Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

Out with the old: Jeep Grand Cherokee Driving impressions

The SUV segment of the South African automotive market continues to expand exponentially. However, options for a large luxury seven-seater SUV with decent off-roading chops are few and far between. If you’re in the market for that kind of vehicle, Anton Willemse Jnr believes Jeep has you covered.

One of the first vehicles I drove as a motoring journalist was the WK2 Jeep Grand Cherokee and the experience stuck with me. The platform was quite aged and had been on the market for a decade, so I wasn’t expecting any fireworks. With that being said, I loved every second behind the wheel. The 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 was silky smooth and well paired with the eight-speed auto. And even though it was a ten-year-old design, it still felt relatively modern. As such my expectations were sky-high for the fifth-generation Grand Cherokee L.

Looking big and fresh

When you see the new Jeep Grand Cherokee L in the flesh, you will realise that this is not a mere facelift. It is, in fact, all new. The first thing you notice is that it’s much larger than its predecessor and now offers seven seats in three rows compared to the five seats in two rows from before. The wheelbase has increased to 3 091mm from 2 915mm, and the overall length has stretched from 4 828mm to 5 204mm. Although this makes the Grand Cherokee L one of the biggest vehicles in its class, overall capability has not suffered. It retains decent approach (20.6 degrees), departure (23.6 degrees), and break-over (22.6 degrees) angles.

Another exciting thing about the Grand Cherokee L is its design. It felt familiar because, as explained at the launch, the newcomer was designed to honour those that came before it. This is evident all around the vehicle. The front end has the traditional seven-slatted grille, which has been present on every Jeep since the first one, the Universal CJ2A. The overall design is also boxy and utilitarian, with a huge glass house on the side profile.

These elements are intended to pay homage to the world’s first large SUV, the Jeep Wagoneer and this inspiration is scattered over the interior as well. The Wagoneer had one of the most beautiful wood elements of its time, and the Grand Cherokee L follows suit. The wood finish across the dash and door panels gives it a luxurious and rustic feel. The Grand Cherokee L is also extremely well built and every button and dial feels solid and deliberate. This element was absent in Jeep products in recent years so it’s refreshing to have a cabin so focused on driver and passenger comfort, while still feeling super refined.

Blending the old with the new

One of the biggest criticisms against the new Grand Cherokee L is that it still utilises the Pentastar 3.6-litre V6. This Chrysler V6 engine block was introduced in 2011 and has been the staple for many products. Sure, that’s a long run for an engine platform, but the smooth V6 was one of my favourite aspects of the fourth-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Jeep has ‘detuned’ it slightly for the newcomer and it now has a power output of 210kW and 344Nm of peak torque as opposed to the 213kW and 353Nm of the previous generation. Because of its larger dimensions the newcomer is heavier than its predecessor. So, on paper – and in reality – it’s slower than its older brother, which wasn’t a speed demon to start with. Think Malcolm Marx versus Kwagga Smith. Yes, one might beat the other in a foot race 90% of the time, but on the field the speed difference is negligible. It’s the same with the fourth and fifth generations. You probably won’t realise it’s missing a bit of its power in day-to-day driving. It is still a great cruiser on the open road, the eight-speed auto box is brilliant as ever, and the fuel consumption is manageable considering the sheer size of the Grand Cherokee L. I had a consumption figure of around 13.6 litres/100km in a combined cycle, and when I took it on the open road, it dropped down to a fairly decent 10.1 litres/100km at an average speed of 120km/h.

As for on-road handling, the Grand Cherokee L did well considering its size. It sits on Jeep’s very own WL platform and because it’s a monocoque construction, you’ll get all the expected benefits of better on-road handling dynamics, greater strength, and lower weight. A big problem with monocoque construction for off-road vehicles is the improved stiffness and lack of flexibility, especially compared to the superior flexibility you have with ladder-on frame construction. However, the Grand Cherokee L is more than just a pavement crawler. It still has very decent off-roading credentials. It comes with a transfer case and low-range gearing, and the Quadra-lift air suspension, which is available as standard across the range and can lift the Grand Cherokee L to a ride height of 277mm. All variants except the top-of-the-range Summit Reserve (which has a lockable rear diff) are also available with an ELSD. It isn’t built for rock crawling, but can handle some truly brutal terrains.

Safety and tech

One of Jeep’s main goals while designing the new Grand Cherokee L was to give it the best and latest tech to make the on-board experience as comfortable as possible for the driver and passengers. The cabin features not one, not two, but three screens. The driver has a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster and a heads-up display, while the centre console features a 10.1-inch display with Jeep’s latest Uconnect 5 system. What sets the Grand Cherokee L apart from its competition, however, is the passenger display. It allows the passenger to assist the driver by navigating or checking up on those rascals in the back. It can also keep the passenger privately entertained with gaming, music, or television. The three screens together translate into over 30 inches of digital space.

However, the best piece of tech in the new Grand Cherokee L is the McIntosh audio system, which is standard with both the Overland and Summit Reserve models. The advanced, high-performance system features a 17-channel amplifier with a maximum output of 950 watts and 19 speakers, including a 10-inch subwoofer.

In addition, the Grand Cherokee L also features a splattering of active driver assists such as adaptive cruise control, highway assist, night vision and drowsy driver detection. Full-speed collision warning, parallel and perpendicular park assist with straightforward 360-degree surround view cameras, night vision on the Summit Reserve model, rear cross-path detection, active lane management, lane sense with lane departure warning, advanced brake assist, blind-spot monitoring, ParkView back-up camera, tyre pressure monitoring and a drowsy driver detection system are also part of the package.

The verdict

The Jeep Grand Cherokee L is exactly what you’d expect it to be. It’s a large, luxurious, silky-smooth long-distance cruiser. However, it isn’t without its faults. I like the Pentastar V6 and find its power-to-weight issue to be negligible for me. However, it might bother some people. A diesel variant would’ve been great. Another area of concern is that it doesn’t feel like a proper off-roader compared to a Land Cruiser 300 or a Land Rover Discovery. It lacks offroading confidence which I hope will be rectified by a Trailhawk or five-seater variant. Incidentally, Jeep has confirmed that the latter will become available in 2023. Overall, the Grand Cherokee L made a great impression. It is a real head turner and very comfortable to drive. It will be a great option as a long-distance tourer and for the occasional coastal and Kruger trips.

Model line-up & pricing

  • Jeep Grand Cherokee L Limited: R 1 299 900
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee L Overland: R 1 479 900
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve: R 1 679 900

*The new Grand Cherokee L comes standard with a 5-year/ 120 000km warranty and roadside assistance, as well as a 5-year/ 100 000km maintenance plan. Service intervals are every 12 months or 12 000km.

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