I have fond memories of the early Jeep Wrangler when it first came to the UK, must be over 30 years ago now, and l was given one for a few days by Levi Strauss as it came with denim covered seats. In those dark days of crap British Leyland cars and French rubbish that broke down every five minutes and bounced around on suspension so soft that a nodding dog was not required in the back window, it was a revelation. Sitting high, with no roof or doors, a great auto box and the wind in my once flowing locks. Flitting around London from club to club (Samantha’s and then onto the Valbonne, in case you are interested) on a warm summers night with the Bee Gee’s, Barry White and Minnie Riperton screaming out of the 8-track stereo. Good days.
But much has happened to the company since then, not least of which is that it is now owned by Fiat. Can you imagine the glory days of US car manufacturing, when they were turning out Dodge Chargers, Ford Mustangs and 8-litre Cadillacs as long as the Titanic, that the country’s most famous marque would be owned by a small Italian manufacturer better known for the Fiat 500. A car that would of fitted into the boot of most Yank mobiles and certainly the Jeep could of driven over it without even noticing.
To be frank, the Americans never could build cars. Ok, they turned out a few classics but said classics represent less than 5% of their production. The remaining 95% were rubbish and that is why they had virtually no export market as none of us wanted to buy them.
So what on earth to make of a Jeep built by the Italians?
Well, it certainly has presence and is big and spacious, well-equipped and can handle the mud plugging if you take it off road but for such a large car to come with only 5 seats is an error. There is plenty of room in the boot to stick in a couple of fold flat seats but they are not to be found.
It drives pretty well with a slick eight-speed transmission that keeps the diesel engine revs in the strong mid-range band and it cruises the motorway with ease, but the noise does let it down a tad. By now you will know my hatred of all diesel engines as the spawn of the devil and now, dare l say it, l have been proven right. They are proven to pollute far more than petrol and the government is about to slap a tariff on all of you that didn’t listen to me and went and purchased a diesel car. You cannot say you weren’t warned and l shall bathe is self-satisfied smugness. Alas, not so smug, as you are killing my children with your silly cars.
But l digress. Diesel engines, and this one is no exception, are noisy and rattle like an old Transit van or London cab. The premium German marques have almost cracked it but all others are just plain horrible to listen to.
My answer to this is to order the 6.4-litre SRT8 HEMI petrol version that will get you to 60mph in less than 5 seconds, but obviously that is not an economically wise choice as you will rarely hit 15mpg. The 3.0-litre V6 diesel will give you 247bhp and has ample pulling power and gets up the road at quite a lick.
The interior is quite nice and well laid out with a 8.4in screen, climate control, auto wipers, USB, Bluetooth and electric seats. I had the Summit version that also gives you a fabulous 19-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo and if could have found a Barry White tape, we would of been off and running back to the 70’s but alas, Radio 4 cannot quite offer the beats of yesteryear. The one thing l could never live with is the gear lever. When sliding it into forward or reverse, it is just not intuitive and it is so easy to select the wrong gear. We all change gear on an auto box without even thinking or looking but with this, l had to think, look down and consider if l had got it right and it annoyed me endlessly.
The trim is OK but a little cheap in places and the shiny metal in the cabin is actually shiny silver plastic. That said, the 782-litre boot is big enough for most and with the back seats folded flat it is cavernous. The Summit and Overland versions use the Quadra-Lift sport air suspension and performance brakes and this certainly makes the ride and handling impressive although still a bit of pitching and rolling through the corners. The biggest hurdle the Cherokee faces is the sector competition. The BMW X5, Audi Q7, VW Touareg and Lexus RX are tough customers to beat and at a base price of £48,000, it has a battle on its hand. But if you want to be different and stand out from the crowd, this is not a bad shout.
Model tested: Grand Cherokee 3.0 CRD V6 Summit
Power: 247 bhp
Performance: 0-63mph - 8.2 seconds
Top Speed: 136 mph
Economy: 37.7 mpg combined
Base price: £51,995.00
As tested: £52,715.00