OUR RATING: 7 / 10
By Matt Campbell
How the mighty have fallen – that’s probably a fitting way of looking at the fortunes of the current-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The big US-made SUV has been in the past lighting up the sales charts, but due to the US dollar gaining against other global currencies over the past 2 years, the deals have slowed down somewhat, and sales of the Grand Cherokee have consequently tumbled.
In Australia for example; where the Australian dollar lost heavily against the US dollar, things have been tough somewhat for the American SUV. From about 1375 units per month in 2014, the numbers dipped to about 1000 per month in 2015, and this year the nose dive has continued to a lowly 700 per month. That’s a considerable close to 50 per cent drop in sales for a well-established brand and model alike. Talk about worrying times.
As well as prices having risen across all models over that period, a flurry of recalls surely hasn’t helped the brand in assuring potential buyers of a smooth ownership experience. No one wants to pay top dollar for a car that’s going to keep them in the workshop every now and then.
All this information paints a pretty bleak picture – and it would be understandable if you decided that a Jeep wasn’t going to be on your shopping list based on the recall issues alone.
But if you have your mind made up and are adamant in being that person that’s know for driving a jeep, then I’d advise you to read on.
Here we have the 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland diesel, a large SUV that now starts from US $55,300 (plus on-road costs). To put this pricing into perspective, that starting price is US $5000 more than the 2014 model, and it’s also US $2000 more than if you’d chosen a 2015 version of the same car; with not much having changed to warrant the extra asking price.
For that money you could get any number of go-anywhere off-road SUVs, and most with seven seats; the Jeep only has five. The Toyota Fortuner, its bigger brother the Prado or even a Ford Everest would seem better value for money. To add insult to injury, if your budget is closer to US $60,000 you could even consider a BMW X5, Lexus RX or Mercedes-Benz GLE, albeit you’d have to sacrifice serious off-road credentials for these last 3 options.
With not much being new or different in the 2016 model as compared to the 2015 one, anticipation is high for the release of the updated 2017 version; currently in production and to be release at the tail end of this year.
Without making comparisons with other vehicles, the Grand Cherokee holds its own in terms of standard features. What you get for your investment is a serious off-roader with a fair amount of kit, which includes a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, leather seat trim, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel, an 8.4-inch media system with satellite navigation and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, as well as a bunch of USB and auxiliary plugs. Its nine-speaker audio system doesn’t disappoint either.
The interior of the Grand Cherokee is quite lush, with that big media screen playing its part in lifting the ambience, though the digital instrument cluster – with speedometer, trip computer and driver information screen for the Jeep’s off-road modes and wheel angle/tyre pressure monitoring – is even more impressive.
In the back there’s more than enough space in the second row for three adults and the boot is quite sizeable at 782 litres; but as mentioned, the seat layout is strictly for five, not seven.
Safety is accounted for by way of a blind-spot monitoring system, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, and seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee). Furthermore, you get a rear-view camera and front and rear parking sensors standard.
Overland models also get Jeep’s Quadra-Lift adjustable air suspension to raise and lower the vehicle as required, and as with all 4×4 variants in the range, there’s Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system to help you get where you’re going when you’re off the beaten track. The available modes are Rock, Sand, Snow, Mud and Auto. Thank God that that ‘Snow Mode’ will remain redundant in Kenya.
Under the bonnet of the Overland is an eight-speed automatic gearbox mounted on a 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6 engine producing a beefy 184kW of power (at 4000rpm) and 570Nm of torque (at 2000rpm). It features a proper high-and low-range four-wheel-drive system that channels a whole lot of grunt and pulling power.
A lot of time was spent in the Jeep both on-and off-road, drawing reason from the fact that if you’re spending about US $55,000 on the most off-road-capable model in the range, there’s a chance you’ll want to use it for its intended purpose. It is quite a good thing off-road, but not nearly as supple over sharp bumps as a Toyota Prado, for example.
On Kumho Solus tyres (with 265/50 rubber wrapped around heavy 20-inch rims) there was no stopping the Jeep’s forward progress, even over craggy, loose rock tracks. This was managed in Rock mode, with 4WD Low engaged, which also raises the Jeep to its loftiest ride height.
The suspension compresses well but rebounds too sharply, particularly in its highest setting, with a disconcerting thumping through the suspension struts being heard (and felt) by those in the cabin. At lower heights it is still somewhat ‘bumpy’. When left to its own devices in Auto mode in the standard high-range, permanent four-wheel-drive mode, there was ample traction over slippery surfaces.
The steering is communicative on poorly finished tracks, too, with surprisingly good feel through the wheel and not a lot of play on-centre. It’s a shame that isn’t quite the case on-road. I say this because the steering is slow and is annoying when you’re trying to negotiate tight car parks. At speed it is quite nippy, though, offering reasonably good response and accuracy in corners – though the higher the speed, the worse the amount of feel available.
That compromised ride isn’t perfect as we had numerous complaints of it feeling sharp from the rear seat, while up front it’s not much better. It tends to wallow over larger surface changes but the wheels stumble over smaller, sharper bumps more violently than you’d expect of a big SUV riding on air suspension.
The engine I must admit is a lovely thing. Admittedly there is some low-rev lag when you take off from a standstill, but once things are moving it is smooth to drive. There’s more than enough pulling power with four adults on board, and there’s a level of refinement to the engine as it revs out, making the experience quite rewarding.
The transmission offers clean and intuitive shifts, too, making for fuss-free progress whether you’re cruising around town or if you jump on the throttle for a quick overtaking move.
Fuel use isn’t appalling, either – on test we used 9.3 litres per 100 kilometres, a little higher than the claimed 7.5L/100km.
The biggest issue with the drive experience is the gear shifter. This issue of the selector; which is shared with the 2014/early 2015 model as well, has seen a global recall issued over its usability.
It is frustrating – with the incorrect amount of pressure on the shifter when you try to put it in P from D, it can go into R instead; or if you’re trying to get to R and you may shift it backwards it goes to D, then N, then P. I’m sure you get the point but don’t take my word for it, and go test drive one for yourself. This only gets more annoying when you’re off-roading, and you need to make a precise manoeuvre quickly.
Another blow for potential owners is that the Jeep isn’t cheap to maintain, nor is it overly convenient. Servicing is required every six months or 10,000km, whichever occurs first. The warranty coverage is the bare minimum, too: three years/100,000km.
In conclusion, driving the Jeep Grand Cherokee for a week is arguably a solid proposition. It can go further off-road than many competitors, and the diesel drivetrain is smooth and user-friendly.
However so, whether it remains as solid a proposition over a longer period is a question buyers may wish to weigh up before signing on the dotted line. There are other, potentially better, ownership options out there.
- DT Dobie Kenya is the official and sole distributor of all new and approved Jeep vehicles in Kenya. They are located off Lusaka Road.
- The company offers after sales service as well as comprehensive warranties for all their vehicles.