Jeep Grand Cherokee

We travel to Arctic Circle to see if Jeep's latest 4x4 can restore US brand’s reputation in Europe

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

In recent years, the famous Jeep name has slipped off most UK buyers’ shopping lists. However, with backing from Fiat, the American legend is back with a bang. The Grand Cherokee is a refined, capable and well equipped machine that boasts Land Rover-rivalling off-road ability. We’ll have to wait until the diesel-engined model arrives in the summer to see whether it can topple the class leaders, but on this showing it stands a good chance of success.

American legend Jeep is coming in from the cold! After finishing a rocky 10-year relationship with Mercedes, the off-road brand is back on track – and it aims to take the UK by storm.

Spearheading Jeep’s revival is the all-new Grand Cherokee. Bosses claim the latest range-topper is the most refined, luxurious and capable model the firm has ever produced. To find out if it’s made of the right stuff, we got behind the wheel in one of the toughest environments on earth: the Arctic Circle. And first impressions are very positive.

Softer lines and neat detailing give the car a much more sophisticated look. Classic Jeep styling cues remain, though, such as the bold chrome grille and squared-off wheelarches. Standard 20-inch alloys give our top-of-the-range Overland extra kerbside appeal. Yet the biggest improvements have been made inside.

Fit and finish have come on in leaps and bounds, the dash is attractive and the switchgear works with precision. Elsewhere, you’ll find soft-touch plastics, quality leather and real wood trim. There’s plenty of space, too, with rear passengers getting 113mm more legroom than in the previous Grand Cherokee. Open the powered tailgate and you’ll discover a 782-litre boot.

This is marked out by neat touches such as an integrated, rechargeable LED torch, although the plastic used for the gearlever surround looks and feels cheap, while the retractable load cover is set too low and feels flimsy. Still, even the entry-level Limited model gets heated front and rear seats, climate control and a reversing camera. Also standard is incredible off-road ability. The combination of the electronically controlled Quadra Trac four-wheel drive and adjustable air-suspension makes the Jeep a formidable machine when the going gets rough. As with Land Rover’s Discovery, you can select Snow, Sand, Mud or Rock settings at the touch of a button.

What about on the road? With a platform taken from Mercedes’ forthcoming ML, the newcomer has no excuses. Refinement is good, with double-glazed front windows and a special acoustic dash keeping noise to a minimum.

The air-suspension soaks up bumps, and only big potholes upset the car’s composure. Turn into a corner and you’ll discover direct steering and decent grip, while the raised driving position boosts confidence.

Select Sport mode and the air-suspension is lowered by 15mm and the throttle sharpened. Sadly, Sport doesn’t increase the feedback you get through the major controls. The 3.6-litre V6 petrol unit is smooth, but needs to be worked hard to keep up with fast traffic. And while the five-speed auto is slick, it can be slow to respond.

By the time the Cherokee hits UK soil in June, it will be available with a new Fiat-developed 238bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel and a six-speed auto. This will be the smart choice, returning 34mpg and emitting 218g/km of CO2. Better still, with prices starting at around £35,000, it should undercut most rivals.

Rival: VW Touareg The rugged VW doesn’t have the Jeep’s instant visual appeal, but its cabin offers a more premium feel. And while you will pay a lot more for the Touareg, in diesel guise it rewards you with lower emissions and better fuel returns.

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