Jeep Grand Cherokee

Women on the school run seem to love their Jeeps, particularly the Grand Cherokee variety. June Neary finds out why.

Will It Suit Me?

You've seen them parked up outside the school gates. Row upon row of four-wheel drives: Toyotas, Land Rovers and especially Jeeps - usually the Grand Cherokee variety featured here. This is a four-wheel drive I wouldn't hesitate to own, given the opportunity. It's chunky and good-looking and feels as solid as it looks. That's reflected in the handling, to some extent, which even with power steering I found a tad heavy to start with. However, that was more than compensated for by the comfort of the driving seat and the bird's eye view you have of the road.

Practicalities

I would not quibble about the space, either for passengers or luggage, in the Grand Cherokee, although I was surprised to find how little room there was in the back, given the huge size of this vehicle. Still, the squareness of the cabin gives it a roomy feel, and the luggage space is generous. This current revised fourth generation Grand Cherokee is very different from the original version we had in the UK. As well as the new look, there is a range of new engines, a smoother automatic transmission and what Jeep claims to be a class-leading four-wheel drive system. I tried the 3.0-litre V6 CRD diesel version that most choose. It has a 250PS engine that's right in the sweet spot for a vehicle of this size and weight. There's also a 190PS budget version of this powerplant offered with the entry-level car, but Jeep reckons more than 90% of sales will go to the pokier unit. A slick ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox is standard across the range, helping efficiency and response. If all of this sounds a bit worthy, you could instead opt for the Grand Cherokee SRT. This gets a 6.4-litre V8 engine good for 468PS and is capable of accelerating to 62mph in just 5.0 seconds. Off-road, the Grand Cherokee is as tough as ever. A low-range transfer box makes light work of serious mud plugging and a set of diff locks mean that owners will be kept moving where most rivals would find themselves at a momentary traction deficit. Most models come with steel sprung suspension, but to experience the Grand Cherokee at its best, you really need the air suspension that's standard on models from the Overland up.

Behind the Wheel

Being a turbo diesel, my test car wasn't the quietest on the road, but I was impressed at the pulling power throughout the rev range. There are 250 and 190PS engine options. If you like your speed, however, don't drive it after trying the potent 461bhp 6.4 SRT8 (5s and 160mph) which blasts past slower-moving traffic with all the assurance of a BMW 540i or an AMG Mercedes. There's a penalty to pay at the pumps, however, with a 13.6mpg urban return (or 20.2mpg on the EC combined test cycle). Getting comfortable behind the wheel was easy too and the seat adjustment system was neat - all I couldn't do was move it back a bit, but that was lack of patience. I wanted to be off! Handling was fine once I got used to the weight and size of the Grand Cherokee, and turning in a restricted space was no problem either. The air conditioning system has been improved and gives a decent blast of hot or cold air in no time at all. I'd love to test the Grand Cherokee again on really rugged terrain. A low-range transfer box makes light work of serious mud plugging and a set of diff locks mean that owners will be kept moving where most rivals would find themselves at a momentary traction deficit. Most models come with steel sprung suspension, but to experience the Grand Cherokee at its best, you really need the air suspension that's standard on models from the Overland up.

Value For Money

This car has been carefully priced to undercut top Discoveries, Shoguns, Mercedes M-classes and BMW X5s - its intended rivals - and it's way cheaper than Toyota's Land Cruiser V8 and the Range Rover. And the visual improvements to the this Grand Cherokee? Well, at first glance, it doesn't look a great deal different to the previous version, but park the two cars back to back and the changes are obvious. I thought it positively handsome, although those used to a typically bluff Jeep front end may take a little time to get used to it. Equipment? Everything you'd expect is in place. All models come as standard with dual-zone climate control, automatic wipers, USB and auxiliary inputs, and roof rails. Go for the Limited and you get front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, leather upholstery, a powered tailgate, electrically adjustable and heated front seats and a stereo upgrade. Limited Plus adds satellite navigation and 20-inch alloy wheels. The Overland model will prove popular, with a panoramic sunroof, blind-sport monitor and adaptive cruise control with forward collision detection. Opt for the range-topping Summit and you'll enjoy a 19(!)-speaker Harman Kardon stereo, along with various trim finish upgrades.

Could I Live With One?

Need you ask? I would really enjoy the day to day practicalities of the Grand Cherokee for family needs - though I'd definitely stick with the top 3.0 CRD diesel version every time. In its plushest form, it's more than luxurious enough for business needs too.