Grand Cherokee: American beauty
Jeep's mission this time was to turn the Grand Cherokee from a flabby American in hiking boots to something more uptown and better able to take its place in school-run parking spaces alongside some of those nice Europeans.
They had to address ride and handling, design, quality control, and the wagon's general ambience, which needed to be something that others than American patriots could love.
So the SUV emerges with all-independent suspension to improve ride and handling although, like most SUVs, it's still no sports car.
It looks better, more international, and build quality is Euro-like. The drivetrain has been refined and there's a competent new V6 as a viable alternative to the V8 Hemi, with a diesel coming soon.
However, despite running on a platform that will underpin the next Mercedes-Benz ML luxury SUV, and despite the mid-Atlantic styling, Grand Cherokee's country of origin is still easily identifiable, particularly once you've stepped aboard.
Because Jeep makes no pretensions about the Grand Cherokee being more than a five-seater (a seven-seat SUV is promised), the leather-trimmed interior is roomy and pleasant, although steeply raked windscreen pillars may give front-seaters a bit of a hemmed-in feeling compared with the more upright styling of, say, the Land Rover Discovery.
A new feature is Selec-Terrain, which is mainly for off-roading (see panel) but also selects an on-road Sport mode with lower ride, gruntier gearshifts, more power to the rear wheels and milder stability control that only intervenes when it really looks like the driver's screwing up. In practice, it doesn't make a lot of difference.
Jeep has undercut its Euro rivals and competes against the Japanese with prices that start at $79,900 for the V6. The V8 Hemi is $86,990 and a newly added Overland version with gear such as a leather-wrapped dash and radar collision warning costs $90,990. The diesel will be $91,990 in Limited trim and $96,990 as an Overland. These prices represent good buying, considering equipment levels.
Old habits die hard. Right now, the good ol' V8 is outselling the V6 something like 10-to-one. And months away from launch, almost half of the first shipment of 40 diesels is spoken for.
Some will continue to see the Grand Cherokee as too American and too aggressive. But the V8 can now return less than 15 litres per 100km overall and tow 3500kg braked. Styling makes any version stand out from the crowd.
The engine dilemma
Biggest problem facing buyers may be the choice of engine. Go for the Hemi V8, take a punt on the new V6 Pentastar or wait a few months for the diesel?
Hemi's the power champ at 262kW and it sure sounds best. It has a bunch of fuel-saving tricks, including shutting down four cylinders when cruising and averages 14.1 litres per 100km.
The alloy V6 makes its debut in New Zealand with 213kW and can do most of what the Hemi can with almost three litres per 100km less thirst. The new 3-litre VM diesel provides Hemi-whipping torque of 550Nm along with 177kW and would be great for towing or all-round toiling.
Off the road
Make no mistake, this is a capable off-roader when fitted with the variable height air suspension that lifts it clear of many on-track obstacles. Not too big to be physically clumsy on our tighter tracks, it makes four-wheelin' easier with low-range gearing and Selec-Terrain electronics, worked by a console-mounted knob that sets up the drivetrain and suspension to best tackle the terrain of the moment.
More to come
A new version of the fast and furious SRT-8 is expected next year, powered by the recent 6.4 litre Hemi V8. Expect lots of bang for lots of bucks.
Land Rover Discovery 4, from $91,990
Toyota Prado, from $80,490
Mitsubishi Pajero, from $75,690