Delight is in the grand detail
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Fuel consumption curbed in revised Jeep Cherokee
Not that they are glass-half-empty people or anything but, during R&D of the updated Grand Cherokee, Jeep learned the main reason potential buyers rejected the previous model was fuel consumption. Therefore, increased thrift was a major focus for the revised model going on sale in New Zealand next month.
A major focus, but not the only one. So if a keen thirst does upset you, best look away now. Because I want to start with the flagship of the new Grand Cherokee range, the SRT.
It retains the monster 344kW/624Nm 6.4-litre V8 engine, this time with an eight-speed automatic gearbox. One of the stops on the media launch programme in Australia this week was Willowbank Raceway in Queensland specifically the dragstrip, because the new Grand Cherokee SRT has gained a launch control function, which is thoroughly irresponsible but wholly appropriate.
You simply press a button on the console, hold the brake with your left foot and put the throttle all the way to the floor.
When you're ready, let the brake go and launch control does the rest, managing the engine, transmission and Selec-Track four-wheel system to achieve professional-quality acceleration off the line.
Such trickery allows a novice like me to complete a quarter-mile in 13.67 seconds and hit 160km/h. I have the sweat-stained computer printout from Willowbank to prove it.
The SRT very much remains the type of vehicle for those interested in such antics. It sounds outrageous, has a Quadra-Trac active four-wheel drive set-up with more rear bias and even a Performance Pages function on the touch-screen display which can show you steering input, power, 0-100km/h times (accept nothing less than 4.8 seconds) and braking distances.
At $109,990, the Grand Cherokee SRT remains something of a performance-SUV bargain compared with the likes of the Mercedes-Benz ML 63 AMG (with which it shares a platform, remember). No, it's not nearly as polished but it is faster to 100km/h and more than $90,000 cheaper.
And ... now relax, because the rest of the Grand Cherokee range is more focused on efficiency, refinement and equipment. The touchpoints of the new range are ostensibly the same as the outgoing car: there are Laredo, Limited and Overland models, with the choice of one 3.0-litre turbo diesel or two petrol engines: the entry 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 or the 5.7-litre Hemi V8.
Jeep hopes the delight will be in the detail. All three powertrains now feature an eight-speed transmission and all have improved fuel economy.
The new gearbox helps the 210kW/347Nm Pentastar V6 to 10.1 litres per 100km, a 5.4 per cent improvement.
The 184kW/570Nm turbo diesel has gained 20Nm, produced 30 per cent lower in the rev range. Economy is 10 per cent better at 7.5 l/100km.
The 5.7-litre V8 retains the Multi-Displacement System (MDS) that shuts down four of the cylinders under light load (also fitted to the SRT). The eight-speed gearbox results in an economy improvement of 8 per cent, to 13.0 l/100km.
All models now have an Eco setting for the powertrain which serves as the default. You can cancel it with the push of a button, or take things one step further by activating Sport mode with the gearlever.
The interior architecture is carried over but with major changes to the instrument panel and infotainment system. The main cluster is now largely digital and offers a high level of customisation. Taking into account the major "dials" (really computer graphics) and allowing for the placement of ancillary information (again, you choose), there are 100 different instrument-panel configurations to choose from.
The Grand also now has an 8.4-inch touch-screen infotainment system that unites all navigation, cellphone and entertainment functions.
Extreme off-road ability is still a given. The Laredo and Limited 4x4 models have a four-wheel drive system called Quadra-Trac II, with a low-range transfer and Brake Traction Control System (BTCS). The Overland lives up to its name with the more sophisticated Quadra-Drive II set-up, which includes an electronic limited-slip differential at the rear. Overland also has Quadra-Lift air suspension (optional on other models) that allows it to be raised to a height of 287mm.
All models except the SRT have the Selec-Terrain controller, which allows the driver to choose specific traction management settings with one click: auto, sand, snow, mud and rock.
Is such off-road ability required and/or used by all of Jeep's customers? We know it's not. Jeep knows it, too, which is why there is now a rear-drive version of the Laredo. The Laredo 4x2 is virtually indistinguishable from its 4x4 sibling, but is rear-drive and $4000 cheaper. If you're brave enough to acknowledge you really aren't going to take your new Jeep off-road, about the only thing you're missing out on is the full-size 8.4-inch touch screen in the cabin: the Laredo 4x2 gets a much smaller 5-inch unit.
With Jeep now being distributed by Fiat Chrysler New Zealand, the Grand Cherokee range has been realigned to mirror that of Australia.
It's hard to compare the value of the new with the old: but the entry Laredo 4x2 is the same $64,990 as the previous Laredo 4x4. Take away the four-wheel drive system and add-in the extra equipment, and it looks close to pricing status quo. Laredo runs up to $73,990 for the diesel 4x4, the Limited ranges from $80,990 to $85,990 and the Overland spans $93,990 to $98,990.