This is my first drive in a Jeep. After eight years of being a motoring journalist, I've finally gotten behind the wheel of an all-American off-roader and I am rather pleasantly surprised.
Photos by Joel Tam
I was chatting with my neighbour at our block just the other day as a Land Rover Defender swung into the driveway to drop of a passenger. “Nice Jeep!” my neighbour exclaimed. "Jeep? That's a Land Rover lah!" was what I thought. But as I was in a bit of rush, I didn’t bother correcting him or explaining the various brands and kinds of SUVs that the automotive world offers.
But suffice to say, the Jeep brand is a household name that many people find synonymous with anything that resembles an SUV or 4WD car. Honest mistake on his part.
But let’s make no mistake about this - Jeeps are cool and the Wrangler sits on the throne of that coolness scale. But the Wrangler is definitely not the most luxurious thing on four wheels. The Grand Cherokee on the other hand, is a premium SUV that offers more luxury and comfort than it’s iconic sibling. Yet, it bears the badge and credentials of a Jeep, which make it a capable off-roader as well.
As much as we at Burnpavement love low-slung sports coupes, the hard truth is that they are cramped spinal injury inducing machines that are NOT practical for daily use. On the other end of the spectrum, are the plush luxury SUVs that offer a high and mighty seating position with good visibility all round. The Jeep Grand Cherokee is one such car, and it does the job extremely well.
First, let’s talk about the handsome all-american exterior. It’s big and boasts muscular squarish flared arches that give it a no-nonsense appearance. The auto-leveling HID headlamps with LED DRLs are also chiselled and styled to give the large SUV a cool and suave ‘face’. We’re quite smitten with the overall styling and it definitely looks strong and steady - quite the opposite from the over-designed Japanese SUVs that are coming out now.
Get in, and the interior is similarly simple and practically designed. A large centre console houses a new 8.4-inch touchscreen system that will sync up with your phone via Bluetooth for music and phone calls. An eight-speed ZF gearbox with paddle-shifters and ‘walking-stick’ gearshift add to the overall new tech found in the transmission department. Our test car came with a really nice brown leather interior that lifted the cabin space to a whole new level.
Press the engine start button and the 3.6-litre Pentastar engine roars to life. Pushing a decent 282 bhp and 347 Nm of torque, the V6 24-valve purrs smoothly on the road and will readily kick down and cover distance in a jiffy when asked. Changing gears manually via the paddle-shifters is also a joy as the gearbox responds quickly and without hesitation.
The 'Summit' variant we driving is not only comfortable while cruising, it actually houses a cool Quadra-Lift air suspension paired with a Quadra-Trac 2 4WD system. This allows the car to raise (up to 290mm ground clearance) and lower itself at the touch of a button. We tried this and got the Grand Cherokee to perform some cool off-road task so that we could get the cool photos you see here. Like all proper 4WDs, the car also has a Select-Terrain System that allows you to tell it what kind of roads you’re tackling.
Back on the road, the Grand Cherokee has a host of safety and convenience features like blind spot monitor, forward collision warning and Adaptive Cruise Control, which help ease off some stress from the driver on long drives.
Driving the Jeep around town is not as challenging as you might think. Despite being a large SUV, it is easy to manoeuvre and steers nicely under very little inputs. This makes it more of a comfort cruiser than a track bruiser, but that’s not to say that it can’t handle some hard treatment. Flick it in ‘Sport’ mode, give it the beans and the Grand Cherokee’s V6 will sing and hurtle you northward enthusiastically. You’ll just need to plan your distance and brake sooner because it admittedly is one heavy car.
Within a matter of hours with the car though, and I’m totally sold on what it has to offer - especially for a family man like myself. The Grand Cherokee is comfortable, powerful and stylish to boot. Speaking of ‘boot’, we also noticed that the rear boot has a considerate auto-tailgate button placed at these panel just centimetres above the boot deck. This enables children or vertically-challenged adults to also reach the switch to close the hatch door.
I’m pleasantly surprised by the Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit. I didn’t think I’d walk away so impressed, but I truly am. It’s not pretentious, and it combines much of today’s reliable tech into one made-in-the-USA handsome package. What Jeep has done under Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) is to admit that they have weaknesses, and made positive changes towards producing a better product.
The result is a premium SUV that is comparable with its German rivals and clearly more robust that its Japanese counterparts. It’s shame that it offers only space for five. If it could seat another two, it’d be flying off the shelves.