words - Chris Fincham
photos - Geoff Middleton
A genuine all-rounder, the latest Grand Cherokee packs a lot in for the price including impressive towing capabilities

Arriving Down Under in early-2011, the latest Grand Cherokee was immediately lauded as a big step up for the Jeep brand. And significant improvements in fit and finish, comfort levels, driving dynamics and overall value for money have not been missed by buyers, with an almost two-fold increase in sales of the luxury, five-seater wagon this year compared to last.

Priced from $45,000, even the entry-level, V6 petrol powered Grand Cherokee Loredo comes well equipped with 18-inch alloys, auto on/off bi-xenon headlights, electrically heated/adjustable/folding mirrors, dual-zone climate control, heated, electrically-adjustable front seats, hill descent control and hill start assist, among other standard features.

There’s also a mid-spec Limited version which starts at $55,000, while the top-spec Overland kicks off at $65,000. Engine options include a 3.6-litre V6 petrol or 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel, fitted with five-speed automatic transmission, or a 5.7-litre V8 petrol with six-speed auto.

Priced at $69,500, the diesel-engined Overland tested here has a features list that rivals some similar-sized, more expensive SUVs like BMW’s X5 and the Mercedes-Benz ML. Highlights include all-independent air suspension (in lieu of the steel springs on lower grades), multi-mode all-wheel drive system, Nappa leather, reversing camera, 15.5cm touchscreen for the media centre, sat nav, heated/power adjusted/wood-and-leather trimmed/multifunction steering wheel, heated/ventilated front seats with eight-way power adjustment, heated rear seats, power tailgate, keyless ignition, full-length glass sunroof, nine-speaker Alpine audio... the list goes on.

Despite scoring just four out of a potential five ANCAP stars, the Overland is strong on safety with seven airbags, anti-skid brakes, stability control, bi-Xenon headlights with auto dipping, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, rear cross path detection, and premium alarm.

Whether you’re blasting down the freeway, whipping through peak-hour traffic, or navigating slippery, rocky slopes, the Grand Cherokee Overland is brisk, civilised transport that takes most things in its stride.

The stiff body and adjustable Quadra Lift air suspension, make it grippy and well-behaved in corners, with manoeuvrability that belies its 2400kg-plus bulk. The power-assisted steering is light but well weighted, though almost four turns lock to lock means a bit more arm work in tighter corners.

The big Jeep rides comfortably and smoothly over most surfaces, although there’s some initial impact harshness on rougher patches.

With an official 8.2 second, 0-100km/h time, the muscular and refined turbo diesel is the quickest of all engine variants (not including the high-performance SRT-8 version). Throttle response is sharp with little discernible turbo lag, allowing for strong acceleration from the lights or when overtaking.

While the five-speed auto on paper is a cog or two short of some of its rivals, in practice it’s not an issue, with the abundance of torque from 1800rpm overcoming the low ratio count.

The Grand Cherokee is also a genuine four-wheel drive, able to safely and surely conquer gnarly terrain usually reserved for dedicated off-roaders. While not quite as proficient as its more rugged Wrangler sibling, it’s not far off, with the Overland-only QuadraDrive II four-wheel drive system incorporating transfer case, electronic limited-slip differential, and up to 270mm ride height, boosting its impressive off-road credentials.

Like the Land Rover system, the multi-mode air suspension enables the driver to select the best setting for specific terrain, and in practice is simple and almost foolproof. The hill descent function provides increased control when navigating steep, slippery declines.

Although not quite on par with the Europeans, the Jeep’s roomy, comfy interior is a noticeable improvement over its predecessor. Fit and finish is hard to fault, and there are enough quality materials from soft-touch surfaces to ‘gloss’ detailing, to feel like you’re in something a bit special.

While lacking the extra flip-up seats of its seven-seater rivals, the cavernous boot is easily accessed through the one-touch powered tailgate and will swallow 782 litres of luggage, or 1554 litres with the rear seats folded. A full-size spare wheel is neatly located under the carpeted, luggage compartment.

Using the same, almost three-tonne Chaparral boat/trailer combo we used during our recent Land Rover Discovery tow test, provided an opportunity to directly compare two of the best-credentialed, heavy-weight towing contenders on the market.

Like the Discovery, the Grand Cherokee, at least in turbo diesel or V8 form, boasts a maximum towing capacity of 3500kg and a 350kg towball mass (V6 models are limited to 2268kg and 227kg on the towball). While not quite as stable on the freeway as the 130kg heavier Discovery, the Grand Cherokee had no trouble with the extra weight, and only the occasional pitching movement was detected.

Like the Discovery, the air suspension kept everything on an even keel (we selected ‘Normal’ ride height mode). The full-time four-wheel drive combined with Hill Start Assist also kept any slippage at bay on the boat ramp.

Also like the Discovery, the Grand Cherokee includes as part of the factory-fitted tow kit a Trailer Sway Control (TSC) system, which detects excessive trailer sway and takes action by automatically reducing engine power and applying the right amount of braking to the appropriate wheels.

However, where the Grand Cherokee has one-up on the entry-level Discovery is in all-important pulling power, with the Jeep’s extra 110Nm really making a discernible difference in maintaining speed on inclines and having sufficient grunt for overtaking. While asked to work harder while towing, the 3.0-litre oiler remained quiet throughout. Cruising at 90km/h on the freeway in top gear, it revved at a relaxed 1800rpm (or around 2000rpm at 100km/h).

That said, the transmission was inclined to hang onto third or fourth gear, even under light throttle on the freeway, and on more than one occasion required manual shifting of the gearstick to force it into top gear.

The strong performance probably had an effect on fuel consumption, with the 10.5L/100km when solo rising to around 17.0L/100km while towing over a mix of suburban roads and freeways (over a similar route the Discovery achieved 15.6L/100km). The turbo diesel Grand Cherokee is still likely to get more from the 93.5 litre fuel tank than the V8 version, however, which slurps around 14L/100km sans trailer.

Interestingly, the 5.7-litre V8 equipped models also come with a Tow/Haul mode, which among other things only allows upshifts to fourth gear at higher speeds, which suggests that the transmission fluid is more prone to overheating in V8 versions.

Also worth noting is that on both V8 and turbo diesel variants, the 350kg maximum tow ball mass is only applicable with a payload of up to three occupants with luggage. This is reduced further to as low as 227kg with five occupants plus luggage onboard. The Overland has a maximum gross vehicle weight of 2949kg.

Although no substitute for towing mirrors, the Jeep’s big side mirrors when fully adjusted outwards provided sufficient rear and side vision for safe towing during our test.

While for many the extra expense of the top-spec Grand Cherokee won’t be justifiable, if you’re planning on doing a lot of towing the ride-leveling air suspension fitted to the Overland could make it worth it; not counting all the other goodies included.

Throw in the effortless grunt and 3.5 tonne towing capacity that comes with the turbo-diesel engine, and you have a tow tug that rates up there with the best.

Engine: 3.0-litre, V6 turbo diesel
Max. power: 177kW at 4000rpm
Max. torque: 550Nm at 1800-2800rpm
Transmission: five-speed auto
Length: 4822mm
Width: 1943mm
Height: 1764mm
Wheelbase: 2915mm
Ground clearance: 205-270mm
Kerb mass: 2355kg
Fuel: 93.5 litre
Towing cap. unbraked/braked: 750kg/3500kg
Tow ball mass maximum: 350kg
Fuel economy (claimed): 8.3L/100km
Price: $69,500 (MRRP)

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Published : Saturday, 19 January 2013

Prices and specifications supplied are for the market in Australia only and were correct at time of first publication. boatsales.com.au makes no warranty as to the accuracy of specifications or prices. Please check with manufacturer or local dealer for current pricing and specifications.