The new Jeep Grand Cherokee is big news. I mean quite literally in this instance, as the American carmaker has entirely disregarded the small, cutesy and frugal cookie-cutter direction wherein the rest of the world is headed. What do I mean, you ask? Well, the new Grand Cherokee L 3.6 4x4 Overland is one of the biggest vehicles for sale in SA.
With a curb weight of 2.1 tonnes, it's also one of the heaviest SUVs on the road, punching into the heavyweight category with the likes of the BMW X7, Mercedes-Benz GLS and Toyota Land Cruiser 300. In a game of SUV Trump Cards, it holds its own with a length of 5,204 mm, a height of 1,816 mm and a width of 2,149 mm (69 mm narrower than the X7). In layperson's terms, that's a lot of SUV!
What makes it different? For one, it may not have the same curb appeal as its competitors since it's quite subtle – even for something of this size. Nor does it have the same legacy etched in luxury or the same kind of price tag.
See, for the price, you get an SUV with listicles-worth of creature comforts that are on par with what you get in the German camp for significantly less money, an aspect we'll get to in a bit. On the inside, Jeep has finally decided to move with the times. Obvious bits of cheap plastic peppered about? You're gonna have to look long and hard. In fact, it has, for the most part, traded its Americaness for a cabin that's well put-together and levels of tech that's on the edge of cutting.
In the middle lives a high-resolution 10.1" centre screen that also serves as a nerve centre of sorts, a 10.25" digital instrument binnacle perfect for distraction-free contextual readouts; be it your velocity on the highway or your approach angles on the rough stuff. Then, and this can be argued as a bit gimmicky, but even the front passenger is catered for in terms of screening. Built into the passenger-side dashboard is a 10.25" inch screen that offers navigation, multimedia entertainment and camera views, including a camera for monitoring rear passengers.
The seats are comfortable, and interior space is plenty – especially in the third row since I could easily get in and comfortably sit with some legroom to spare – a rarity these days. Airlines, please take note. Arguably, though, while the cabin is a lovely space to spend passing kilometres, the standout feature has to be the McIntosh sound system with its 19-speaker capability that can cut through the noise of everyday life with a depth of sound we don't often encounter.
When the Grand Cherokee launched, it did receive a fair amount of critique aimed at the fact that its engine hasn't adopted the same forward trajectory as the rest of the SUV. Power from the 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 engine remained unchanged at 210 kW, while torque has taken a slight hit at 344 Nm, as opposed to the 347 Newtons that turned the axles on the outgoing model. Then again, despite its considerably enhanced dimensions, the new model is around 150 kilos lighter – a win-win then... Not entirely.
The engine still sounds the part with the characteristic Jeep V6 soundtrack emanating from the exhaust pipes, but there's no getting away from the dated architecture. Twin-turbocharging and hybrid technology have rendered the "no replacement for displacement" adage obsolete in recent years. An SUV as brilliant as this would have been better served with a more up-to-date powertrain.
Luckily, it was all redeemable off the beaten track, where I spent a short stint with the Grand Cherokee. Its catalogue of off-road settings and functions makes easy work of rough roads with three 4x4 systems – Quadra-Trac I, II and Quadra-Drive II paired with a rear electronic limited slip-differential. Furthermore, auto height-adjustable air suspension that features adaptive damping makes for a relatively comfortable cruising experience on roads where many ladder-frame SUVs dialled into 4-High will, at best, lose some composure. It's worthy of that Overland badge.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland fills an interesting space in the super-sized SUV space. You can get a Land Cruiser 300 for less, but you'll be missing out on standard spec. For R400,000 more, you can get the LC300 3.5T ZX which offers considerably better performance and on-par spec, or for R500K more, you can start looking in the direction of the Germans.
Look, the Grand Cherokee offers a lot of SUV for the money. It's brimmed with spec and has excellent on-road and especially off-road manners. Unfortunately, its engine puts it somewhat behind the curve of its competitors. Add to that a reasonably heavy 95-octane addiction of an 11l/100 km testing average, and it's hard recommending it over a diesel alternative. If that's not a deal-breaker for you, it's definitely worth getting behind the wheel of this Overlanding beast.