The Grand Cherokee is not just a Jeep, it is a well-designed and technologically updated American-style SUV. Shapur Kotwal has the details

Jeep, via Chrysler and owner Fiat, has a whole range of products slated for India. It plans to assemble both B- and C-segment SUVs here and there’s an all-new dedicated dealer network on its way too. The carmaker will kick off its second innings here with the launch of its flagship model, the new Grand Cherokee. But can it measure up to other luxury SUVs in its class?

The new Grand Cherokee’s square jaw and the trademark seven-slat grille are impressive. This is one SUV guaranteed to make heads turn. The designers have really excelled here, there are interesting chrome highlights on the nose, higher-spec models get LED lights and the squared-off wheel arches work a treat too.

Under the hood, the Grand Cherokee is even more fascinating. The chassis of the Grand Cherokee comes from the Mercedes-Benz M-class. And Jeep engineers have further strengthened and stiffened this new car to help reduce noise levels and improve on-road performance. Suspension is independent all round and all 4x4 versions get air springs. Known as Quadra-Lift, the suspension can be raised or lowered either automatically, via the Range Rover-like Selec-Terrain dial, or manually via a button. Four Quadra-Lift modes exist; Off-road 1, Off-road 2, Park and Aero, the latter lowering the car for the best aerodynamic performance. Selec-Terrain, on the other hand, works 12 individual parameters like the throttle, brakes, transmission and four-wheel-drive system and can be set for Sand, Mud, Snow or Rocks. There is an automatic mode as well.

Not all Grand Cherokees are four-wheel drive. The diesel version driven here is rear-wheel drive only, but this being Jeep, you get a choice of three 4x4 systems. Selecting Quadra-Trac I gives you full-time four-wheel drive and a simple transfer case. Quadra Trac II gets you a two-speed transfer case, the possibility of 100 per cent torque transfer to one axle and a ‘throttle anticipate’ system that helps maximise traction before the wheels begin to slip. You also get an extremely low crawl ratio of 44.1:1. Quadra Drive II, the third system, gets you an electronic LSD as well as Quadra Trac II. You can opt for hill descent control and there’s the even more ‘freaky’ hill ascent control. What also works pretty well is the diesel version of the Grand Cherokee. This 3.0-litre V6 is engineered and produced by diesel specialists, VM Motori of Italy. There’s a new eight-speed automatic from ZF and this 237bhp diesel, as a result, always feels effortless from behind the wheel. It’s incredibly smooth running too. Also impressive on the diesel car is ride quality. This 4x2 version’s coil springs are set up soft, and the long wheel travel helps the Cherokee absorb even large bumps without so much as a whimper – great for when the car comes to the Indian market. Stability in a straight line is also good.

The Grand Cherokee remains unfazed by high speeds and that’s despite the pliant nature of the suspension. The handling, however, is pretty soggy and not sporty. Reactions to an input on the steering wheel aren’t immediate, the Grand Cherokee takes its time changing direction and that means you’d rather slow down and enjoy the ride. The air suspension-equipped 4x4 versions drive much better. The suspension can be stiffened and agility is immediately better, the Grand Cherokee shrinking around you when cornering. And despite the bulk, there is a fair amount of fun to be had from behind the wheel.

For serious fun however, head straight for Jeep’s SRT8 version. Packing a serious 471bhp and 64.24kgm, this 6.4-litre Hemi V8 comes equipped with a launch control system, Bilstein adaptive damping, 15-inch six-piston Brembo discs up front and a Track mode that locks the suspension down and delivers a torque split of 30:70 in favour of the rear. The tug of the big, naturally aspirated V8 is massive even from as low as 2000rpm.

You can drive this big SUV as hard as any performance saloon, both on the track and out on the street, and the rear-biased torque split means the SRT doesn’t understeer either.

As for the interiors, it offers acres of double-stitched leather and the generous smattering of chrome. The front seats are huge and offer massive shoulder support, there’s plenty of space at the rear and, while the rear seats have a shortish squab, thigh support is actually pretty good.

Both the SRT8 and the regular Grand Cherokee are well equipped. You get paddle shifters, a touchscreen, full connectivity, navigation and even an Eco mode that helps save fuel.

Jeep’s prospects in India look good with the Grand Cherokee. Although the SRT8 will have limited appeal and plastic quality on the inside isn’t great, the V6 diesel 3.0 CRD that is expected to come in at a price of approximately Rs.40-Rs.45 lakh, has a lot going for it. It is spacious, comfortable, should come very well equipped, the diesel and eight-speed gearbox are top drawer, it rides well and the 4x4 is a sharp handler too. All Fiat, Chrysler and Jeep now have to do is take a brave pill and price it competitively.

Will Indian customers find an American-style SUV appealing? I think they will.