THE JEEP Grand Cherokee is one of those cars you might think you know well enough to dismiss, but at the risk of spoiling the bottom line, the new one is something of a surprise. It’s moved upmarket with a new flagship trim level, better soundproofing, an eight-speed gearbox and, on the higher models at least, a whole new infotainment interface from Harmon/Kardon.
All of a sudden the Grand Cherokee; historically the archetypal Jeep thanks to its size, simplicity and legendary thirst for fuel, looks a very different beast. For a start, the engines are changing and becoming much less eager to visit every filling station forecourt they pass. Europe has been a major driving force behind the updated Grand Cherokee both in terms of its functionality and its efficiency. European markets are just more demanding than North American ones on those fronts, so Jeep has come to realise that post-recession global success first requires success in Europe.
Hence the reason the UK will only see diesel models, with the exception of a handful of monstrous V8-engined SRT versions. Only about ten were sold in the UK last year – in line with predictions – but the performance leviathan is still a powerful marketing tool. The next phase of the Grand Cherokee’s “Eurofication” is the introduction of a new, higher, better-looking and comprehensively equipped trim grade.
It’s called Summit, and it’s what we’re testing here. It comes with a serious count of bells and whistles: heated and chilled seats; heated and chilled cup holders; a heated steering wheel that can be set to fire up with the engine in the cold months; full leather upholstery; a 19-speaker (including three subwoofers) Harman/Kardon stereo system and what’s probably the world’s most in-depth trip computer.
It’s hard to overstate the extent of the interior changes, even if the exterior updates are limited to a little pinching and lifting for a meaner first impression. This is a seriously technological car, with a partially digital main instrument cluster that can be customised with different data displayed at different parts of the screen. It lets you fit it to your preferences, so you can keep the data most relevant to you right there.
The computer’s functions even extend to giving a 3D-effect map of the car’s chassis and wheels, displaying both the front-wheel turn angle and the state of the differentials. It’s a useful setup for proper off-road driving, which is something at the heart of the brand’s ethos that company bosses refuse to ditch. Every Jeep, they say, will always have genuine off-road ability at its core.
Among the toys in this car are a low-range gearbox, hill-descent control and “Selec-Terrain”, which adapts the traction control settings for various surface types. But despite the clever adjustable air suspension on Summit and Overland models, it’s on the road where Jeep has tried to make the biggest improvements.
The gadgets, especially the infotainment system, certainly make a difference, lifting the interior style and making the layout neater and more intelligent. The ZF gearbox plays a part too, shifting smoothly and briskly up through the ratios in both “drive” and “sport” modes. Revs are kept low and the whole package feels a lot more civilised than before. The air suspension works wonders for the most part. Bar a little bit of jittering over motorway expansion joints, the system is very comfortable.
Wind noise is minimal. There are precious few saloons that create less at motorway speeds under fairly normal conditions, let alone other SUVs. This car’s V6 diesel engine is quiet too, growling nicely under power but settling into the background at a cruise. Eighth gear returns around 1,850rpm at 70mph.
If there are any black marks they come via the boot and the steering. The former could be bigger if not for the presence of an (admittedly essential) spare wheel and tyre, while the latter is vague and slow even in Sport mode, allowing a significant amount of turn away from top dead centre before any meaningful steering occurs. Jeep would do well to tighten that up a lot.
But overall the Jeep is a hit. The cabin now has the quality to match the continuing excellence of the chassis, and the infotainment system interface is among the best. Although the steering means that the driving experience still isn’t class-leading, the wider package is a serious and very worthy contender.
CAR Jeep Grand Cherokee 3.0 CRD Summit
PRICE £49,995 on the road (TBC)
CO2 EMISSIONS 198g/km
PERFORMANCE 125mph, 0-62mph in 8.2 seconds.
FUEL CONSUMPTION (combined) 37.7mpg