The Jeep Grand Cherokee certainly is grand. It’s an imposing, handsome and unmistakably American-style off-roader – and it lives up to its image

Jeep has just given its flagship a thorough makeover, with new front and rear exterior detail, revised instruments, upgraded equipment and an eight-speed German automatic transmission across the range. It has also added a model – a two-wheel drive version opens the range at $43,000, plus on-roads.

The concept of even buying a Jeep appears to have changed with the make’s recent television ad campaign. The incredulous query, “she bought a Jeep?” has boosted awareness of the original 4WD brand and may also have helped banish any old stigmas about quality.

Where it fits
It’s a jungle out there and a good SUV needs grunt and low-low gear just to climb over its many rivals in the showroom. Jeep Grand Cherokee alternatives are numerous and include the Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Prado and Mitsubishi Pajero. However, the majority of rivals are “soft-roaders” without the Jeep’s ultimate ability.

It’s competitively priced from $43,000 for the new 2WD version and with 4WD from $46,000. The $77,000 SRT with 6.4 litre Hemi V8 is even a bargain when compared to anything with similar power and specifications from Germany.

Most importantly, the Jeep offers buyers a real difference, while most 4WDs in this price bracket from Japan, Korea or Thailand are efficient but relatively bland.

What it’s got
What other SUV offers a booming 6.4 litre Hemi V8 for less than $100,000? This is a sports wagon that genuinely has launch control to assist blast-off. With launch control set electronically by the driver, the SRT can run the traditional quarter-mile on a drag strip in 13.5 seconds, then pull up swiftly thanks to massive Italian Brembo sports brakes all round. The sound that big unit makes as it accelerates, accompanied by a whip-crack from the exhaust as the auto changes up, would thrill any driver. However, the reality is most will want something more practical, starting with the new 2WD Laredo. It’s the price-leader but with no poverty pack.

Basic features include bi-xenon headlamps, automatic high-beam control, daytime running lights, electric front seats, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera and tyre pressure monitoring.

In 4WD and further up the range, the Grand Cherokee delivers safety features such as adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and forward collision mitigation. Jeep’s 4WD system is one of the best and offers a number of options to improve traction in off-road conditions – height-adjustable air suspension or standard or optional, depending on the model.

On the road
An extended test drive proved the Grand Cherokee offers something for every type of driver. The petrol V6 delivers smooth power, the diesel V6 pulling-power and economy and the V8s sheer performance-and-never-mind-the-petrol.

The key feature of each Grand Cherokee is the new ZF eight-speed automatic. It’s smooth and quick-shifting and those extra gears over a conventional five-or six-speed mean the right one is always ready to respond when needed. Almost 200km of highway and good gravel demonstrated the new Laredo 2WD as entirely adequate for many drivers who want all the utility and comfort of a large SUV, but not the 4WD. The diesel 4WD crawled up and down steep, rutted tracks with ease, thanks to its torque and electronic traction aids. There is so much assistance available here even an inexperienced driver should feel confident as an outback adventurer.

And, finally, that SRT. If you don’t mind burning the fuel it’s a hoot. It will out-run many sports sedans and sound great while doing it. It’s big, comfortable and loud – straight out of America.

Prices: Laredo 2WD $43,000; 4WD from $46,000; Limited 4WD from $56,000; Overland 4WD from $66,000; SRT 4WD $77,000; plus on-road costs.
Engines: Petrol 3.6 V6 210kw/347Nm; Diesel 3.0 V6 184kw/570Nm; 5.7 Petrol V8 259kw/520Nm; 6.4 Petrol V8 344kw/624Nm.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, 2WD or 4WD dual-range.
Fuel consumption: Petrol V6 10.1 litres/100km; Diesel V6 7.5 litres/100km; 5.7 V8 13.0 litres/100km; 6.4 V814.0 litres/100 km; capacity 93.5 litres.
Wheels, tyres: Alloy 265/60/18 to 295/45/20.
Dimensions: Length 4828mm, width 1943mm, height 1802mm, wheelbase 2915mm, weight 1198 to 2289kg, turning diameter 11.6m.



Prices quoted do not include statutory and dealer on-road charges unless otherwise stated. Prices correct at time of writing.