Andy Goodwin road tests and reviews the 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee to discover whether this latest version is still as American as apple pie, or whether it's now also suitable to the tea and crumpet brigade.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee is Detroit's answer to the Land Rover Discovery. It's a heavyweight SUV with a long heritage and huge sales figures, having racked up five million sales worldwide. Despite being two-a-penny in the good old US of A, its sher size and high running costs have kept it off most shopping lists here.
With a cleaner new eight-speed gearbox and a freshen-up inside and out, we're about to find out if that should change, or if models like the Volkswagen Touareg and Hyundai Santa Fe should get your hard-earned instead. Pricing is yet to be announced, but Jeep hinted it will cost around five per cent more than the current car, so it should start from just under £40k.
The design of the 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee is heavily influenced by its forbears. Such an illustrious history of Jeeps has dictated that the grille has seven-slots, and that it's flanked by round headlamps. OK, it's not that stuck in the past, these are actually slim clusters, with snazzy LED surrounds. The kennel-sized wheel arches echo the bolt-on mud guards of its ancestors and make the entry-level 18-inch wheels look paltry. Deeper glass in the tailgate improves visibility, the rear lights are wider and there's an extended rear spoiler to improve airflow over the car. As is the current trend, the Jeep logo is now much bigger, and more proudly positioned right in the middle of the boot. It will certainly get you noticed, and has a welcome blend of American and European styling.
The front armchairs are commodious, but a little firmer than we were expecting and there's heaps of space in the back. The boot has a high loading lip, but Models with Quadra Lift air suspension (standard on Overland and Summit versions) have an extra-low setting for getting in and out, a bit like a London bus. Its seat count is the biggest negative, with five pews, where many competitors offer seven. Chances are, many families looking for an SUV family bus will have to look elsewhere.
Almost every aspect of your bubble is controlled by the monster 8.4-inch central console, from the climate control to sat-nav, and because it has so much visual real estate, you can even display two things at once for a bit of multi-tasking on the fly.
Performance & handling
Don't go to your Jeep dealership after a few beers, or you might wake up having ordered the bananas 6.4-litre V8 SRT model, the equivalent of a 4x4 hot rod. If sober, you'll go for the 3.0-litre V6 diesel in its 250bhp guise, with 62mph coming up in a Disco-beating 8.2 seconds. There's also a de-tuned 190bhp version of the same motor in the entry-level Laredo trim, but it makes little sense in a car this heavy. The biggest news is the arrival of a new eight-speed gearbox, which is one of the car's highlights. It shifts quickly and smoothly and boosts economy by around ten per cent, with optional manual shifts via steering wheel paddles.
On road the Grand Cherokee feels fine up to about 50mph, and then it all gets a bit woolly as physics gives the air suspension a few things to think about. The Discovery and Touareg both feel more planted and agile. Point it at a mountain and things change drastically. The whole car picks up its side skirts as it does its best impression of a monster truck, scrabbling up anything in sight. You'll give up before the Jeep, unless you are far braver than us. If your regular commute involves fording rivers on the way to work then you're onto a winner, but if you live closer to a motorway than the Rubicon Trail then expect to encounter compromised road driving dynamics.
Economy & environment
Jeep admits it has had a reputation for building juicy motors, but is committed to changing its ways. The 3.0-litre diesel has an average consumption of 37.7mpg, which is actually pretty good for a car this size. The equivalent Discovery 4 gets around 32mpg, while the Audi Q7 can return 39.2mpg, but only has 201bhp. CO2 emissions of 198g/km are also convincing, with the Landy spewing out 230g/km, but the Audi a surprisingly green 189g/km. All this means you’ll be forking out £475 in road tax in the first year, and £260 normally (at 2013/14 rates).
Equipment & value
Despite the UK being a small market for Jeep, the 2013 Grand Cherokee will be available in every trim level. That means you can have the Laredo, Limited, Overland, Summit or performance-orientated SRT model, which stands for Street and Racing Technology. Only the Laredo gets cloth seats, with the Leather becoming more luxurious in each trim thereafter. Ever model gets paddle-shifters on the steering wheel, which is heated on all but the Laredo. Dual-zone air-con is included, with ventilated seats from Overland up. The 8.4-inch touchscreen is thrown in too, but only has sat-nav capability in the top three trims, while the Summit and SRT also get an 825-watt Harman Kardon sound system with no less than three subwoofers.
The pre-facelifted Grand Cherokee scored a disappointing four-out-of five stars in Euro NCAP crash testing. That’s not to say the new model isn’t loaded with safety kit, however. Front, knee, side and rear curtain airbags are all standard, along with anti-skid and anti-rollover electronic aids. All but the Laredo and Limited also get a new forward-facing radar which can warn of obstacles in front of you and even brake the car for 1.5 seconds if an imminent collision is detected.
With its heritage, looks and off-road prowess, there’s a lot to like about the Grand Cherokee. It’s by no means perfect, with no seven-seat option and a floaty ride quality at higher speeds. So, while it might not be the logical choice next to a Hyundai Santa Fe, Discovery or Q7, we’d still like to see more of this US bruiser on UK roads.
Model tested: Jeep Grand Cherokee 3.0 CRD Summit
Engine: 3.0 V6 Turbodiesel
Power: 250bhp, 148bhp
Acceleration: 0-62 in 8.2 seconds
Top speed: 119, 132mph
Emissions: 198g/km CO2