Laredo offers a Jeep with a smaller carbon footprint
Jeep is one of the world's most famous and well-respected makers of off-road vehicles. Perhaps the most famous, although Land Rover might have something to say about that.
So what to make of the addition of a two-wheel drive model to the revised Jeep Grand Cherokee range for New Zealand? The Grand Cherokee Laredo 4x2 is the new entry version, at $64,990. It's strictly rear-drive and not a vehicle you would try to take into the rough.
Local off-road enthusiasts who wear their seven-slot grilles on their sleeves might be a bit taken aback. Some journalists at the Australasian media launch certainly were.
There's no reason to panic, says John C Mrozowski, chief engineer for the Grand Cherokee programme, based at head office in Detroit.
Mrozowski, who joined media for the local launch event, has a favourite made-up word: "Jeepness".
He acknowledges that Jeepness is largely centred around toughness and off-road ability, but says having a 4x2 model available does not hurt the Grand Cherokee's credibility at all: "I understand the concern, but it's really just about extending the brand. It's giving us an outlet to those people who don't want all that technology and weight to carry around. They still want a Jeep and the things that go with it; they just know they will never go off-roading."
That argument might not convince those with pockets on the outside of their trousers and mud on their boots. But Mrozowski has a good point when you consider this: there has been a 4x2 Grand Cherokee in the range ever since the very first ZJ-series of 1993 - or at least there has in America. And no, it hasn't hurt the brand at all.
The 4x2 model also fits nicely with the major engineering focus for the revised Grand: improved efficiency. Removing the four-wheel drive hardware saves 84kg and improves fuel economy by a third of a litre every 100km in official tests (arguably more in real-world driving), although the Laredo 4x2 is still only available with a V6 petrol engine in New Zealand at this stage. The even more frugal diesel is still 4x4 only.
"One of the things we really wanted to work on was attracting new green-conscious customers to the showroom," says Mrozowski.
"Carbon footprint is very important to customers and we want to give them a better vehicle from a green perspective.
"The diesel achieves 7.5 litres per 100km and that's a large achievement for us to deliver."
The single most important change for the Grand Cherokee has been the addition of an eight-speed gearbox across the range, says Mrozowski. What makes for better economy also means a smoother drive, with smaller steps between ratios and less busy cog-shifting. Despite all of the above, making the Grand a little kinder to the environment was never going to be allowed to affect its ability to thunder through it.
"We did not compromise on the vehicle's 'trail rated' abilities," says Mrozowski. "With the [styling] enhancements we have made at the front and back, approach and departure angles are the same. We have maintained axle articulation and water fording, and improved crawl ratio: it's now 44:1."
The powertrain's Sport mode has been moved off the Selec-Terrain centre-console controller and on to the gearlever. That has freed up space for another function, traction settings for Sand and Mud (formerly the same on the dial) have been separated.