Jeep Grand Cherokee road test: Up for the camping challenge

WE HAVE a test for four-wheel drives that visit with our family. Of course it is far more comprehensive than those offered by car manufacturers - it's scarier than crash tests, crazier than wind tunnels and more devastating than the rollover straight.

Our test involves a husband who claims he taught Bear Grylls all he knows, two adventurous girls chomping at the bit, every gadget and piece of equipment known to modern man and mountain of food, more than you would need for a month never mind a week.

Yep the family camping trip…

Shove in the gear, load up the eskies (one for beverages of course) and attach the trailer for the Barbie doll collection. Find the most deserted campground within half a day's drive - if you have to cross and river and muddy mountain to get there all the better.

Other SUVs have quaked in their 20-inches at the very thought but the Grand Cherokee Overland took our demands in its stride, making light work of some challenging trails and motoring ahead even under load.

We were impressed and are hardly surprised to hear that Jeep sales are stronger than ever with the Grand Cherokee the star of the show.

Comfort

The interior of the Overland is an instant hit - the high driving position makes you feel like ruler of all you survey and the seats themselves are generously supportive and comfortable in all the right places. The cabin is dominated, but not luridly so, by an 21.3cm touch-screen infotainment system that is both nice to look at and easy to operate.

Storage options are numerous and well-placed while head and leg room, even in the second pew, are more than adequate.

It is obvious that parent company Chrysler has attempted to underline the Grand Cherokee's luxury SUV tag with more upmarket fittings and switchgear and although they have been fairly successful in the areas most touched by the driver and passengers, there remains a number of harder plastics dotted around for good measure.

There is however a funky sporty feel created much in part by a new instrument cluster, paddle shifters on the steering wheel and ambient lighting that even takes in the door pockets. Controls and buttons are logically set out and feel as if they will stand up to use but the steering wheel especially the left hand side is far too cluttered.

I am not a fan of fiddly controls on stalks - they are hard to see and operate - and the Overland's example has merely cemented this view.

Boot space is generous, big enough to hold a fair bit of our camping gear, with an ample 782-litres growing to 1554-litres with the second row folded.

On the road

Jeep's off-road capability is legendary and the Overland's performance over a number of trying terrains has done little to tarnish that impression for us.

In the mud, sand, over rocky climbs and crossing a couple of flowing creeks, the Overland was in its element using its Quadra 4x4 system with aplomb and never putting a foot wrong. But it was the bitumen that held a pleasant surprise with this Grand Cherokee far outperforming its previous editions.

Our 3.0-litre turbo diesel engine is now paired with an eight-speed auto which replaces an out dated five-gear exponent.

The result is a powerful but controlled drive with an SUV that has little trouble in finding the right riff and staying there.

Downhill, it is also able to stay in a lower gear longer eliminating that annoying whine.

Fuel efficiency has been improved as has power and torque and if you are not a diesel fan then there is also the option of a 5.6-litre V8 petrol.

While on-road performance is much improved it is far from perfect and the Overland feels all of its 2.4-tonne weight if you push it too tightly into corners. It can sway a little and tight traffic circles can be tricky but by and large it is easy to manoeuvre and park.

The large 20-inch tyres help with grip but probably doesn't help ride quality much although it is very apparent that the cabin is well insulated and road noise is quite innocuous.

What do you get?

The Grand Cherokee Overland is certainly value for money with an inclusions list expected to feature in vehicles twice the price.

Standard offerings include heated and ventilated Napa leather seats, dual-zone climate control, LED running lamps, rain-sensing wipers and auto headlamps, 21.3cm infotainment display unit with nine-speaker audio system and sat-nav with voice controls, reverse camera and sensors, electric tailgate, keyless entry and push button start, double-pane sunroof and 20-inch alloys.

Safety features number seven airbags, electronic stability and traction control, blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, hill descent control, hill-start assist, rear cross-path detection as well as trailer sway and rollover control.

Other options

Competition comes in the guise of the Toyota Prado VX (from $77,990), Mitsubishi Pajero (from $73,990), Land Rover Discovery (from $68,545), Nissan Pathfinder (from $75,990) and the VW Toureg (from $77,990).

Practicality

The Overland is a great option for those that want a nice looking SUV with real off-road cred. It is quiet at idle, has all the bells and whistles and is rugged enough to enjoy without being too careful.

It could do with some side steps though as our littlies found it hard to enter and exit and the lack of a third row option is also puzzling.

The diesel is some $5000 more than the petrol edition so that may prove a stumbling block.

Running costs

While official figures stand at 7.5 litres/100km, we sat comfortably around 9.8L/100km which is still no embarrassment for a vehicle of this size. Jeep offers a three year/100,000km warranty with three years road side assist and service intervals are at six months or 10,000km.

Resale value is excellent (63%) but insurance is a bit on the steep side.

Funky factor

It is easy to see why the Grand Cherokee with its stylish but contemporary good looks is the best of Jeep's top sellers. Classic lines and modern light fittings combine well with a no-nonsense stance.

What matters most

What we liked: Sporty looks, off-road capability, improved on-road manners, impressive inclusions.

What we'd like to see: Option of third row, electronic brake, simpler steering wheel controls.

Warranty: Jeep offers a three year/100,000km warranty with three years roadside assist. Service intervals are at six months or 10,000km.

Vital Statistics

Model: Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland.

Details: Large five-door four-wheel drive luxury sports utility vehicle.

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.

Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel generating maximum power of 184kW @ 4000rpm and peak torque of 570Nm @ 2000rpm.

Consumption: 7.5 litres/100km (combined average).

CO2: 198g/km.

Bottom line: $71,000 plus on-roads ($64,000 for V8 petrol)



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