There are two petrol versions of the Grand Cherokee ready for launch on May 1 - a revamped 4.0-litre six-cylinder, producing 188bhp and a 4.7-litre V8 (replacing the previous 5.2-litre engine in the old model) which pushes out 217bhp. A planned all-new 3.1-litre diesel variant with 138bhp, to replace the current model's 2.5-litre unit, will not be ready until about October 1. Chrysler Jeep is expecting to sell about 4,500 of the models a year and nearly all of them are expected to be bought with company money.
The starting price for the 4.0-litre will be aggressive, at £29,995, the same as the outgoing model, despite all the styling changes and work to improve the engine. Chrysler Jeep says there are just 127 carryover parts on the new models, the largest of which is the oil filter on the 4.0-litre engine. The six-cylinder engine pumps out 13 more brake horsepower, combined with a 12% increase in fuel economy.
Moving up to the V8 hikes the price to £34,995, although there is little change in the specification, adding just a 10-CD autochanger as standard and an electric sunroof.
There will only be a Limited version at launch, with the lower spec Laredo and top-level Orvis deleted. The gap at the lower end will be filled by the Jeep Cherokee Orvis, but Jeep says the high-specification level of the Grand Cherokee means an Orvis version is not currently planned. Because of the aggressive pricing, sales are expected to be split 60/40 in favour of the V8, dropping to 50% when the turbodiesel variant is launched, which will take 25% of sales, with the 4.0-litre picking up the remainder.
One of the Grand Cherokee's main selling points will be value for money, with a standard equipment list leaving very little to the imagination. Front driver and passenger airbags, power steering, ABS, leather interior and steering wheel, cruise control, electric seats, trip computer, electric mirrors and remote central locking are just some of the features available. Air conditioning which measures the passengers' body temperature and adjusts cooling automatically is also included, along with an 'easy exit' seat, which automatically moves away from the driving seat when the keys are removed.
Space in the boot has been increased as the spare wheel has been moved under the floor giving a cargo area of 1,104 litres with the rear seat up, an increase of 34 litres over the old model, and 2,047 litres with it down. Overall, it is 110mm longer, 54mm higher and 39mm wider than the outgoing model, with a seating position 25mm higher to give a more commanding feel to road driving. There is plenty of storage space in the front, but rear passengers are left a bit wanting, with just a map pocket in the back of the front seats available. Leg and headroom is plentiful, even for taller drivers and the build quality is high, resulting in a notable absence of rattles or squeaks. Soft plastics are used throughout.
Build and high specification is combined with a car-like ride on the road, with body roll cut to car-like levels, although the brakes can take a harder than expected shove to bring the Grand Cherokee under control. The new four-speed automatic changes smoothly and provides two second gears to allow for swifter acceleration, depending on the style of driving. However, driving at the UK launch in Scotland, I did find it could be too eager to change up, which slowed progress.
The 4.0-litre engine is quiet and smooth, with little transfer of noise into the cabin except at high revs. Acceleration is brisk, although the accelerator can take a hefty shove to persuade the automatic box to stay in kickdown. On a 120-mile drive in the V8, I found this was not a problem, as it was happy to accelerate swiftly in any gear, providing a throaty burble which encouraged you to keep the throttle open. In both models, noise is kept to a minimum, allowing for a quiet, unruffled drive at motorway speeds.
However, at speed the sheer size of the Grand Cherokee leads to a lack of feel, not helped by steering which is good around town, but uninformative on the motorway. Chrysler Jeep has worked just as hard on the on-road performance of the Grand Cherokee as it has on its off-road prowess, to ensure that the model provides an effective lure for its target audience.
The majority of sales for the model are not expected to come from current Jeep drivers (25%) or rival 4x4 drivers (14%), but from buyers of luxury cars such as BMW and Jaguar. However, under the skin the Grand Cherokee is still an off-roader and boasts a host of features aimed at making life away from the Tarmac easier.
A second gearstick gives a choice of permanent four-wheel-drive, 'normal' or low ratio gearbox. A Quadra-Drive system has also been developed, likely to be a £1,000 option when launched in June or July, which allows the vehicle to keep moving, even if only one wheel has traction. It provides effortless off-road performance, although I suspect few people will want to risk the paintwork of their £30,000 vehicles away from the urban jungle. Like the Jeep Cherokee Orvis, Chrysler Jeep has managed to combine a luxury car with a truly capable off-roader which is likely to appeal to company car drivers looking for a change from their usual executive transport and rivals will be watching carefully to see whether it performs as well in the sales room as it does on and off the road.
Executive 4x4 vehicles often get no closer to off-roading than climbing a kerb in a car park, but Jeep went to great lengths to show the new Grand Cherokee could live up to its 'mud-plugging' reputation away from the Tarmac. A two-hour off-road drive was organised at the UK launch in Scotland, taking the vehicles through the mountains surrounding Loch Lomond and covering treacherous terrain, including riverbeds, steep rocky hills and water hazards.
The Quadra-Drive system on the vehicles, linked to automatic transmission, meant even when it was hard going for the Grand Cherokee, both passenger and driver could remain unaffected by the hard work being done by the wheels.As any of the four wheels lost grip, power was transferred to the tyre with the most grip, allowing for very low speed manoeuvring even in extremely slippery or rocky conditions. The system will not be available at launch but will be coming to the UK later this year, probably in June or July and is expected to be a £1,000 option.
A demonstration showed that even with three wheels slipping, power would be transferred to the fourth wheel to keep the vehicle moving. On one climb, despite engine revs not climbing above 1,000, the Jeep Grand Cherokee managed to climb smoothly over rocks and through thick mud. Jeep is rightly proud of the four-wheel-drive system, which it has billed as one of the most advanced in the world. David Van Raaphorst, executive engineer - powertrain, said: 'Development of Quadra-Drive further reinforces our philosophy of using technology where it matters.'