It’s big. There’s no getting away from it, this is a big car. As big as one of those micro-apartments people allegedly live in, in places such as Tokyo or Hong Kong. Or indeed as big as your living room.
Well it has got seats as big and as comfortable as an armchair. In fact, inside is quite a good, perhaps surprisingly good, place to be. If you’re familiar with American cars, they do still – often for a good reason – have a reputation for cheap, tacky interiors. Usually if something looks like it’s leather, it’s vinyl, and if it looks like metal, it will be plastic. However, all five of this car’s seats are definitely made of cow skin and there are some definite bits of metal trimming around the place. It generally has the feel of being solid, good quality and very efficiently put together.
On the outside it is – that word again – big. It takes a while to even walk around it. Cleaning the roof? Forget it. I’m 6ft and would need a step ladder. But it is a good-looking shape, and with compact front lights looks more mean and muscular than previous Cherokees, which were more a dated, boxy mess of wasted space and general unwieldy hugeness.
There’s a big old V8 diesel under the bonnet, which Jeep says has 247bhp. It goes quickly – eight seconds from nought to 60 – and extremely smoothly, thanks to its eight-speed gearbox. You might think with eight gears it would spend time fidgeting around and changing its mind about what gear it wanted to use, but it really is very smooth and changes are barely noticeable.
I was fortunate enough to drive this car to a weekend Stag Party in Bristol, and it happily swallowed three mates, me and too much luggage (including three footballs, a guitar and an espresso machine – yeah, I know) with no problems whatsoever. Jeep has of course built a reputation as maker of genuine offroaders – and this has all the capabilities – but where the Grand Cherokee scores is as a motorway-mile muncher. The 190-odd miles from Hertfordshire via North London to Bristol were easily accomplished and at about 35mpg. At 70mph on the motorway it’s quiet and serene enough to hold a conversation at a normal level, such is the lack of noise from road, wind or engine. The stereo on this Summit top-of-the-range variant was exceptional too, with Harman-Kardon proper-hifi speakers everywhere – even in the boot. Plug in your mp3 player or link your phone and it plays everything as well as any car system I’ve ever heard – crystal clear and plenty of ooomph. The suspension for a 2 ¼ ton beast is also good, it feels pretty taut and commanding, rather than wobble around or feel sloppy.
The equipment also included a satnav system so easy to use I could actually be bothered to program it, rather than swear at it and give up, plus useful stuff like a rear reversing camera so you’ve got a fighting chance of parking it, and blind-spot warnings, to alert you to something coming up where you can’t see it or something you’re about to squash. Plus a massive two-panel panoramic glass sunroof.
I liked it, and more than I expected to. It was all about taking the difficult stuff away from you – navigating, watching your blind spot – while transporting you to where you wanted to go in smooth comfort, with a commanding driving position and not a little style. After a while of driving it, you get used to being calm and serene in your driving and the car seems to shrink a bit, become more manageable.
It’s a worthy contender to SUVs from the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW, but is also very different from them – and distinctive too.