There’s something very American under the bonnet of Jeep’s new five-seat Grand Cherokee.
It’s a V6 petrol engine and it’s the only option Australian buyers will have until a plug-in hybrid version of the car arrives later this year.
While petrol V6s are a popular option in the States, they’re a dying breed over here. Nissan’s Pathfinder is the only other mainstream large SUV rival that offers only V6 power.
Hyundai offers a V6 on its Santa Fe and Palisade, but only 15 per cent of buyers tick that box.
If you enjoy driving, a V6 is a welcome change from workhorse diesels and small capacity turbos.
And the Jeep’s 3.6-litre is an impressive unit, with plenty of power and a masculine, throaty exhaust note. It’s well matched to the Grand Cherokee’s slick-shifting eight-speed auto.
The grunt is matched by reassuring poise through the corners. The steering is nicely weighted and the big SUV feels planted when asked to change direction. The ride is on the firmish side, but that means better control when you hit bumps at speed.
Having driven the Grand Cherokee up the side of large boulders on the international launch in Texas, we can attest to its off-road ability, which is the equal of anything else on sale.
A terrain-management system – standard on the second cheapest model, the Limited – allows you to adjust the ride height and choose different setups for rocks, mud and sand.
The more expensive Overland is fitted with air suspension and a two-speed transfer case with a low-range gear for more serious off-roading, while a $2750 off-road pack (available only on the Overland) adds a 230mm rear axle, an electronic limited-slip differential and underbody protection.
It all adds up to an engaging and rewarding experience behind the wheel.
The fun stops when you reach the petrol pump, though. Jeep claims the five-seat Grand Cherokee uses 9.9L/100km, which is slightly better than the 10.6L/100km of the larger seven-seat version. On a mix of city and freeway driving we averaged closer to 13L/100km.
Petrol-price pain has eased in recent months – on our test we saw unleaded at less than $1.70 a litre – but the big American is still going to be significantly more expensive to run than diesel, hybrid and turbo petrol rivals, particularly if, like many prospective Jeep owners, you are looking to tow.
On that score, Jeep has increased the tow rating of the Grand Cherokee from 2300kg to 2880kg since launching the seven-seat version earlier in the year. The change isn’t the result of any engineering development, the company has simply adopted a different measuring standard that rivals also use.
Jeep is aiming to breach the divide between mainstream and premium with the Grand Cherokee and the cabin feels more premium than anything that has worn the Jeep badge in the past.
Quality leather adorns the seats and soft-touch materials abound in a cabin that strikes a nice balance between traditional wood-grained luxury, hi-tech graphics and tasteful ambient lighting.
The centre touchscreen display is crisp and the menus are easy to navigate, while a configurable digital instrument display has all the necessary information in front of the driver.
The lack of a standard heads-up display at this end of the market is puzzling, though.
The Night Eagle kicks off the range at about $85,400 drive-away ($5000 less than the longer seven-seater model launched earlier this year) and is reasonably well equipped.
It has 20-inch alloys, powered and heated suede and imitation leather seats, a heated steering wheel, wireless smartphone mirroring and charging and a power tailgate.
The Limited is about $91,700 drive-away and adds synthetic leather, heated outboard second-row seats, window shades, a better audio system and a digital rear-view mirror.
Step up to the Overland at about $106,900 drive-away and there’s Nappa leather, a big sunroof, ambient lighting and a hands-free tailgate. Bizarrely, though, it doesn’t have the wireless charging pad, digital rearview mirror and window shades standard on the cheapest model.
The good news is Jeep is offering a $6000 “cash off adventure bonus” on all three models for anyone who buys before the end of the financial year.
Three and a half stars
It’s not cheap and the fuel bills will sting but the Grand Cherokee is a handsome, capable and fun-to-drive SUV with impressive off-road credentials
JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE OVERLAND
PRICE From about $106,900 drive-away
ENGINE 3.6-litre V6, 210kW and 344Nm
WARRANTY/SERVICING 5 years/100,000 km, $1995 over five years
SAFETY Eight airbags, auto emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, driver monitor
LUGGAGE 487 litres