Throughout Australia there’s a something of a theme among tow vehicles, particularly at the heavy-duty end — they are all mostly made in Japan. There are a few exceptions of course, with the British offerings of Land Rover and Range Rover. From the USA, apart from the large pickup trucks, the standout is the Jeep Grand Cherokee. It’s a real yankee doodle American vehicle too, being made in Detroit, Michigan, the one-time headquarters of the US car industry.
I suspect, like a few people, my interest in the Jeep Grand Cherokee was piqued somewhat because it’s not made in Japan. The Grand Cherokee has been around in its basic form for the best part of 10 years, but there have been a numerous upgrades and model changes, of course.
There are a number of models in the Grand Cherokee range, and my review vehicle was one of the newest, the S-Limited. It came with a 5.7L petrol engine and an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Undoubtedly the most eye-catching feature was the colour, a striking metallic burgundy — velvet red in Jeep speak. It looked terrific in the late afternoon sunshine. A slight curiosity with the Grand Cherokee paint finish is that every colour except white is an option!
A FEW SPECS
Although the S-Limited has permanent four-wheel drive, it is more an urban tow vehicle than offroad traveller. Sure, it will be handy for muddy/slippery conditions or trips to the snow country, but nothing more than that. The tyres give the clue as they’re not really for offroad travel. However, if offroad travel is your thing, there are other Grand Cherokee models, like the Trackhawk with air suspension, underbody skid plates and 18in offroad tyres.
From a towing point of view, the S-Limited has much better specs. It has a body length of 4.83m (15ft 10in) and a tare of 2302kg. Apart from anything else, that makes it a nice stable towing platform. The all-important towing statistics are the maximum towing weight of 3500kg, maximum tow ball mass of 350kg and a Gross Combined Mass (GCM) of 6099kg.
Unfortunately, there’s a caveat here. I thought Jeep might have avoided the problem that double cab ute manufacturers have, but it hasn’t. If you subtract the 3500kg maximum towing mass and the vehicle tare of 2302kg from the 6099kg GCM it gives a tow vehicle payload of 297kg. By the time you add a couple of passengers in, a fridge the tow hitch and maybe a bull bar, there’s not much left. Consider a maximum towing mass of 3300kg and you’ll have kilos to spare and peace of mind about being legal.
Stepping aboard the S-Limited causes no pain. The driver’s seat automatically slides back when the engine is turned off but returns to the correct position when the engine is started again.
The Grand Cherokee has been around for a few years and consequently to some eyes, the interior may look a little dated but that wasn’t a big issue for me. I found the leather seats quite comfortable, and even the backrow passengers score reasonably well in the space department.
In the rear, the cargo area offered plenty of storage space that can be expanded by folding down either both the rear seats or as a 60/40 split.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Like many a modern SUV, the contoured dashboard is packed with features. Directly in front of the driver, an LCD display is flanked by tacho, temperature gauge and fuel tank analogue gauges. The rest of the extensive information, including the speedo, comes from an LCD display. I’m not sure why Jeep does the speedo this way, but I’m one of those people who prefers an analogue gauge for such things.
Being an American sourced vehicle, the indicator stalk, along with the wipers, is on the left-hand side of the steering column. It’s something I’m used to in the motorhome world and in some ways prefer it.
In the centre of the dashboard is the infotainment touch screen and below that a range of buttons for various functions, including some which are also available on the touch screen. One that did get my attention was the reverse assist button. If left on, it activates the brakes if the sensors detect something behind the car when reversing. Guess what happens when you have a caravan on the back and are reversing around. Didn’t take me long to read the manual and disable that feature!
Still on reversing, the camera on this vehicle was very good. I was on my own for several hitch ups and was able to accurately position the hitch, even the pin type DO35, every time.
As might be expected, the S-Limited came with a barrage of safety features including seven air bags, front and rear parking sensors, lane departure warning, park assist and adaptive cruise control.
What was lacking for the driver was a footrest. It might sound like minor thing but I’m having a few left hip issues at the moment and the lack of somewhere to put my foot was causing a dull ache. In the end I used the floor mounted hand brake which it has — it’s very firm to use, so there was no danger of engaging it accidently.
ON THE ROAD
On the road, the S-Limited is an easy cruiser, whether towing or not. When I had the vehicle, I spent time driving around town, on the freeway and towing three different caravans. Certainly, in the urban driving category it’s a big vehicle, but on the open road, it’s quiet and relaxing to drive. I plugged in my mp3 player and listened to my latest audio book. The interior seemed to be well insulated from road, wind and engine noise.
I’m something of a turbodiesel man when it comes to towing and motorhomes, so I was surprised to find the 5.7L Hemi petrol engine under the bonnet. It delivers a maximum power of 259kW and maximum torque of 520Nm, which delivers plenty of grunt through the eight-speed auto gearbox. With a caravan on the back, it was a capable performer, but did require a serious application of the right foot on several occasions. I couldn’t help but wonder about long-term fuel economy, which on my travels came in somewhere between 13.7 and 14.1L per 100km, some of that towing and some not. Full time towing would certainly give worse figures.
Also available in the S-Limited is a 3L turbodiesel, which has a 184kW/570Nm rating. Particularly with that torque figure, if I were planning on extended towing, I’d certain give the turbodiesel some serious consideration. Interesting both the petrol and diesel engine variants are priced the same.
I wasn’t driving on too many rough roads, but the coil spring suspension seemed to cope quite well with the bumps I did find, particularly with the caravans on the back when you really want a decent ride.
General road handling was better than I expected. Most of my experience with American built vehicles has been in the US, driving vehicles that have a slightly floaty feel about the general handling, but the S-Limited, whilst not quite up to tight European handling, is unlikely to cause any mal de mer issues — it’s also certainly better than some up market dual cab utes I have driven.
Anyone used to the caravan industry’s offerings of one- or two-year warranties might be surprised to learn that Jeep vehicles have a five year/100,000km warranty and five-year capped servicing. That’s in part a response to some negative press Jeep has received in recent years and certainly nothing to be sneezed at.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Jeep’s Grand Cherokee is an interesting alternative in the 3500kg tow vehicle arena. In addition to its American origins, its pricing puts it at the top end of the ute market, but somewhat cheaper than, say, a Toyota LandCruiser 200 series or a Land Rover Discovery.
Certainly the 5.7L V8 performed willingly enough when towing, and keeping up with highway speeds was not a problem. However, before purchase I’d certainly be considering and trying the diesel alternative.
Unlike some vehicle manufacturers, the options list is surprisingly small and mostly consists of items that are available aftermarket. As a caravan tower, the S-Limited is certainly worthy of consideration.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Ground clearance 215mm
Kerb mass 2302kg
Gross Vehicle Mass 2949kg
Gross Combined Mass 6099kg
Towing capacity 3500kg
Towball (max) 350kg
Engine 5.7L petrol
Transmission 8-speed auto, Quadra Trac II 4x4 full time
Max power 259kW@5200rpm
Max torque 520Nm@4200rpm
Gear ratios First 4.71:1, Second 3.14:1, Third 2.11:1, Fourth 1.67:1, Fifth: 1.29:1, Sixth1.00:1, Seventh 0.84:1, Eighth 0.67:1, Reverse 3.30:1
Fuel capacity 93L
Suspension Independent double wishbone, coil-over shock absorbers, stabiliser bar (front); Multilink, coil sprung, gas damper, aluminium lower control arm, independent tension, camber, tow links (rear)
Brakes Ventilated Disc (front and rear)
Wheels 20in alloy
Warranty 5 year/100,000km
Roof load 68kg
PRICED from $72,950.00
Velvet red paint
PRICE AS TESTED $73,845 (plus on-road costs)