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First drive: Jeep Grand Cherokee - on sale June 5

Jeep

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Review

What a great year 2005 is turning out to be for large 4x4 buyers. Land Rover tempts them with the new Discovery and Range Rover Sport. Mercedes-Benz promises big things with its new M-class due by the end of the year. And now Jeep wheels out the third generation of its Grand Cherokee with specification and pricing that make it good value.

This Grand Cherokee is new from the wheels up, yet the visual changes from its predecessor have been kept quite subtle so not to alienate Jeep stalwarts. Longer by 145mm, the vehicle has a 90mm extended wheelbase and 64mm wider track to improve stance and roadholding. The squatter bodyshell is significantly more aerodynamic and stiffer than the old model.

In Grand Cherokee Limited guise, buyers choose from two petrol and one turbodiesel engine, but the base model is available only as turbodiesel. ChryslerJeep UK expects this engine to account for 85% of sales (total sales target: 2,300 units this year, 4,500 in 2006).

The turbodiesel uses Mercedes-Benz’s new Euro 4 compliant, 3.0CRD V6 engine and W5A580 five-speed automatic transmission with driver shift, which will feature in the new M-class. This is such a smooth, efficient, potent package that it will be difficult for the anti-diesel set to find any reason to choose a petrol engine instead. It even sounds pleasant, although not quite as good as the two V8s.

As you might expect from a US-bred SUV, the Grand Cherokee’s petrol engine options are both torquey V8s: the 4.7-litre from the current vehicle plus a 5.7-litre Hemi. This has a Multi-Displacement System which deactivates four cylinders during cruising and light acceleration in order to increase fuel economy by up to 20%. Both engines use the five-speed automatic gearbox with driver shift from the current vehicle.

For the power-mad, limited numbers of the 6.1-litre Grand Cherokee SRT-8 will be imported to the UK in 2006.

The Grand Cherokee has a class-leading 3,500kg towing capacity and 1,909 litres of rear cargo space, so it should prove particularly attractive to customers with a horsebox, boat or jet-ski to lug around.

It also has a host of standard equipment and safety features, such as multi-stage front airbags, an electronic rollover mitigation system, ESP and tyre pressure monitors, to keep the family safe.

UK Jeep dealers should have little problem hitting the 4,500 units full-year target in 2006. The old model’s sales have averaged this since 2001, and the third generation Grand Cherokee is a far better proposition. And at these prices, ChryslerJeep is trying hard to tempt buyers away from its more expensive competition.

Strengths: High spec, price, towing ability, Quadra-Drive II
Weaknesses: On-road could be better, V8s need servicing every 7,500 miles
Threat: Better handling rivals, M-class
Opportunity: Small SUV owners looking to upgrade
USP:Mercedes-Benz 3.0CRD engine in Chrysler clothing
Prices: £29,495 - £37,995
Engines: 3.0-litre CRD V6 diesel, 218bhp, 376lb-ft; 4.7-litre V8, 231bhp, 302lb-ft; 5.7l V8 Hemi, 326bhp, 369lb-ft
Transmission: 5sp auto with driver shift
Performance: 0-62mph 7.1-9secs; top speed 124-129mph
Efficiency: 8.3-27.7mpg combined; 270-366g/km CO2
Servicing: 7,500-12,000 miles
CAP RV (3/30): £12,225 (43% est)
Rivals: Land Rover Discovery, Volvo XC90, VW Touareg, BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz M-class

Behind the wheel

At speed, the third generation Grand Cherokee is significantly better behaved than its predecessor. Independent front suspension and rack and pinion steering gives turning a more precise feel, but it understeers gently when pushed and the rear end, where Jeep has kept the live axle, can become skittish over bumps. Off-road, the vehicle is very capable. However our test cars were fitted with off-road tyres, which few buyers are likely to specify. The Quadra-Drive II system uses electronic limited slip differentials at the front, rear and centre to transfer up to 100% of torque to whichever wheel has traction.

Will the Cherokee put Jeep on the road to recovery?

Jeep expects the new, higher-quality Cherokee to almost triple its annual registrations

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