With its American roots, a rich history associated with the biggest wars mankind has ever witnessed and a reputation for crawling up boulders in an exceptionally adept manner, Jeep as a brand has always fascinated me. So while I have always tried to dismiss disturbing images of a dhoti clad driver hanging out precariously from a rickety metal contraption as a vision for the brand, I didn’t have much of a clue as to how it feels being behind the wheel of a real Jeep. For all its history in India and the long connection it has had with Mahindra, whatever we have seen of Jeep here doesn’t really represent it even vaguely.
It’s a befuddling mystery of sorts, Jeep, the brand for us Indians – we think we know it, and yet, we are probably the most far removed from its real character. And unlike what you’d expect, for the more tuned-in blokes like us auto journos, it’s even more puzzling an entity what with the internet being riddled with opposing views of fans and detractors. So while some call Jeep the maker of the ‘Most Awarded SUV’, and the ‘Ultimate off-roaders’, others criticize it for its handling as compared with its rival German brands.
So you see, when we first decided to pilot the Jeep Grand Cherokee, it was a special occasion for us, for we were to taste the flavour of a legendary, yet mystifying product for the first time. We were to try and unravel it as conclusively, as authoritatively as we could. To conduct this road test was a pleasantly excruciating challenge; and we drove the Grand Cherokee for a good 1000km through a plethora of driving conditions to be sure that our understanding of the product in the real world is comprehensive enough to let out the definitive word. Here goes…
Design and style
Among a crop of flippantly metallic characters with sloping roofs, curvy lines and low profile tyres, the Grand Cherokee stands tall as a classically handsome personality. It’s the Clint Eastwood of SUVs, if you will – unpretentious, traditional, value driven, brooding, with a rich history, tons of acclaim, yet ever so charming, solid and relevant even for today’s times. It has adapted itself for the digital age, so you’ll witness an automotive equivalent of CGI wherever required, but the net product of its talent would still be quality, value driven stuff like American Sniper and Gran Torino.
And those straight-cut character lines stand testimony to our analogy – the Grand Cherokee is undoubtedly good-looking but not frivolous. The biggest adaptation to the digital age is that pair of LED lit DRLs which look smashing. But what those eyes flank is still the classical seven slit grille, draped in chrome. Underneath, you’ll find more chrome defining the outline of the air dam, whose mesh pattern is flanked by a pair of tow hooks, again, smeared generously in chrome. Those headlights may have gone slender, but that face is still pretty straight-cut in the most traditionally SUV-esque manner possible.
The Grand Cherokee has that earthy, rugged visual feel to it – it’s not gone for a facial bleach, hair streaks and ear studs that most of its counterparts have been flashing for some time now. A square recess in the bonnet is there to dispel any residual thoughts one may have doubting the rugged character of this machine.
Squared off wheel arches, two fuss-free but extraordinarily conceived straight character lines and a chrome-lined green house come together to define the Grand Cherokee on the sides. Massive and classily styled 20 inch gunmetal finish alloys form the shapely and muscular legs of this behemoth. ‘Grand Cherokee’ steel lettering on the front door is another classy touch. Chrome door handles, an aluminium finish roof rail and blacked out B and C- pillars round things off in profile.
At the rear, the tail-lamps show the mildest hints of rounded off corners anywhere on the Cherokee’s surface. Twin round exhausts (no prominent chrome tips here though), a chrome lined boot loading lip and a roof spoiler liven things up. The boot door handle is flanked by 4×4 Eco Diesel and Summit variant branding. The registration plate recess is quite huge, topped by a crease joining the inner ends of the tail lamps. What we love the most at the rear though is the Jeep logo, formed in chrome and fitted neatly inside a recess outlining the letters – classic stuff!
The Jeep, as we mentioned before doesn’t offer something smashingly innovative or convention breaking to the table. It retains its traditional ethos and non-nonsense personality with a few subtle highlights here and there. And yet, when you see craning, twisted necks all around as you sift your way through busy Mumbai streets, you realize the power this iconic brand has to draw people’s attention, without even trying.
Engine & transmission
The Grand Cherokee gets a Fiat sourced VM Motori 3.0 litre V6 turbo diesel power plant with 250PS of power and 570 Nm of torque. Buttery smooth and utterly tractable, that engine lends the Grand Cherokee tons of grunt right from the bottom of the rev reservoir. The power plant is mated to the 8-speed ZF sourced transmission which has proven its capability across scores of global car models including the BMW X5 and 7 series, Maserati Quattroporte, Range Rover Sport and even Rolls Royce Phantom among others.
Power is put down to the road via the acclaimed Quadra-Drive II 4×4 system with rear Electronic Limited Slip Differential. The system is supposed to endow the Cherokee with great traction both on and off the road and across a variety of surfaces. You can choose from a multitude of preset modes in the standard Selec-Terrain system which features Snow, Sand, Auto, Mud or Rock modes for specific driving conditions.
But those are just numbers and specs. How well they add up to distinguish this brute from its German rivals (Read Q5 and X3) in experiential terms both on and off the road is what we were more interested in finding out. Here’s our tuppence…
On the road
Push the starter button and the engine comes to life in a refined, smooth, muffled manner. No loud clatter or clanking noises here, and whatever little sound filters in, settles down appreciably as the engine warms up in a couple of minutes. What you’d appreciate the most instantly is the wooden-top steering wheel, wrapped in the lower half with high quality Nappa leather. Next, you’ll feel special as you hold that Audi A8-esque drive selector unit that doesn’t change its position. Finished in leather, lined with chrome, with a brushed aluminium knob, it feels properly special and would make you think you’re driving a properly special car.
While it looks and feel pretty awesome, a bit of an issue that we’ve faced with that selector mechanism (in the Audi A8 as well) is its tendency to miss the desired drive mode on several occasions. You have to be firm and steady while pulling it down or pushing it up or it’ll leap over to the next notch.
On the move, that smooth, wooden, and lacquered steering wheel feels moderately heavy in a nice way. Right from the outset, the Jeep lets you know in no uncertain terms that it’s not a wobbly, soft, boat-like sofa on wheels you imagined it to be, just because it’s an off-roader. The Grand Cherokee has always had a unibody construction unlike the ladder on frame set-up for other similar applications – so it’s honed for the road, as much as it is for the challenges off it. The suspension feels firm, especially at slow speed over uneven surfaces.
Once off the narrower, cobbled, potholed or paver-blocked streets and onto smoother tarmac, you’d be fine. Front occupants are about fine, even if the road surface isn’t the friendliest. My wife, who’s impressively indifferent to the world of automobiles for an auto journo’s spouse, and rarely, if ever, comments about a car, found the ride appreciably ‘firm’, ‘nice’ and ‘free of wallow’ for a car this size through the passenger’s seat. On the flip side, Karan Tripathi, our fellow road tester couldn’t stop moaning about how stiff the affairs were out there in the back. His grumbling reduced marginally when he was offered the front passenger’s seat, but he never was quite appreciative of the cushioning properties of the machine.
Personally, and especially for the front two seats, I didn’t find anything worth whinging. The ride sure is on the firmer side, but it settles down beautifully as the Big Cherokee gathers pace, lending it a solid, planted quartet of legs even at silly speeds.
On the move, the Jeep comes across as a solid-built, impeccably engineered machine to the driver. There isn’t an audible squeak from any corner of the car, and it manages to wrap itself around the pilot rather deceptively for its huge size. The electro-hydraulic steering isn’t the most feelsome out there, but it’s very nicely weighted and keeps gathering heaviness as the speed increases.
The ZF 8 speed automatic is smooth as ever, swapping cogs in a velvety fashion, and has the capability to get more fierce should you choose the sport mode by rocking that big, classy selector lever. It’s a proven piece of kit and plays the perfect fiddle to that smooth engine that doesn’t mind being revved and always has a gratifying gush of torque in store irrespective of the engine speed or the gear engaged. You also have the freedom to go manual through those steering mounted pedals which shift up or kick down with appreciable eagerness.
These big three litre diesel engines are the most important bits on the big, premium machines, offering them the supremacy they deserve on the road to surge ahead of lesser metal with a light brush of the right pedal. The V6 engine on the Jeep is right up there with its German counterparts when it comes to lending this brawler the potency it deserves.
Through the city streets, the Jeep chugs along with tons of torque available from low revs, allowing for a hassle free driving experience – those big, comfortable seats and that commanding view coming in handy too. Onto the highway, the big Cherokee rids the rear occupants of their slight unease, offering a flatter ride and showing great composure as it builds speed.
Straight line stability is fantastic, and the big SUV will keep putting on numbers on that speedo in a deceptively fast manner. This one hits the ton from a standstill in a shade under 9 seconds. It keeps building speed in a beguiling manner, and masks it surprisingly well for its size. In fact, we were forced to conduct a GPS test, just to be sure that there wasn’t a prominent speedo error and the car was really doing the speeds it displayed.
The Grand Chrokee exhibited implausible composure even around fast sweeping curves. Having heard a few unfavourable reviews about the Grand Cherokee’s dynamic ability, we were keen on ensuring that we pushed it to the limit – we did, and the results were mostly positive. It responded really well to single lane change manoeuvres, even at speeds well above normal.
Small chinks in the Grand Cherokee’s armour appeared, though, when we asked it to shift its weight from side to side. For example, it did tend to get somewhat perturbed during the aggressive double lane change manoeuvre. A bit of wobble pursued, demanding us to dial in steering corrections along with application of brakes to brush off excessive speed. Sure it’s a heavy machine, and sure it did rather well for its size, but we’d still like to think that the Germans show appreciably more poise through such aggressive tests.
Having said that, the road-holding capabilities of the car are rather praiseworthy. The Continental Cross Contact tyres offer great grip and prowess off the road, without translating any road or tyre noise inside the cabin.
All in all, the Grand Chrokee, while not the most agile vehicle in its class, performed commendably well at high speeds and through a variety of corners. It’s terrific in a straight line and through sweeping curves, though tighter switchbacks, S bends and abrupt manoeuvres can sometimes manage to unsettle it.
Off the road
To know what the Grand Cherokee is capable of, we’d first have to understand the gear under that floor board. To start off, and as mentioned before, at the heart of this Jeep’s off-road cred is the Quadra-Drive II 4×4 system. It comprises a limited slip differential, capable of transferring up to 100 percent torque away from the slipping wheel to the axle with more traction. Then you get the Selec-Terrain traction control system offering various modes for Snow, Sand, Auto, Mud or Rock for specific driving conditions.
The Grand Cherokee gets a rock-solid 230mm Rear Axle with a 3.45 rear axle ratio for better climbing grades and higher load carrying capability. The car features specially designed heavy duty ABS brakes with discs all around. In addition, the car gets heavy duty engine cooling, to tackle not just the toughest of terrains, but the toughest weather and abuse. Electronics such as traction control, ESP and Hill descent control further enhance the car’s capabilities in unfriendly conditions of the blacktop.
To test the Grand Cherokee’s capabilities, we decided to steer it into the unknown, deeper into the Sahyadris towards regions less traversed. Wandering aimlessly in the valleys surrounding Nashik, on broken tarmac and sometimes off it, we were constantly looking for a challenge daunting enough for the big off-roader. After darting around aimlessly for a couple of hours we saw a bunch of windmills on a mountain, rather high to have a paved road leading all the way up. Eureka!
With a full load of grown up and well-fed occupants, we goaded the Grand Cherokee towards the windmill farm. En route, we tackled steep inclines, with the surface beneath comprising mostly mud and gravel with a loose top layer and heavy undulations. There also were plentiful furrows and ridges, deep enough to bruise the belly of even cars with extra-ordinary ground clearance. The Grand Cherokee effortlessly took us through the precarious route comprising scarily steep drops on one side, mildly reminding us of the dangerous roads leading up to the Himalayas.
Sure, these were not the absolute extreme conditions an off-roader could be subjected to, nor did they last for too long to test the car’s endurance. They were, however, challenging enough to restrict a machine which isn’t a proper off-roader from reaching to the summit. The Grand Cherokee, true to its ‘Summit’ badging managed to take us to the peak without even appearing to try. We never engaged any of the special modes, and even with all the loose gravel, the furrows, the inclines, stones, ruts and the uneven terrain, the Grand Cherokee disposed the challenge with utter ease, without breaking traction on even a single occasion.
It’s a capable, capable machine, the Grand Cherokee, and the breathtaking vistas it introduced us to, somewhat reflected in these images, hold testimony to its capability to egg on the adventure loving wanderer in you.
Cabin, comfort and features
You’d expect such a huge car to be spacious from the inside, and it is. The big, wide, fully electric, heated and supportive seats up front, the spacious middle row and a huge boot make the Grand Cherokee a properly luxurious machine to travel in. It isn’t a seven-seater, though, and you should be fishing elsewhere if you’re looking for one.
We’ve told you about our love for that wooden wheel already, and the rest of the cabin is pretty well put together too. You get wooden inserts spanning the width of the dash, extending to the door panels with chrome highlights. Upholstery is high quality nappa leather with the front seats getting ‘Overland’ branding on the backrest. The panoramic sunroof is rather huge, one of the biggest in the class – it fills the cabin with light and your heart with joy. The digital-analogue instrument console is pretty neat too, though it isn’t as cutting-edge and high-def as some other such systems have evolved into. The central screen features controls for the infotainment system, but isn’t the most responsive, the most richly pixeled or the most intuitive we have seen.
The overall finish and build quality is laudable, though we have our gripes with some of the materials used. Some of the panels surrounding the driver selector, and centre console could have been made of higher quality materials. Oh, and we loathe what the third spoke of that steering wheel is made of. It feels plasticky and rough, when it should have been finished in solid, shiny chrome laden steel. The steering is what connects the driver most innately to the machine, and to see that plastic bit on the wheel, right under that beautifully executed, high-quality wood-leather rim was a bit disheartening.
There are plenty of storage spaces inside for your water bottles, wallets, keys, cellphones or more. The car also boasts as many as nine airbags, including a driver side knee airbag to ensure the best passive safety out there.
Here we have illustrated all the features inside the Grand Cherokee’s cabin through images and captions.
Quite a bit of space under the front central arm-rest, though we have seen larger cavities in that space in this segment
Cupholders are classily lined with chrome and mood lights
Two memory slots for the driver’s seat
Powered tail gate has its button inside the boot
12v power outlet and hooks in the boot
Peace of mind with a reliable spare wheel, unlike what you get (don’t, actually) in the German offerings
Enormous loading bay with flexible drop flat split passengers’ seats
Shall we call it a hand brake?
Reverse parking camera and sensors are standard equipment
Two zone climate control. Front seats get heating and ventilation both while rear get heating only
Our test vehicle came equipped with individual screens for the passengers
Rear seats gets a heating function too, but no temperature control. Rear occupants do get a pair of USB slots though
Controls for the powered panoramic sunroof
Too many buttons on the multifunction steering wheel – not the most intuitive setup we have come across
Oh, and there are more, BEHIND the steering wheel – and these are the most important ones, for ‘seek’, ‘volume’ and ‘select’
Central touchscreen has all the controls, everything works, but it’s not the richest of the most well designed display
Summing it up
There’s this one thing that you need to observe about certain objects of desire. More often than not, the ones with a strong history, and made with love and passion will radiate warmth and cast an inexplicable spell over you. You’d want these things even if they’re not technically the best out there. The Grand Cherokee is one such beautiful being. Coming off the hallowed Detroit production lines of Jeep, it isn’t all metal, it’s got a soul. It isn’t a machine perfected only by spectacled geeks who’d iron out the last engineering flaw a machine has with the flick of button on their clinically efficient supercomputers. It’s made by people who’ve seen it grow and evolve through decades, like their own child. They’ve let it out to play in the fields, onto the mountains and through the rivers. And they wouldn’t be caught dead allowing a supercomputer tell them how to raise their ward.
The Grand Cherokee is a pretty darned good machine, but at the same time it has its own, alluring, deliberately overlooked flaws that tug at your heart and invite you behind its wheel every single time you look at it. It’s a car that’ll egg you on to take it off the road, drive all the way to the pretty rivulet you saw from a distance and splash your face with the fresh, flowing water to feel rejuvenated. It instigates the adventurer, the wanderer in you in the most intimate manners possible.
It’s an emotional piece of kit, and were happy being love-struck and not being objective until the prices were announced. They have been announced now, and at 1.12 ex-showroom Delhi, the car is just too darned expensive for what it offers. Even with all its cpability to tug hard at the hearts of the free spirited mortals, that price tag can hardly be justified. All we can do at this point is wish FCA all the luck in the world to shift some units of the car with that sky scraping price.
2016 Grand Cherokee 3.0 Eco Diesel India image gallery