"From behind the wheel, the Jeep Grand Cherokee represents a huge improvement over its predecessor."
Since its launch in 2011, the Jeep Grand Cherokee has been something of a transition model for Jeep. Part of the larger Chrysler organisation, the all-American off-road 4x4 manufacturer has been through a turbulent few years after parting ways with Mercedes and the global recession. Having taken a big economic hit, Jeep began to look more stable under the ownership of Fiat and things could be looking up. However, for that to be properly realised, 4x4s like the Grand Cherokee will have to up their game. It uses the same platform as the Mercedes M-Class, but it's powered by a 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine that was developed by Fiat – not a common pairing. The exterior has been given something of an update to make it feel more European, adding a sleeker front grille and LED daytime running lights. The Jeep Grand Cherokee comes in five main specifications – entry-level Laredo, then Limited, Overland, top-of-the-range Summit and petrol-model SRT8. All are well equipped: if you bought an equivalent Land Rover Discovery 4, you'd have to spend quite a chunk of change on optional extras to get it to the same level of equipment.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
A big Jeep is pretty much always going to be a bit of a thirsty belcher. So, you’re looking at combined fuel economy of 37.7mpg from the Fiat-built 3.0-litre CRD V6 diesel engine, with CO2 emissions of 198g/km – so tax band J and an annual cost of £260, which is actually quite respectable for a capable off-roader like the Grand Cherokee. In reality, the hefty SUV will likely struggle to match that quoted economy figure, unless it's only really used for longer motorway journeys where you’re able to drive as consistently as possible. If you buy the SRT8 petrol model then economy drops to an appalling 20.2mpg, while CO2 emissions head through the roof to 327g/km, which is top tax band M and annual road tax of £490. There's no way to even pretend that those costs aren’t steep, especially as tyres, servicing and replacement filters will also be expensive.
Interior & comfort
Anyone of any size will be able to get comfortable inside the massive dimensions of the Grand Cherokee, especially because it still only seats five in a space often used for seven. All seats offer good support and provide room to stretch out, with the glass roof giving the interior a pleasant airy feel. The standard fit air-suspension is fairly adept at dealing with road imperfections, even with the large wheels and low-profile tyres fitted to Overland models. Models with air suspension have a ride that is incredibly smooth, even though the 20-inch wheels do sometimes make some road bumps more pronounced. If you get one with standard steel springs, be prepared for more jolts and judders inside the car. Another small downside is the amount of engine noise, which is loud and intrusive at higher speeds and under heavy acceleration.
Practicality & boot space
The Grand Cherokee is big, so you know you’re going to get an impressive amount of space inside it, if nothing else. In reality, that means a boot that offers 782 litres of space with all the standard-fit split-fold rear seats in place, which then expands to a generous 1,554 litres when the back seats are folded down. The maximum figure can’t quite match the Land Rover Discovery for sheer capacity, but it's most definitely enough for most SUV owners. You also get a couple of handy extra storage bins either side of the spare wheel underneath the boot floor, which are good for hiding valuables out of sight of prying eyes. There's also a retractable cover, but with it pulled out the boot becomes a bit shallow so we didn’t really use it. The tailgate boot lid is electrically operated, which is very handy when you’ve got your hands loaded with shopping or heavy bags. There's loads of space for passengers, with lots of leg and headroom throughout, plus reclining, ventilated seats in the back of the top-of-the-range models. Its undeniably large dimensions do make it a very tricky car to park, though, so standard-fit reversing cameras turn out to be absolutely invaluable on the Grand Cherokee, and it may prove near impossible to get into tight spaces without them.
Reliability & safety
Jeep placed a reasonable 18th in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, but the Grand Cherokee is still too rare a sight on UK roads to make into the survey's top 150 cars. It certainly feels very well put together and because it's based on the mechanical underpinnings of the Mercedes M-Class, it should prove to be pretty dependable. However, interior materials turn out to be a little underwhelming for a car in this price range, with some dashboard plastics and switches feeling decidedly cheap and scratchy. The top-of-the-range Overland and Summit models are both much better, though, using lots of leather and some genuine wood trim to give it that touch of class that the entry-level models lack. The previous generation Grand Cherokee did have some recalls, but there's no doubting that the latest model is a big improvement on its predecessor. It's main failing, however, is its Euro NCAP crash safety test score. It only secured a four-star rating, which is troubling because the Grand Cherokee is such a big car, so you really do need as much peace of mind as you can get. Plus, nearly every other new car on the road now rolls out of the factory with the maximum five-star safety rating, making it much less appealing that the likes of the BMW X5 or Volkswagen Touareg. For the money you’ll pay, there really isn’t an excuse for it to come up to what is now pretty much an industry standard.
Engines, drive & performance
The Grand Cherokee is particularly robust when driving off-road, but comes up somewhat short when driven on the road. A 2013 update has improved some of its deficits in this regard, but hasn’t ironed them all out. You do get a nice high driving position that gives a great view of the road in front of you. When driving long distances, it's fairly relaxing and easy to drive – as long as you don’t suddenly encounter any large potholes at speed that send big shocks reverberating round the interior. It is much better than the old Grand Cherokee, though (it was pretty bad), and the eight-speed automatic gearbox is very good, with effective, quick changes. You can select between five off-road modes using a dial on the centre console, and it's competent enough that only things like a Land Rover Defender would really be able to match it through the mud and greenery.
Price, value for money & options
The Grand Cherokee does manage to undercut its main premium rivals, such as the Volkswagen Touareg and BMW X5, by quite a significant margin. This is even more impressive when you consider the volume of equipment and accessories that you get as standard – sat-nav, a reversing camera, leather upholstery, air-suspension and keyless entry all make the list. You'd have to spend a lot of money on to get all of that in a Land Rover Discovery 4. So why two stars? Well, the Jeep just doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to the things that actually matter in an SUV, so you really can’t describe it as good value, no matter how much Jeep jams it full of bells and whistles. If you’re paying for an SUV, you want an SUV, not a massive premium car that's hard to park.