The weather was just perfect. A huge gale had threatened to blow down our tents overnight, it was freezing cold in the mountains west of Brisbane and the rain had turned steep dirt tracks into dangerously greasy traction destroying traps.
Perfect? Yes, because we were road and off-road testing Jeeps and these tough, rugged, iconic American vehicles love to operate in harsh conditions. A few namby pambies in our test crew would have preferred bright sunshine and Queensland-blue skies, but most of us were delighted to put the latest Jeep Grand Cherokees through their paces in ‘proper’ Jeep conditions.
The Fiat-Chrysler organisation is running hot in Australia at present (these days Fiat controls the American auto maker as Chrysler was a major casualty of the GFC), reducing prices, introducing special models and spending big on TV and other advertising campaigns.
Powered by a 3.6-litre Chrysler Pentastar petrol engine driving through a sophisticated eight-speed automatic transmission, the Grand Cherokee Laredo 2WD is far from being a stripped down special. It comes with 18-inch satin-chromed wheels; and foglights.
Inside, the Laredo has climate-controlled air; a fascinating electronic instrument array that can be customised; a leather trimmed steering wheel; cloth seats, with the fronts being power adjustable and heated; auto-dimming interior mirror and a relatively modest audio system with six speakers.
Next up the line is the Grand Cherokee Limited. Over the equipment in the Laredo it has leather trim; the front seats have memory functions; all seats are heated, as is the steering wheel. Externally, the Limited has 20-inch alloy wheels, chromed highlights on the front facia; chromed dual exhaust tips; and the tailgate is power assisted.
Topping off the standard lineup is the Grand Cherokee Overland. It features a body coloured lower facia with chromed inserts; a dual panoramic sunroof; Nappa leather on the seats; wood and leather trim on the steering wheel; and adaptive cruise control.
Finally, there’s a high-performance model, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT built by the Sports and Racing Technology division and featuring a 6.4-litre V8. We’ll cover it in a separate story.
As well as the petrol engine fitted in the low-cost Laredo 2WD, there’s a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel option in the 4WD model. A 5.7-litre petrol rounds out the range.
An eight-speed auto is used on all Grand Cherokee models, with a heavier duty unit used on the 4WDs compared with the medium-duty one on the Laredo 2WD. Paddle shifters are fitted to all models, however we found the levers to be on the small side and not always easy to grab in a hurry.
Safety is a high priority, with every Grand Cherokee having seven airbags, including one to protect the driver’s knees; electronic stability control with roll mitigation; rear view camera; and tyre pressure monitoring.
We test drove the 2WD Laredo price leader on sealed and unsealed surfaces in the aforementioned terrible weather. So good is the suspension and steering setup that on dirt roads we had to remind ourselves at times that it was driven only by the rear wheels. Unless you are planning to tackle serious off-road situations this vehicle may be all the average owner needs. On road it’s quiet and comfortable and makes a neat weekend cruiser.
Our serious off-road driving was done in diesel 4WDs over very hilly terrain. Using low range and driver selectable electronic traction (which includes an Auto position if your inexperienced) as well as hill ascent and hill descent we were able to keep moving on greasy, rocky, soggy situations – until the tyres let us down.
Smooth tyres designed for comfort and quietness clogged up and we decided to bail out before becoming stuck in the rain in an almost inaccessible area. If you do want to get serious – and all Jeep owners should from time to time – then a second set of tyres with proper off road design is necessary.
A big, tough Jeep for just $45,000 including all on-road charges, the Grand Cherokee is likely to have more wives surprising their husbands by telling them they have just bought one.
The complete 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee range is:
Laredo 4×2 3.6-litre petrol: $43,000 *
Laredo 4×4 3.6-litre petrol: $46,000
Laredo 4×4 3.0-litre diesel: $51,000
Limited 3.6-litre petrol: $56,000
Limited 3.0-litre diesel: $61,000
Limited 5.7-litre petrol: $61,000
Overland 3.6-litre petrol: $66,000
Overland 3.0-litre diesel: $71,000
Overland 5.7-litre petrol: $71,000
SRT 6.4-litre V8 petrol: $77,000
Note: * The Laredo 4×2 is also available for $45,000 driveaway. All other prices do not include government or dealer charges. Contact your local Jeep dealer for driveaway pricing on these models.