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MOTORNET: Grand Touring, Jeep Style

Grand Touring, Jeep Style

SCOOP MOTORNET with Karl Ferguson
Images by Neil Mackenzie -

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A little travel weary, I pulled Jeep’s new Grand Cherokee into the gas station for a fill up before heading home. ‘Can anyone see a diesel pump?’ I enquired fairly innocently. I was met with initially silence, before one passenger sounding rather surprised responded, ‘A diesel? Are you sure this thing doesn’t run on petrol?’

I can’t be certain how far we had travelled, but it was a fair distance. During a long weekend, a bunch of us had piled into Jeep’s new Grand Cherokee CRD and headed to the place that all Wellington based SUVs head eventually – the Wairarapa. A cynic might conclude that more return laden down with good Martinborough wine than they do encrusted with mud and grime, but at least they are getting to the country you might conclude!

Despite my incredulous passengers, a diesel the Cherokee most certainly was. And when it comes to the new Jeep, forget the petrol V6 and hugely powerful Hemi V8… it’s diesels that Chrysler dealers around the country will be scrabbling to get their hands on. Why? Economic – and by that I mean ‘economy’ – considerations aside, the new diesel is so sophisticated and the performance trade off so marginal, that a petrol version just doesn’t make much sense. Like my none-the-wiser passengers, you really are hard pressed to know this baby is an oil burner.

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For a start, the CRD delivers a pretty healthy 160kW at around 3800rpm from its V6 3000cc engine. More meaningful is the torque figure – a whopping 510Nm from as little as 1600rpm meaning not only is it well suited to towing but it’s actually pretty quick to boot. It will only take around 8.5 seconds to crack the 100km/h mark, a time virtually unheard of with earlier generation diesels. Sure, the Hemi is faster by a second or two to the hundred kilometre mark but at what cost?

The diesel V6 is mated to a willing and capable five-speed transmission that makes maximising the torque of the engine a breeze. Piloting it over the twisty Rimutaka Hill revealed the engine to be a willing performer with good power for overtaking manoeuvres and a capable transmission. It will come as no surprise to learn that both the engine and the transmission are Mercedes sourced. And while the compliments are flowing, how does around 11 litres per 100 kilometres sound in terms of fuel economy? There’s no way drivers are going to achieve that in the petrol equivalents believe me…

The downside of our hilly-hijinx was that it also revealed some of the Jeep’s weaknesses. Road-holding and handling are not its strongest fortes and the standard tyres really let the Cherokee down when it came to mixing it up in the twisty stuff. There is also a degree of body roll that many competitors have managed to alleviate, and under steer too can be pretty chronic. Neither was the steering exactly communicative. On the upside, handling is a vast improvement over its predecessor. Ride quality is pretty good as well though may be a little firm for some.

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Interior packaging leaves a little to be desired unfortunately. For a big vehicle, interior room is surprisingly cramped. There’s little room in the passenger footwell and rear passengers similarly have only just adequate leg and headroom. Some of the evidence of original left hand drive remains too, such as the bonnet release being on the passenger side and handbrake sitting on the wrong side of the centre console. At least it has a handbrake and not a pesky foot operated park brake!

Equipment levels are generous though and fit and finish is very good in keeping with the new and improved Chrysler range. Less impressive is the actual quality of the materials and equipment used. For example, the stereo has a six-disc CD stacker built in but it sounds like they bought the speakers from the Radio Shack. Against that, there is genuine value for money here when you consider the standard kit list such as the electric glass sunroof and leather upholstery.

Like many of our contemporaries, a long and relaxed lunch in Carterton was more important than really getting to grips with the 4WD capabilities of the Grand but nevertheless we felt compelled to give it at least a go on some beach area near Lake Ferry. It wasn’t especially tough but the Grand nevertheless felt a little jittery. The sand, which was admittedly quite soft, seemed to upset the Quadra-Drive II system and we decided after a few kilometres that we preferred the relative ease of the dirt and tarmac. The traction control was easily reset and no harm done once back on the easy stuff but it did raise a few questions about the Grand’s off-road prowess, if hardly providing a comprehensive 4WD workout.

One thing that was evident during our Wairarapa adventure was that rural folk and city-types alike approved whole heartedly of the looks of the new Grand Cherokee. And why wouldn’t they? It certainly bears a strong resemblance to its predecessor and there is no mistaking its American origins, but it’s a genuinely handsome vehicle while at the same time appearing thoroughly modern. Not only that, but it lacks the bulk and size that detracts from so many of its contemporaries, instead presenting a more chiselled and compact appearance.

At $78,900 it’s not the cheapest SUV on the block but neither is it the most expensive. A Nissan Pathfinder diesel for example would set you back only around $60,000 while the equivalent Land Rover Discovery 3 (perhaps the current benchmark) around $100,000 in similar spec. But keep in mind that the Grand has Mercedes’ brilliant diesel borrowed from the considerably more expensive M-Class. So, you might consider the Grand a bargain. The Hemi V8 will also cost you $78,900 but if you really want one and can’t quite stretch to that, the 4.7 litre V8 can be had for a smidgen under $70k. Whichever model takes your fancy, if you’re in the market, the Grand is certainly worth a look. And if you want my opinion, all I can say is that the diesel really does it for me.

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