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The full monty

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VIEWS

Words and pictures by Grant Spolander.

The full monty

With the exception of the SRT8, we’ve tested the entire Grand Cherokee range and I can safely say that the 3.0-litre CRD diesel is the best of the bunch. But don’t stop reading, let me explain why. I didn’t like the performance of the new Pentastar 3.6-litre V6, or more specifically, I didn’t like the match up between this engine and the Grand Cherokee’s only transmission option, a 5-speed automatic. The motor itself proves punchy and willing to rev, but the gearbox feels dazed ‘n confused, often gearing up when it should be gearing down. (see the road test in our June ’11 issue).

After spending two weeks in the Grand Cherokee V6, we then tested the V8 Hemi model, it was a huge improvement. The 5.7-litre engine offers gallons of grunt and has no qualms with its 5-speed gearbox. Unfortunately, although this engine is economical in V8 terms (16 l / 100 km urban cycle), it’s very thirsty when compared to modern turbo diesels.

The Grand Cherokee CRD was launched long after its V6 and V8 siblings. The delay was caused by Jeep SA’s reluctance to release a motor that wasn’t fully prepped for SA’s inferior diesel quality. What’s more, thanks to the Discovery 4’s mighty TDV6, Jeep was tasked with finding a competitive motor that could deliver massive power and torque figures, along with respectable fuel economy.

In the end, Jeep chose a similar V6 setup, opting for a 3.0-litre turbo diesel engine manufactured by VM Motori. This engine produces an impressive 177 kW, 550 Nm and is capable of running on 500 ppm diesel. It’s a phenomenal piece of machinery and according to our acceleration time trials the Grand Cherokee CRD is just as quick as its petrol driven 5.7-litre V8 counterpart.

However, on urban / freeway commutes the CRD reports a combined fuel consumption cycle of just 10.2 l/100 km. If you’re gentle on the throttle, and stick to the 120 km/h speed limit, that figure should drop below 10 l/100 km, giving you a total tank range of nearly 1 000 km! (All Grand Cherokee models boast a generous 93-litre fuel tank capacity) With its boastful torque output, and a 2.72 : 1 low-range ratio, the CRD model offers ample driver control on rocky, uneven terrain. However, dune driving could prove problematic. From what I could tell, the Grand Cherokee’s transmission cannot be locked in a specific gear. So although you’re given the option to sequentially shift through each of the five gears, if the transmission feels it’s revving too high, it will automatically override the select-shift feature and change gears for you; thus, potentially causing the vehicle to lose momentum on steep sandy inclines. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to test this feature, but I suspect it could be a problem on very high dunes, such as the ones found on Namibia’s coast.

Otherwise, in general sandy conditions, the Grand Cherokee CRD feels nimble and buoyant due to a noteworthy power to weight ratio – 177 kW hauling 2 347 kg. This is especially noteworthy when compared to the Discovery 4’s power to weight ratio of 180 kW to 2 767 kg.

As mentioned in our previous road test of the Grand Cherokee V8, the biggest and most significant improvement to the Grand Cherokee range is the fitment of adjustable air suspension. This feature makes the Grand Cherokee incredibly capable on various terrain types; on its highest off-road suspension setting the Grand Cherokee performs well thanks to terrific underbody clearances, while at the same time the vehicle’s slow-slung Sport mode transforms the Jeep into a road-hugging SUV with minimal body roll. (The Grand Cherokee’s Quadra- Lift system has four ride-height options: Sport, Normal, Off-road Level One and Off-road Level Two) The only downside to the Quadra- Lift system is its inability to be locked in a certain mode. Much like the Discovery 4’s adjustable air suspension, the Grand Cherokee will automatically lower its suspension height when a predetermined speed is reached. In other words, at 40 km/h the Grand

Cherokee will lower itself from Offroad Level Two to Off-road Level One. If you continue to increase your speed to 80 km/h, the Jeep will again lower itself from Off-road Level One to the Normal ride height position. This can be a problem when traversing tweespoor tracks that suddenly change from fast open straights, to dongas and ditches – in these instances you want the best possible approach angle, this means you have to continually reselect the Grand Cherokee’s Off-road Level Two setting each time you exceed 80 km/h.

The Grand Cherokee’s air suspension system is a major game changer; with its ability to adjust its ride height this Jeep fulfils its legacy as a well balanced SUV capable of terrific onroad performance as well as excellent off-road capability. When compared to the Discovery 4’s suspension, I’d say the Landy’s setup is far more refined – it’s smoother, more pliable and it boasts class leading wheel travel for a vehicle with all round independent suspension. (The Discovery 4 scored a whopping 477 on our 20º RTI ramp while the Grand Cherokee mustered a mere 281). That said, because the Grand Cherokee’s suspension system is firmer than the Landy’s – and the roofline is lower – I would feel more confident throwing the Jeep into a tight tar bend than I would the hulky Discovery 4.

You have two options under the CRD badge, you can opt for the Limited model (R599 990) or the higher specced Overland (R649 990). The latter includes countless cabin luxuries that could rival some of the most opulent 4x4s on the market, including the Merc GL, Land Cruiser 200 or even Range Rover HSE.

The Grand Cherokee’s interior isn’t packaged to the same high-quality finish as the abovementioned 4x4s, but nonetheless, it offers a similar spec level at half the price.

Although the Disco 4 doesn’t directly compete with the Grand Cherokee from a price point of view (the top of the range Disco 4 HSE starts at R809 900), these two 4x4s are practically identical in what they offer – both vehicles sport adjustable air suspension, hugely powerful diesel engines, and a phenomenal traction control system that’s fully adaptable to various terrain types. On a whole, I’d say the Discovery 4 is a better made vehicle, boasting superior build quality, materials and overall refinement, however, we can’t ignore the fact that the Grand Cherokee is significantly more affordable.

In many ways, the Grand Cherokee CRD has created its own niche market, where, for under R700k you get excellent off-road capability, terrific on-road performance, praiseworthy fuel economy and a cabin specced with just about every comfort feature you can think of. As far as I know, there isn’t another 4×4 on the market that’s offering this much at this price (Ed: A certain 200 GX might upset this little applecart). Simply put, the Grand Cherokee lets you have your cake and eat it.