Pricing starts at a steep GBP49,880 but every variant comes with a vast array of standard equipment

Pricing starts at a steep GBP49,880 but every variant comes with a vast array of standard equipment

Is there no stopping Jeep? Even in China, where sales of SUVs continue to fall, the American make is bucking the trend. In the USA, deliveries for July were in record territory. The Grand Cherokee accounts for much of the brand's success and is on course to cross the quarter million sales mark by year end.

Britain remains a market going against the year-on-year trend of rising sales, with numbers for July down by a worrying 31 per cent, although the newly facelifted Renegade should help to turn things around. Year to date, Jeep has fallen by only 10 per cent so Fiat Chrysler may not be too worried.

Forty MPG in a heavy SUV. Really?

The ongoing fracas over diesel is causing damage to many brands. For certain Jeep models, and the Grand Cherokee is one of them, there is no petrol-powered alternative which has a low carbon dioxide average. The irony is that the latest diesel exhaust after-treatment means such engines have never been less polluting.

The big Jeep's six-cylinder diesel was developed by VM Motori. Due to changing emissions standards, there have been several updates, the latest 2,987cc MultiJet II V6 now having a CO2 average of 184g/km.

Much of the as-tested Summit model grade's hefty 2,328kg (DIN) kerb weight is due to both the age of the Mercedes-Benz W164 platform as well as this particular variant's lavish array of luxury fittings. The architecture dates to the DaimlerChrysler era, the Dodge Durango being the only other model in FCA's current line-up which retains a link to that time via the same platform.

Thanks to 570Nm developed at only 1,800rpm and 184kW (247bhp) of power at 4,000rpm, the Grand Cherokee is no slouch. The basic numbers - 0-62mph in 8.2 seconds and a top speed which just crosses the 200km/h mark (126mph) don't adequately show how easily this SUV gathers and maintains pace. Driven normally, it will return slightly better than the 35.3mpg Urban rating. Day to day averages above 40mpg would be easily possible if motorway limits are strictly adhered to.

Neither big nor brash

High priced Jeeps have changed for the better. There's a minimum of glitz, although some things such as shiny alloy wheels and chrome-effect trim here and there are not without appeal. Iffy build quality, controls not being repositioned for right-hand drive (bonnet release, transmission selector lever, etc) and wallowing suspension were banished long ago on Jeeps. That's doubly reassuring as unlike several of the smaller models, this one's development took place in the USA rather than Italy. With around a third of the world's nations driving on the left, it's good business sense to design-in seamless RHD-spec interiors even when a high percentage of a model's sales take place in LHD countries.

It might only be 4,828mm long yet the Grand Cherokee looks large. Some might be surprised to learn that the XC90 and Discovery are bigger, the GC being more closely aligned to the Lexus RX or Ford Edge. Its relatively compact size amongst E segment rivals is also why there is potential for Jeep to return to the full sized category with a premium priced model or perhaps even two models.

Large and in charge

The long delayed Wagoneer will likely be aimed at 5m+ SUVs such as the BMW X7, Mercedes GLS-Class, Lexus LX and so on. This vehicle, under development with the WS project code, will probably be introduced in 2020 along with a Grand Wagoneer spin-off. FCA executives have referred to both in the recent past. On no occasion though, has anyone explained why nine years will have elapsed between the project's announcement at the 2011 Detroit auto show and the eventual introduction.

The architecture to be used by these vehicles is said to be a derivative of the same body-on-frame chassis which the new Ram 1500 pick-up truck uses. How these models will fit in with the Grand Commander, a Cherokee-based model for China, as well as the Grand Cherokee and its successor has not been made clear by Jeep.

It is assumed that the Grand Commander, which in contrast to the current and future Grand Cherokees plus the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer, has transversally-mounted engines, will remain exclusive to the PRC. There, its four-cylinder engines and relatively low weight compared to ladder-frame chassis Jeeps, make it more suited to the tax system.

Range extenders

By the early 2020s, the global line-up should look like this:

  • 'Graduate' (a sub-4m long SUV for Europe, South America, India and China)
  • Renegade
  • Compass
  • Cherokee
  • Wrangler
  • Wrangler Unlimited
  • 'Scrambler' (the provisional name for a Wrangler-based pick-up)
  • Grand Cherokee
  • Grand Commander (built in and for China by GAC-FCA)
  • Wagoneer
  • Grand Wagoneer

There will also be plug-in hybrid derivatives for the majority of models.

Keeping it fresh

Going back to today's Grand Cherokee, this vehicle has been in production since May 2010. New for North America's 2011 model year, the world premiere was at the New York Auto Show in April 2009. FCA might well decide to reveal the WL series model at the 2019 edition of the show.

The V6 diesel has been the traditional best selling engine in European markets. By contrast, FCA sells the Grand Cherokee in the US with six- and eight-cylinder gasoline power. There is even now a 572kW (707hp) 6.2-litre supercharged V8 which produces 874Nm of torque and is known as the Hellcat. Jeep quotes the top speed as 290km/h and the 0-100km/h time as 3.6 seconds.

The Federalised version of the VM Motori V6, which has 'EcoDiesel' branding, disappeared for a time. This was after the EPA refused certification and entered into a spat with Fiat Chrysler - joined by the California Air Resources Board - over alleged non-compliance with emissions norms. The EcoDiesel was quietly returned to the US market Grand Cherokee line-up a few months ago.

The addition of new model grades, and Summit was a fresh variation in 2017, plus the crazy output V8 variants has worked well to keep interest alive in the Grand Cherokee. In some ways, the age of the basic design is all too visible, although this can also work in the vehicle's favour as certain features are almost endearingly quirky. A parking brake which must be applied and released with the left leg is one of these and a full sized spare tyre is another. An abundance of glass goes against the philosophy of so many other SUVs, no matter what their size class. The visibility out of this vehicle for back seat passengers is first rate.

Comfort as a default setting

Jeeps are meant to be serious off-roaders and the GC is no exception. The pneumatic suspension allow two settings above normal height and if a certain speed is exceeded, a light will illuminate in the instrument cluster, alerting the driver that the body is descending. At motorways speeds, 'Aero' mode is automatically activated to improve stability and lower drag with less wind noise too, not that it is excessive at other times.

The air springs tend to default to a comfortable ride which means more body roll than some might be expecting. Moving straight from a Stelvio to the Grand Cherokee was slightly shocking, and the Jeep's age was also betrayed by its far less direct steering feel. You could never mistake the GC for a sports-crossover; this is a proper old-school SUV in the style of the Toyota Prado/Land Cruiser or SsangYong Rexton. Which means it's better to drive with slow movements and no expectations of Alfa-like agility.

Summary

As a family car in the USA, the WK Grand Cherokee takes some beating. Even in Britain, it works well, thanks to the economy of the engine and those reserves of torque. Never is the size of the thing an issue and that applies to the width too, which is not something that can be said about every E segment SUV. Even if FCA delays the arrival of the WL from 2019 until 2020, it will probably get away with doing so, as the WK still has a lot going for it.

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