The Jeep Grand Cherokee arrived in 2005 as the third generation of a model we first saw in Australia in 1996. Assembled in Jeep's export facility in Graz, Austria, the Grand Cherokee has held the mantle as the premium model available in the Jeep range. The mid-size SUV wagon has now been released as a 2008 model-year upgrade, with a new dashboard and interior material design, a restyled front bumper and headlights, and new wheels the most obvious changes.
The Grand Cherokee is a popular tow vehicle and we chose the economical 3.0 CRD engine in the revised range to test here.
Key changes to the Limited model (as tested) for the 2008 model include a rear back-up camera, rear park assist system, MyGIG information and entertainment system with 20GB hard drive, rain sensing wipers, memory seats and mirrors, and iPod connectivity.
All Grand Cherokees now have Hill Descent Control, Hill Start Assist and - important for caravanners - Trailer Sway Control.
Other changes to the Grand Cherokee include a telescoping and tilt adjustment steering wheel, heated second-row seats and a redesigned steering wheel now with trip computer controls.
The Grand Cherokee is available in 3L turbodiesel, 4.7L V8 petrol, 5.7L V8 petrol and 6.1L V8 petrol variations.
The CRD diesel comes in Laredo or Limited trim, with equipment for both including front and side curtain airbags, traction and stability control, dual-range transmission, tyre pressure monitoring, rain-sensing wipers, remote keyless entry, dual-zone climate control and roof rails.
The Limited also has a leather and woodgrain interior, extra exterior chrome, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, auto headlights, in addition to the afore-mentioned MyGIG entertainment system, heated power front/rear seats, front/rear parking sensors and rear-view camera.
The $59,490 Laredo only comes with the 3.0 CRD engine. The Limited starts at $64,990 as a 4.7 V8, and is $67,990 with the 3.0 CRD engine or the 5.7 V8. The $89,990 SRT-8 only comes with the 6.1 V8.
The interior is comfortable and roomy, with the driver presented with neat, backlit instruments and easy to find controls. The only annoyances are the age-old Jeep characteristics of a narrow driver's footwell and the handbrake placed adjacent to the front passenger.
There are plenty of useful features such as a multitude of cargo tie-downs, a netted side-wall storage shelf, a reversible cargo floor section for wet storage, a flip-up glass tailgate and a full-size alloy spare wheel, which is fitted underneath the rear of the vehicle.
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION
The 3L CRD V6 is a Euro 4 common-rail design with a variable turbocharger geometry, intercooler and with a 1600bar fuel pressure pumping to piezo injectors. This current-generation diesel is an all-alloy design with cast-iron cylinder liners, four-valve heads and double overhead cams. Jeep claims the 3.0 CRD is good for a nine-second 0-100km/h time and a maximum speed of 200km/h, making it quite quick for a two-tonne 4WD wagon.
The standard automatic transmission is a five-speed with manual mode. Drive is distributed via the Quadra-Drive II 4WD system, which is a full-time 4WD system with a dual-range transfer case. It has a 52:48 torque split and has an electronically controlled clutch pack to lock up the centre diff 50:50 when slip occurs. Quadra-Drive II has clutch packs in front and rear diffs, locking each diff when cross-axle slippage occurs. Jeep calls this Electronic Limited Slip Differentials (ELSD).
There have been a few big-torque turbodiesel engines new to the market but few that send their torque to the wheels as well as the CRD does. With some typical turbo lag down low, the CRD quickly rises above that, reaching the mid-teens on the tacho and propelling like a big petrol V8 right until the 4200rpm redline, the five-speed auto shifting assertively if not silky-smooth in getting power to the ground.
This third-generation Grand Cherokee, with its independent short/long arm coil-over front suspension and five-link coil-spring rear (as opposed to coil-spring live axle front and rear in the last two generations of the Grand Cherokee), suffers none of the side-to-side lurching that previous Grand Cherokees suffered on rough roads. Even better than that, the Grand Cherokee has been elevated to one of the best-riding wagons in its class.
While a big enough washout will see the independent front end crash though (its independent front could never offer up the solid defence provided by a well-located live axle), the chassis balance and ride quality is very good - so much so that you'd be forgiven for thinking that the rear suspension was independent, not live-axle. No stuttering over corrugations, no sideways steps over potholes either.
Refreshing for a monocoque bodied 4WD wagon is the lack of cabin ‘booming' over bad corrugations. The Grand Cherokee does not corner like a X5, but allows a far greater degree of precision and driver enjoyment than the previous model, thanks in part to the rack-and-pinion (instead of the previously used recirculating ball) steering and the new independent front suspension.
The only obvious negative is the Jeep's steering, which responds well to input at the wheel but lacks feel. Despite the Jeep being quite a nimble size (compared to other 4WD wagons offering similar towing capacity) it has a relatively wide turning circle of 11.8m (38ft 8in).
Jeep says the 3.0 CRD achieves 10.2L/100km on the combined cycle, 13.1L/100km on the city cycle and 8.6L/100km on the extra-urban cycle. We achieved 10L/100km on a highway run, around 14L/100km in city traffic, and while towing a 2050kg Jayco at 100km/h we averaged 15.1L/100km.
Jeep says to not tow a trailer for the first 805km and then not exceed 80km/h for the following 805km of the vehicle's life. Once 1610km has passed on the odometer, Jeep recommends a maximum speed of 100km/h.
Jeep says that if 45 minutes of continuous towing is done on a regular basis, then the oil should be changed every 10,000km (instead of 20,000km) and the transmission fluid and filter changes must be more regular. Jeep also recommends that the transmission should be held in second gear on steep, slow terrain.
The Jeep dropped 35mm with the 204kg towball download imposed on it, and with it sitting almost level (unladen, the rear is actually about 25mm higher than the front), we decided to test the rig without load-levellers. Unless the vehicle manufacturer stipulates their use, or unless they're absolutely necessary, we try to avoid using load-levellers for tow tests as we believe they mask the vehicle's towing performance. Other than getting towing fuel consumption figures, we wouldn't learn much about a vehicle's towing behaviour by using them. However, we would still recommend that you consider using load-levellers on the Jeep with the ball weight we were testing with.
The 3L turbodiesel sounded like it was working a bit harder with the 2050kg Jayco tandem axle van behind - which is hardly surprising - and the responsive throttle when solo needed much more assertive prodding to get the rig to respond, but it's all relative. But the Grand Cherokee does pull up hills well. At the peak of the hill in the 90km/h zone on Sydney's M4 motorway at Lapstone Hill, the Jeep required a kickdown into third gear and nearly full throttle to maintain speed, but did so comfortably.
It felt a little twitchy at 100km/h initially, although there were crosswinds at this point on the freeway, with treetops swaying in the breeze. As the wind died down, so did the slight yawing that the Jeep was exhibiting. The mirrors are usefully large, but they were borderline with the Jayco - towing mirrors should probably be on the shopping list with a van of such width.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a well-rounded vehicle that also performs promisingly as a towing vehicle. Aside from Jeep's persistence with minor annoyances such as the left-hand drive hand brake position and the Jeeps wide turning circle, the Grand Cherokee 3.0 CRD is a good all-round city/offroad vehicle that can also tow admirably.
Thanks to David Carrick of Jayco Sydney, 63-67 Glossop Street, St Marys, for the loan of the Jayco caravan used in this test. Phone (02) 9623 1971 or visit www.jaycosydney.com.au
For more information about the Grand Cherokee, visit www.jeep.com.au