As the popularity of SUVs continues to grow, it seems that much of the original rugged off-road personality these models were known for has been bred out of the segment in favour of on-pavement comfort and drivability. Among luxury SUVs, that shift seems even more evident. The Volkswagen Touareg and Jeep Grand Cherokee are among the numerous sport-utilities to cling to those off-road roots, but have recently made the shift toward the everyday.
The first-generation Touareg was a capable model known for its high-class interior, off-road ability, and respectable towing capacity. But it was also heavy and knew little when it came to fuel economy. The current Touareg, which was first launched as the 2011 model, lacks off-road chops but is otherwise a superior SUV that’s more in line with what consumers want from their modern SUV.
The Grand Cherokee occupies an envied spot in the automotive segment. The Grand Cherokee is one of the pioneers that kicked off the SUV craze in the early 1990s. The Grand Cherokee keeps the Jeep tradition by remaining practical, luxurious, and rugged Sports Utility Vehicle. These three characteristics have made the Grand Cherokee an appealing alternative not only to a saloon, crossover, or estate but also to expensive SUV’s offered by other brands.
Both the Touareg and Grand Cherokee embody the meaning of SUV as they work well in and around the city, while also remaining fairly capable off the beaten track. However, big question is which of the two is the one to go for? Read on to find out.
How an SUV looks is a key choice for any buyer. The Grand Cherokee aims to draw a buyer with design characteristics that build on the predecessors cohesive and upscale design. This consists of an upper seven-slot front grille, which is shorter than the one on the outgoing model. The slim front headlamps give the Grand Cherokee an attractive face. The SUV also incorporates a signature front and rear LED lighting. The lower front fascia is slightly elevated and more pronounced fog lights.
Trapezoidal wheel arches that house the standard five-spoke 18-inch polished aluminium wheels dominate the profile of the Grand Cherokee. The rear features tail lamps, with signature LED lighting, a rear spoiler that aids in efficient aerodynamics, and a sculpted tailgate that offers greater rear visibility.
The American rival from Wolfsburg comes with an array of charm offensive characteristics. The front-end design consists of distinctive bi-xenon headlights. Their trapezoid-shape creates a line towards the radiator grille in the middle of the SUV. From the sides, the Touareg is distinguished by 18-inch alloy wheels.
From the rear, the more precise styling of the Touareg is marked by its cleanly designed bumper, which – similar to the same area at the front end – emphasises the width of the SUV. Integrated between the exhaust tailpipes is a diffuser. The LED rear fog lights are visible on the bumper, and also integrate rear reflectors.
Visual highlights in the area of the boot lid, viewed from bottom to top, are the VW badge and a sharpened character line between the rear lights. The winner here depends on one’s taste or preference. Both SUVs feature a rugged design consisting of chrome touch-ups and unique LED enhanced lighting apparatus.
Smooth power delivery is crucial in an SUV. In some aspects, it’s the determining factor a buyer looks for before making the final purchase. Jeep offers the Grand Cherokee with a 3.0-liter V-6 engine with an output of 184 kW (247 hp) and 570 Nm of torque. The power unit consumes an average of 7.5 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres. The 3.0-liter V-6 is paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Fully electronic, the eight-speed automatic features manual shifting capability using steering-wheel paddle controls. 0 to 100 km/h takes 8.2 seconds.
The VW on the other hand comes with a similarly sized 3.0-litre V6 unit with an output of 150 kW (201 hp) and 450 Nm of torque. As with the Jeep, the engine is paired with an 8-speed automatic gearbox, with paddle shifters. The engine features a stop-start system as standard, which boosts fuel efficiency. The V6 on the Touareg consumes 0.2 litres less compared to the Grand Cherokee. The 0-100 km/h dash in the VW takes 8.5 seconds. In terms of performances, choose the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
On the road both vehicles start to show their true colours. The Touareg’s engine turns over quietly with a silent rumble audible inside the cabin. Even from the outside the Touareg is quiet and doesn’t sound like a traditional diesel vehicle.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox perfectly complements the engine with smooth gearshifts and quick kick downs on command. Throttle response is good, but can be a little delayed when called upon on the move while the gearbox and engine sorts itself out. From a standard start it’s quite responsive.
In gear response is excellent with the full complement of 450 Nm delivered confidently. As the revs rise, the Touareg actually emits a meaty engine note that is uncharacteristic of a diesel. It’s quite impressive and is welcomed with each dab of throttle.
Steering feel is absolutely spot on, as is the ride. While the entry-level Touareg doesn’t get adaptive dampers, it is compliant over choppy surfaces and deals well with potholes and sudden changes in road quality.
While neither of these vehicles set the world on fire in terms of handling, it’s the Touareg that offers the most confidence inspiring drive. The body remains fairly flat through corners and the 4MOTION all-wheel drive system does a commendable job of continuously shuffling torque between the axles. Of the two, the Touareg is the lightest, weighing in at 2146kg, while the Grand Cherokee comes in at 2281kg.
It’s certainly the sportier of the two and feels the most car-like to drive. This is also helped by the excellent visibility out the front and rear. The low-quality rear-view camera, though, which is blurry and almost pointless at night.
The experience in the Jeep is completely different. As the Jeep turns over, it idles loudly and offers a minor vibration through the chassis. It certainly sounds more like a traditional diesel and is louder than the Touareg both at idle and during operation.
While there has been some confusion with the gear shifter, it fairly easy to use with lights on the gear shifter indicating the gear with a secondary indicator on the dashboard. It’s disappointing to see the Jeep still uses a foot-operated park brake, unlike the Touareg’s electric park brake. It’s one of those cumbersome things that makes the Grand Cherokee feel much older than it actually is.
On smooth tarmac, the Grand Cherokee’s ride felt firmer than the Touareg and didn’t feel as compliant over poor surfaces. It sometimes crashed over bumps and didn’t feel as well planted. One of the most obvious downfalls was the steering. The electrically-assisted steering system lacks feel, with the steering rack much slower than the one in the Touareg. The Grand Cherokee requires 3.5 turns lock-to-lock, while the Touareg is almost a full turn less at 2.63 turns lock-to-lock.
That means that the Grand Cherokee requires more steering input to achieve the same turn radius. This is most noticed when parking or during tight turns. While the engine offers a load of torque, there is noticeable turbocharger lag before that torque is delivered from a standing start. But, to its credit, it’s delivered in spades during overtaking and when the car is in gear and within its torque band.
As you set foot in the Volkswagen, it feels like a step back in time. The interior is dated compared to the rest of the Volkswagen range, but it remains functional, clean and easy to use. The eight-inch infotainment screen is Volkswagen’s RNS510 system, which features an inbuilt 30GB hard disk along with a colour touchscreen.
Looking around the rest of the interior, it looks and feels very well built. It doesn’t feature some of the cost-saving plastics used in a number of modern SUVs and the doors close with a confidence-inspiring thud. The switchgear and buttons are conveniently located and easy to locate. Despite the lack of some modern features, the infotainment system is fast and responds quickly to inputs. The sound system features eight speakers, plenty of bass and excellent high frequency clarity.
The interior contains a number of storage spaces, along with an air-conditioned glove box. The Touareg also still features the characteristic keyhole to the left-hand side of the steering wheel. Both front seats are electrically adjustable and offer plenty of side and bottom bolster. In fact, they are incredibly comfortable, especially over long journeys. The seating position is excellent, with all switchgear within easy reach. The steering wheel sits nicely in hand with plenty of room for circular movements about the wheel.
Second row shoulder and knee room is very good. It can easily fit three adults abreast in the second row in both cars, but two is a comfortable fit. Legroom is better than the Grand Cherokee, but can be a little limited at times. It’s also easy to catch the B-pillar when getting in and out, but practice makes perfect. Rear seats can be conveniently folded 60:40 via a release in the boot, making loading luggage an easy task. There are also two ISOFIX points located on the outer seats.
Cargo capacity is where these two differ greatly. The Touareg offers 580 litres of capacity with the second row raised, which increases to 1642 litres with the second row folded. The Grand Cherokee on the other hand delivers 782 litres with the second row in place and 1554 litres with the second row folded. In terms of spare wheels, the Touareg comes with a space-saver spare tyre, while the Grand Cherokee comes fitted with a full-size spare wheel.
Over in the Jeep, the ambience is totally different. The cabin feels bigger and more modern. Jeep uses an 8.4-inch infotainment unit that features a colour touchscreen, inbuilt hard disk storage and a host of extra features. Grand Cherokee Limited drivers get a heated steering wheel, in addition to seat heating in the first and second rows. There’s also a modern satellite navigation system and an LCD screen that sits further back that between the tachometer and speedometer.
While the interior feels a little more cavernous, it doesn’t feel as premium as the Touareg. The finishes are cheap in some areas, while some controls are hidden in menus. The second row is more cramped than the Touareg with a distinct lack of leg and toe room. It’s also a little tricky to get in and out with the B-pillar sometimes getting in the way of things. Two sets of ISOFIX points are located on the outer two seats, with the second row offering 60:40 split folding.
Over a longer distance drive, the driver and front passenger seats can be a little firm. The Touareg seats hug you nicely, while the Grand Cherokee seats are flat and firm, meaning there is movement through corners and a lack of support for longer journeys. The Grand Cherokee comes with keyless entry and start, but the Touareg still requires the key to be used for entry and start, which feels a bit behind the times. The lack of power tailgate in the Touareg a little frustrating, given its price tag considering it’s fitted as standard on the Grand Cherokee.
Despite how long the Touareg has been on the market without significant change, its surprisingly easy to live with and is enjoyable to drive. It puts the ‘sport’ in SUV and remains a great car to look at and drive. Volkswagen is already finalising testing the all-new Touareg, which makes its world debut in November of this year. The Grand Cherokee remains a good value for money proposition when you consider its towing capacity and features. But, it’s ultimately let down by its average driving experience. The Volkswagen and Jeep brands in Kenya are under the able hands of CFAO DT. Dobie located along Lusaka Road in Nairobi’s Industrial Area. DT. Dobie also has a network of branches, located countrywide, which have well stocked and equipped vehicle service centres.
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Quote: It’s disappointing to see the Jeep still uses a foot-operated park brake, unlike the Touareg’s electric park brake. It’s one of those cumbersome things that makes the Grand Cherokee feel much older than it actually is.
What we like
- Smooth engine
- Quiet interior
- Great handling
What we dislike
- Thirstier than rivals
- Aging interior design
- No electric tailgate opening
Jeep Grand Cherokee
What we like
- Generous list of standard equipment
- Economical power unit
- Comfortable seating
What we dislike
- Ride can be hash
- Noisy engine when idle
- Transmission can struggle