Five-seats the charm for new Jeep Grand Cherokee
Without the extra third row, Stellantis' flagship American returns to its roots as offering a lot for comparatively little.
Still aggressive, but also striking at its maximum 277 mm from the ground.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee has been a mainstay of SUV-dom in the United States for over three decades ever since 1992 when the internally named ZJ debuted as a luxury spin-off of the original XJ Cherokee.
New definition of Grand
An approach that remained in place only for the ZJ as the following generations differed significantly from the respective Cherokee, the fifth generation, or WL, arguably represented the biggest leap in the Grand Cherokee’s history upon replacing the WK2 last year.
Whereas its successor could trace its roots back to the WK that went before, and therefore when Jeep stood under the ownership of Mercedes-Benz during the DaimlerChrysler era, the WL is based on fellow Stellantis marque Alfa Romeo’s Giorgio platform that Maserati also uses for its Grecale.
The design is more distinctive with a look similar to Grand Wagoneer, and the interior a dramatic step-up from the WK2 that had been in production since 2011.
Following-up not so easy
A generation that proved hugely popular for the former Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles South Africa (FCASA), the WK2’s success hasn’t left the same mark on the WL that entered the local market last year.
While reasons vary from price to a lack of demand as a result of the global semi-conductor shortage, the WL Grand Cherokee’s initial introduction in extended wheelbase L guise most likely had an added bearing on the situation.
Aimed at the likes of the Land Rover Discovery, the Ford Everest and the outgoing Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, the L offers a Grand Cherokee first seven seats and while nothing wrong in principle, a change in perception not all will appreciate.
As understandable as the L is, i.e., a three-row Jeep for markets where the Grand Wagoneer isn’t sold in, the added premium for an extra row won’t find universal favour against the backdrop of what has always been a more attainable but still luxurious off-roading alternative to the Disco and the Prado with five seats.
Stellantis’ addition reintroduction of the five-seater Grand Cherokee to South Africa three months ago can therefore almost be seen as a return of the “proper” GC and also the direct replacement for the WK2.
Who you calling short?
Knocking R20 000 off the L’s list price, the five-seat Grand Cherokee is 170 mm narrower (1 979 mm), 19 mm lower (1 797 mm) and 292 mm shorter (4 912 mm) while also losing 127 mm (2 964 mm) of length on the wheelbase front.
The upshot is an improved wading depth of 610 mm versus 530 mm and a boot able to chomp a still very respectable 1 068-litres of luggage. A figure with the second-row down is sadly not provided.
While the drop in girth has not affected the Grand’s weight, which still stands at a portly 2 295 kg, the overall feel is better than the Grand Cherokee L, as is arguably the way it looks.
Inside and out, the American way
Blockier and more aggressive than the rounded WK2, the WL’s remains one of the most aggressive and macho looking SUVs in its class, but arguably, also a stylish one in a typical American fashion.
Unsurprisingly more compact than its sibling, the five-seat Grand is equally as imposing and in mid-spec Overland guise tested here, eye-catching thanks in part to its 20-inch alloy wheels and Midnight Sky Metallic hue that makes a colour chart spanning seven options.
Despite its dimensional decreases, the interior design has not changed and remains as spacious as ever with little to complain about in terms of legroom and rear passenger headroom, even with the dual-pane panoramic that comes standard on the Overland.
While a technological tour de force and even with a dash of quirk in the way Jeep has draped the 10.1-inch Uconnect touchscreen infotainment system across the dashboard, build quality is also quintennial American with a few cheap feeling plastics, plus the less than convincing imitation wood veneer that feels clunky and anything but sourced from a forest.
A further hinderance is the expansive use of piano-key black detailing that require lots of cloth wrangling to keep clean.
Tech and spec redeem
As mentioned during the launch of the Grand Cherokee L, the moaning temporarily stops as apart from the space, deciphering the various functions is easy as Jeep has incorporated a plethora of physical knobs and switches below the infotainment system.
Very much a one finger salute to the minimalistic concept, the layout is neat, easy to use and not cluttered as on the WK2.
Overland spec means a similar to ethos to the WK2 as the WL has very little in the way of options. Among the highlights is the heated steering wheel, electric, heated and ventilated front seats, ambient lighting, tri-zone climate control, up to 10 USB ports, a heated second row and a 360-degree surround-view camera system.
Complimenting the infotainment, the Overland also gets a Head-Up Display, a customisable 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, a supplementary 10.25-inch display on the passenger’s side and a sublime 19-speaker, 950-watt McIntosh sound system.
Keen to go off-road?
True to its lineage, the Grand Cherokee can still go off-road as Jeep has made significant revisions to the off-road system.
In the Overland, this involves the standard fitting of a a transparent front camera, the permanent Quadra-Trac II system, Selec-Terrain with five modes; Auto, Sport, Snow, Rock and Mud/Sand, and the Quadra-Lift air suspension that raises ground clearance from as low as 170 mm to 277 mm in the Off-Road 2 setting.
In “everyday” from, the Grand Cherokee is rated at 216 mm, which drops to 195 mm in Aero mode. Selecting the less extreme Off-Road 1 setting comes with a clearance of 256 mm.
A further inclusion is the front axle disconnect system, a departure angle of 28.4-degrees, approach of 30.1-degree and breakover of 24.4-degrees.
Why the detune?
As experienced with the L last year, the Grand Cherokee remains a component off-roader, still somewhat undone by its drivetrain.
Whereas the WK2 surprised, Jeep’s decision to detune the stalwart 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 petrol for use in the heavier WL remains unknown as some of the effortless progress has been lost.
That being said, the loss in sheet metal relative to the L plays in the five-seat WL’s favour as the 210kW/344Nm free-breathing bent-six performs a little better while still emitting a ear-pleasing soundtrack.
As a diesel engine was never considered in light of Jeep’s move towards electrification, the petrol remains the only option for the foreseeable future and while better than in the L, is still hooked to a rotary dial eight-speed automatic gearbox that shift smoothly, but doesn’t like being rushed and takes longer than expected to react when shifting down.
Paddle shifters are, however, present to override the ‘box and despite the allure of the Sport mode, progress is anything but Grand Cherokee Trackhawk fast as the promise of improved response is best described as marginal.
Build for the cruise
Unsurprisingly though, the air suspension counts in the Grand’s favour as the WL, while not as flowy as the WK2, offers-up a beautifully compliant ride and a level of refinement that is anything load or brash American.
In fact, little to no noise intrudes into cabin and while unlikely to bother most owners, the steering, like in the L, is nicely weighted and with just enough feel.
As for fuel consumption, the seven-day tenure and 354 km resulted in a best indicated readout of 11.7 L/100 km, well down on Jeep’s optimistic 9.9 L/100 km claim, and nowhere the eight-litres per 100 km achieved with the WK2.
A back to “square one” approach seems like an unfair description of the five-seat Jeep Grand Cherokee as the seven-seat L continues to have a lot going for it from a tech, comfort and space side.
Reducing the seat count to five, dropping the price tag and “hacking” some the dimensions hasn’t revolved some of the L’s foibles, but aided the value factor that set the tone for the WK2’s success.
At R1 539 900, the five-seat Grand Cherokee Overland is thus an enticing buy and while the lack of a diesel will remain an obstacle, it still remains a comparative bargain and worth a look should going with the pack not be a priority.