”. Massive wheelarch flares surround the 245/65 R17 rubber and alloy wheels. The rear is squared off, and can resemble a Range Rover or SsangYong Musso, depending on the angle. The team’s consensus was that, aesthetically, it represents something of a backward step from the elegant outgoing model.

The interior represents an improvement, though, with better fit and finish than previously, and less of an American feel. Shoulder, legroom and front hip room measurements are up on those of the outgoing versions, and the seats are comfy and supportive. Taller testers found the transmission tunnel intruded too much, resulting in left ankles being forced into an uncomfortable bent position. Limited versions have leather seats and electric adjustment for the front chairs. And there’s a memory system for seats and exterior mirrors. The standard equipment list also includes a power-folding facility for the exterior mirrors, an electro-chromatic interior rear-view mirror, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone air-conditioning, various cupholders, an “electronic vehicle information centre” (computer/warning system), a tyre pressure monitoring system, electric windows, an immobiliser and remote keyless entry, a Boston Acoustics sixspeaker premium radio/CD system and a leather-covered wheel. There are multi-stage airbags for driver and front passenger, but side and curtain airbags are optional extras.

The rear seats are split 60:40 and fold forward, increasing the basic 344 dm³ load volume to a massive 1 568 dm³ of utility space, measured by the ISO-block method. There’s a retractable cover for the luggage area, and the tailgate features a separately opening back window allowing one to pop in smaller objects without raising the heavy door.

The big Hemi fires up easily and responds with silky smoothness to the right foot. Its sweetness almost belies its performance, which is rocket-like. The Limited blasted to 100 km/h in 7,48 seconds, passed the kilometre mark in 28,3, and topped out at a limited 183 km/h (the old Overland 4,7 did 200 - ed), impressive figures for a vehicle that weighed in at 2 241 kg. All this was achieved with the shifter in the Drive position.

In more normal motoring we found the gearbox would sometimes kick down to too low a gear when one depressed the accelerator suddenly, and then it would compensate by shifting up to too high a ratio. In cruise mode, it was impossible to detect when the MDS cut out some of the engine’s the cylinders, but the effects were obvious at the pumps. The Grand Cherokee achieved a CAR fuel index of 16,51 litres/100 km– our estimate of overall consumption in the hands of a brisk driver – a figure no less impressive than the acceleration times. Estimated range on the 78-litre tank is 466 km.

Braking was also good for a heavyweight, the test car pulling up in an average of 3,07 seconds in our 10-stop 100-to-zero emergency braking routine. It’s a strenuous test for a weighty 4x4, but times remained reasonably consistent, deteriorating from a best of 2,89 seconds (first stop) to a worst of 3,25.

Steering was precise in on-road situations, and handling on tar was neutral, but there was a fair bit of vibration and noise from the grippy-looking tyres, the differentials, or both. Off-road, the Grand Cherokee has all the ability for which Jeeps are famous. There’s very good articulation, arrival and departure angles are good, and the torque is always directed to the wheel(s) with grip. But the plastic spoiler up front is rather vulnerable. Low range is unstoppable – but it’s also difficult to use smoothly: if you touch the throttle with the slightest hint of clumsiness, the vehicle lurches forward. This makes careful progress over obstacles quite tricky.

Test summary

Although the chunky styling may be greeted by some with mixed feelings, the new Grand Cherokee Limited lives up to the great Jeep tradition of providing great off-road ability. It’s also pretty well up to the mark on-road, too, though the noise and vibrations at some speeds are a bit irksome. The smooth Hemi engine provides effortless performance, and, helped by the MDS cylinder cut-out system, it is comparatively economical. Add a good cost- to-features and you have a vehicle that certainly merits consideration by those wanting an accomplished off-roader with a competent on-road ability.

Original article from Car