Jeeps manic makeover
By Sean Nurse
There is no denying the importance of the Grand Cherokee for Jeep. Since its inception in 1992 Jeep has sold over 5 million of them worldwide. It is often hailed as one of the best value for money propositions in the business. Not only does it provide genuine off-road credentials, but with each passing generation it seems to improve its overall refinement and road manners.
That brings us to the question that came up at the launch of Jeep’s “new” Grand Cherokee. Is the 2014 model a new car as they claim, or simply an extensive facelift? After attending the launch and driving the model line-up, I have to conclude that the changes are not enough to call the Grand Cherokee a new model. That said, they are not minor enough to be called a simple facelift either.
Small tweaks – big changes
In terms of looks, the makeover is mild, with an emphasis on providing distinctive features to each model designation that will allow variants to be told apart with greater ease.
But it’s the other changes that really differentiate this model. While everybody was going on about the skin-deep changes, the really big news is that Jeep have fitted the glorious ZF eight-speed transmission to the model line-up.
According to Jeep, the gearbox has been changed slightly by their engineers for the diesel and SRT variants, but on the whole it is the same system that impressed Leisure Wheels in the Amarok and in various BMW models. It is a fantastic transmission and really transforms the Grand Cherokee, particularly in SRT guise, into a properly dynamic and capable SUV. The gear changes are truly very fast in manual mode and manage the tricky double act of being both fast and smooth in auto mode. It is difficult to believe that this is only a single clutch system, and is certainly a welcome addition.
Keeping with the times
The interior upgrades are also fairly significant, with the addition of an 8, 5-inch touchscreen and 7-inch TFT cluster display. The new systems make the Grand Cherokee more infotainment friendly and bring it more in line with what customers expect from a modern SUV. Depending on what specification level you choose, the interior varies quite dramatically. The Limited spec is the most basic, the Overland luxurious, and the SRT cabin, which feels like a smoking jacket infused with nitrous-oxide.
The Grand Cherokee isn’t a vehicle targeted at the hard core off-road enthusiast but rather at a family-orientated person who needs a good value proposition. It is, however, more than capable of taking you and your loved ones off the beaten path safely with its Quadra-Lift air suspension, Selec-Terrain and Selec-Track management systems.
I had the pleasure of tacking the off-road section in the Drakensberg in the Overland model, equipped with the throaty 3, 6-litre V6. I had sampled the same engine the previous day albeit in Limited guise from Johannesburg and can happily report that the Pentastar powerplant can be economical on the open road, where my driving partner and I managed consumption figures of around 10 l/100km. On the off-road section – in typical V6 fashion – it put down the right amount of torque and simply sailed through what were very mild off-road conditions.
Overall, the 2014 Grand Cherokee is an impressive product. When the diesel arrives in the coming months, the range will be complete. For me, the SRT, with its slightly naughty soundtrack, launch control, surprisingly good handling and attractive pricing is the pick of the range, although prepare to pay for that performance at the pumps. The gearbox, improved infotainment system, refinement and all-round ability of the new Grand Cherokee make it a very solid product in its segment. Just don’t expect to visit your local showroom and see an entirely new car.