Unlike many SUVs the Grand Cherokee is at home on both tar and dirt.
Unlike many SUVs the Grand Cherokee is at home on both tar and dirt.
Cockpit is wonderfully comfortable but touchscreen can be annoying.
Cockpit is wonderfully comfortable but touchscreen can be annoying.

I’m officially introducing a new category of SUV. I’m thinking we call it the mink and manure category, and it’s specifically intended for luxury offroad barges like the Jeep Grand Cherokee on test here.

MORE PICS HERE

Based on the previous-generation Mercedes-Benz ML platform (from when Merc and Chrysler were still brothers in arms), the Grand Cherokee is the kinda SUV you get into and almost disregard the fact that it can climb Kilimanjaro when no-one’s looking. Sure, you courteously pass the odd glance at the little rotary which scrolls through words like Sand, Mud and Rock – but the light below the Auto setting is glowing and that’s pretty much that.

IT’S REALLY CUSHY

Comfort and ride quality levels are probably the motivation behind the word Grand in this Cherokee’s name, and grand is more or less how you feel piloting it from the captain’s seat. Besides all the usual elevated-seating position viewing advantages, seat comfort-levels make you want to park the velvety-beast in front of your television every night.

Ride quality levels are superb too, and you can’t help but wonder how the cuzzies at Chrysler managed to mask all that offroad prowess beneath such wafting ability. It’s whisper-quiet and cocoon-like in the cabin too, and I found myself listening to Classic FM while dodging taxis on most days.

But, and there’s always a but, it isn’t perfect – showing little nuances that could be tweaked by the Yanks for the next-generation. The gear-selector, for example, is of the electric variety yet still uses a traditional gearlever, which is fine except that the gap between, say, Reverse and Neutral is extremely short – meaning you tend to miss the slot you’re looking for, and have to keep an eye on what you’ve actually selected.

The Active Cruise Control, a personal favourite of mine, has a glitch in that unlike other German brands it won’t work at slower speeds. One of the best things about ACC is that it handles the stop/go mantra in traffic for you. It won’t in this Cherokee. The touchscreen, one of my pet hates, is better than most here, but you have to wonder why tweaking airflow can’t simply be a button. No, it has to be a touchscreen menu requiring a few prods, while you’re trying to avoid that Ses’fikile.

The electronic instrument display does have some cool settings though – like the “oil life” counter, the engine and transmission oil temperatures, and the drivetrain and wheel-articulation graphics for offroading.

NICE BUT THIRSTY V6

In terms of living with el grande, and specifically the “entry-level” 210kW/347Nm 3.6-litre V6 on test here (there are bigger 5.7 and 6.4 V8s, and a 3-litre V6 diesel in the range), there are plusses and minuses. The 15.1l/100km fuel consumption is a definite minus, and if your petrol card barely has a magnetic stripe left on it the diesel may be a better bet. For what it’s worth, it’s a nice-sounding V6 with a pleasant growl when you get all Hi Ho Silver with it.

It’s big and heavy though, and doesn’t appreciate tight parking spots nor sudden changes of direction. The weight becomes evident through corners, but is especially prevalent when braking – even at slow speeds – as you feel all that tonnage pushing through.

Prod the gearlever back in Drive and there’s a little Sport mode waiting in the wings, which does have a noticeable impact on both gear-choice and gear-change parameters. This setting even lowers the Cherokee’s torso into a hunkered-down “aero” mode (which in normal driving would happen anyway, but only at higher speeds).

Boot it and you get the impression that the V6 is a little overwhelmed though by that chequered flag in the display, struggling to really offer anything that can be described as spirited or vociferous.

NOT AFRAID TO GET DIRTY

But that’s okay, it doesn’t wear the carmaker’s go-faster SRT badge – luxury cruising and bush-whacking is more what this Jeep is designed to do. It’s more than happy to shed its mink coat and dive into a bit of manure wrestling when the opportunity arises. Which it did when we let it play in a more natural habitat at our test facility.

At first I let it run around with the offroad set-up in Auto mode, and this worked fine until things got really hairy. But again, all it took was a quick prod of the Low Range button (with the gearbox in Neutral), and another prod of the ride height button, and we were invincible again. The beige floor carpets on the other hand ...

And in case you were wondering, the main reason we’re testing the Grand Cherokee is that it’s recently had a midlife makeover, just two years after the current-generation’s launch in SA.

The whiter-and-brighter bits include modern tweaks to its appearance (lights, bumpers, grille and wheels), an array of cabin toys (like touchscreen, digital instrument cluster and active cruise control), larnier interior finishes, and that eight-speed gearbox I’ve been talking about (which replaces the previous five-cogger and includes steering-paddles). It’s safer too, with Chrysler throwing in an upgraded Collision Warning system, which will brake for you if a crash is imminent.

VERDICT

The Grand Cherokee, unlike other German luxury SUVs which tend to be more tar than offroad biased, offers just about the perfect balance between the two. It will usher you to the ball on a Friday night in comfort and style, or drag you through the bush on weekends with ease. The R646 990 price tag ain’t too bad either. -Star Motoring

Follow me on twitter: @mineshbhagaloo

Keep in touch with us on Facebook