There was a time – about a decade ago – when Jeep’s Grand Cherokee was Australia’s favourite large SUV and the seven-slot grille would regularly muscle Toyota’s Kluger and the Ford Territory out of the picture with seemingly unstoppable sales.
A short time after in 2014, the company enjoyed its best year to date with more than 30,000 Australians buying in to the brand. But the new-car market is a savagely fickle place to play and things started to go downhill. The sales, it appeared, were stoppable after all.
Today, Jeep is resolute in its mission to return to the glory days and it’s turning the tide with fresh metal including the Compass in 2018, a new Wrangler and its Gladiator cousin, and now this.
Ahead of the more familiar five-seat Grand Cherokee that’ll touch down late in the year, the new longer version denoted by its L boot badge has arrived and it signifies a ‘revolution not evolution’ for the brand, according to Jeep India and Asia Pacific vice president Billy Hayes.
Why such confidence? Well for a start, with about 200mm added in to the wheelbase, the L thrusts the Grand Cherokee in to the seven-seat arena for the first time, bumping gloves with long-standing models including the Nissan Patrol.
And then there’s the equipment and apparent quality. As part of Jeep’s premium push, the Grand Cherokee L assumes a role spruiking exactly what the company can do in its bid to become a more luxury brand, while still retaining its lifestyle focus which put the seven-slot grille on the map. The question is, does it?
Powertrain and performance
On the road, things are looking promising. Initial disappointment at the absence of the forthcoming straight-six, a silky diesel or Hemi V8 subsides as the 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 petrol starts to show its character.
The 210kW and 344Nm might seem a little impotent for a car of its size, but the aging donk is still a surprisingly flexible unit.
Paired to the eight-speed torque-converter auto, the naturally aspirated engine is allowed to rev rather than hunting the higher gears as many diesel drivetrains are calibrated in search of single-figure fuel economy. The result is reasonable performance and a vocal note inside and out.
Efficiency does suffer, however, and while Jeep claims a combined figure of 10.6L/100km, the best we managed with a combination of on- and off-road was always in the 12s and 13s.
On the road
That aside, the chassis is way lighter on its feet than expected and can really carry some pace on sealed surfaces. Steering and brake feel has a decent weight and feels somewhat old-school.
Whether that be a good or bad thing is down to the user, but it lacks the numbness some excessively light and over-assisted systems suffer.
All, however, will appreciate the quiet ride, smooth cruising and excellent comfort levels.
Cabin and accommodation
In the top-spec Summit, a Jeep cabin has never looked so posh. There’s acres of quilted leather, soft-touch materials everywhere, beautifully tactile unvarnished wood trim combined with slick design. A little too much gloss black finish is the only thing to let the otherwise stunning interior down.
A pair of sharp digital screens maintain the high-quality standards with a highly customisable instrument cluster for the driver, complemented by a second 10.1-inch touchscreen in the central dash.
It contains the latest UConnect 5 operating system and it’s a big step up with excellent resolution, tons of native applications and an absolute heap of off-road centric instrumentation and information one might expect from the brand.
The digital experience is impressive, but a refusal of the TomTom-based navigation to boot one morning and a reversion to Italian language for no apparent reason were just a couple of unwelcome gremlins.
While driver assistance and safety systems are generous as standard, the optional lane-departure assistant was freaked out by Australian roads on more than one occasion, objecting with a loud, annoying beep each time.
Ultimately though, the numerous plusses stand out from the L. Even in the third row there’s tons of space; 12 USB ports are scattered about the place, six of which are the most modern type-C; and clever innovations such as the ‘Fam Cam’ allow kids or just untrustworthy adults to be monitored in the rear seats.
Optional equipment is a blend of some items you might expect to be included in a $115,000 machine such as sunroof and head-up display, and some things you definitely wouldn’t including a really cool night-vision camera and a second touchscreen exclusively for the front passenger.
With the fifth-gen Grand Cherokee, Jeep really is moving in to more premium territory, but if it’s at the cost of the all-terrain kudos, it will have done the moniker an injustice.
Fortunately, the new model delivers here too. Equipped with Quadra-Trac I and Quadra-Drive II, the Limited is pointed at the trail less trodden, but opt for the Summit and you’ll get air suspension, a two-speed transfer box and extra off-road modes – that’s more than just a statement of intent.
With its suspension jacked to the max, the Grand Cherokee manages 272mm of ground clearance and, while its longer wheelbase and reduced breakover angle does diminish outright ability, the L can still really go places.
Another limiting factor are the Continental Cross Contact LX Sport tyres fitted to 21-inch wheels, which would appear to be a weak link if you do intend to hit the gnarly trails hard.
And if you have grand designs to fit larger rubber then think again, because the front struts have a pinch-bolt located right at the perimeter of the standard rubber limiting overall diameter. But for a vast majority of off-road challenges, the factory set-up does incredibly well.
Only the most ambitious rocks could find the Jeep’s belly; deep ruts and mud didn’t once faze the Grand Cherokee’s composure, and even some serious climbs and descents were dispatched with surprising competency.
Wheel articulation is fair but limited at maximum height, and the overall proportions could become ungainly in tight spots, but it’s hard to imagine this particular model being thrown at terrain half as challenging as the route we chose during its normal duties. In that regard, this particular Jeep has passed with flying colours.
But here’s the best bit: Despite only having a single-speed transfer, fixed-height coil spring suspension and rolling on 20-inch wheels, the Limited version went everywhere the Summit could.
At the ragged fringes of ability, the top-spec car would likely have the edge, but you’d have to be trying hard to demonstrate the compromise. That might be enough to lure in a good number more customers for whom a Jeep with a $100K-plus price tag doesn’t equate.
Nonetheless, it’s clear from the deft blend of on-road refinement and sophistication, combined with typical off-road aptitude, that the new Grand Cherokee has spent significant time on Australian roads and is a model well-suited to local demands as a result.
If you lament the go-anywhere promise of the fourth-gen Grand Cherokee, then it’s probably worth waiting until the back end of the year for the five-seat version, but this first encounter with the new L highlights something more akin to a limo that goes further.
And if Jeep decides to develop a Trailhawk version and slap a Trail Rated badge on its flank, the Grand Cherokee L will have another feather in its cap, firmly establishing this model as the proud flagship of the evolving brand.
2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L pricing and features
Night Eagle: $82,250
|Jeep Quadra-Trac I active 4×4 system|
|Single-speed active transfer case|
|20-inch alloy wheels (gloss black)|
|Black leather seating|
|8-way power and 4-way power lumbar driver and front passenger seat|
|Heated front seats|
|10.25-inch digital instrument cluster|
|8.4-inch UConnect 5 infotainment system|
|Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (wireless)|
|Wireless phone charger|
|Six speaker audio system|
|Selec-Terrain traction management system|
|20-inch alloy wheels (polished)|
|Premium black leather seating|
|Driver’s seat memory|
|Heated front and second-row seats|
|10.1-inch UConnect 5 infotainment system|
|Nine speaker premium audio system|
|Second-row window shades|
|Ambient LED lighting.|
|Two-speed active transfer case with low range gear|
|21-inch alloy wheels (polished)|
|Black painted roof|
|Quilted premium leather seating – black or Tupelo brown|
|12-way power and 4-way power lumbar driver and front passenger seat|
|Driver and front passenger seat memory|
|Heated and ventilated front seats|
|Massaging front seats|
|Four-zone automatic climate control|
|Real wood interior finishes|
|Multi-colour LED ambient lighting|
|19-speaker McIntosh premium audio system with 760-watt amplifier|
|Hands-free power tailgate|