The Range Rover Sport is about to get some stiff competition in the face of the new Jeep Grand Cherokee. Well, eventually... Not landing on Irish shores until sometime in 2024, the large new plug-in hybrid SUV is the most convincing version yet of this long-lived model.
In the metal
The Jeep Grand Cherokee has never made much of an impression on the Irish car-buying public. So it's not as if anyone's on tenterhooks waiting for the arrival of this new model, which is just as well - it won't make it to Ireland until 2024 at the earliest. Partially that's down to the much-discussed issues with global supply chains, but it's equally down to the fact that this Grand Cherokee is selling like gangbusters in its home market in the US, and Jeep is running at full tilt just keeping American customers happy. We're some way down the list.
When we do get it, though, it may well have been worth the wait as this is unquestionably the most impressive Jeep Grand Cherokee yet.
It's certainly handsome. It's a seriously good-looking car with its big grille (seven slots, of course, in Jeep tradition), slim, scowling headlamps and faint hints of the original 1963 Jeep Grand Wagoneer. With that car, Jeep claims that it - and not Land Rover with the 1970 Range Rover - truly invented the luxury SUV segment, so there's a certain amount of grudge in this new Grand Cherokee taking on the current Range Rover Sport.
Well, in one specific area I reckon the Grand Cherokee has the Range Rover Sport beaten - the cabin. True, the latter has a lovely interior, but it's a bit stripped back and slightly stark. The Grand Cherokee, by contrast, is a little more 'Vegas' - there's lots of open-pore wood, some seriously lustrous leather and some of the best front seats you'll ever come across. The Grand Cherokee's three big digital screens (the one in front of the passenger is optional in some models, but standard in the range-topping Summit Reserve model we tested, and that's likely to be the only spec that will come to Ireland initially) make the interior look more inviting than that of the Range Rover, and it's about equal on space. Certainly, there's lounging room in the back seats, which are darned near as comfortable as the fronts.
The centre console is a bit of a riot of buttons and switches, but it works very well, and it's a relief not to have to swipe through touchscreen menus to get at the heating and ventilation controls. There are three big metallic switches on the centre console: one for the air suspension height, one for the terrain response system and a big rotary switch for gear selection - and these all feel wonderfully tactile.
The boot measures only 580 litres up to the luggage cover, which is disappointing for a car this big (although it's more than 1,000 litres if you pack it to the roof behind the back seats).
While the US market gets a selection of straight-six and V8 petrol engines for the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Europe, the UK and Ireland will only get one powertrain - the 4xe plug-in hybrid. Which makes sense - Jeep is on a journey to become an all-electric brand in Europe by 2030 and so the Grand Cherokee, the Compass plug-in hybrid and the new all-electric Jeep Avenger are the first steps down that road.
The Grand Cherokee arrives with a 17kWh battery, an electric range of 48km and a four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, a technical specification that doesn't quite match that of the Range Rover Sport, for example. The Range Rover also has more power - 440hp plays 380hp - but the Jeep does pull ahead on torque, at 637Nm.
To be honest, these technical deficits don't seem to hold the Grand Cherokee back all that much. Yes, the engine is a bit louder than the buttery-smooth straight-six from Land Rover, but unless you're accelerating flat-out, it doesn't intrude much. Mostly, the Grand Cherokee is a consummate cruiser, loping easily along on its air springs with excellent refinement.
We didn't get a chance to put the all-electric range to a stringent test, but around 40km seems like a realistic figure.
As for long-range fuel economy, the Grand Cherokee isn't bad. On a mixed route that included motorway miles and tight, fast, twisty mountain roads, and with us driving using a mixture of automatic hybrid control and battery-save mode, we averaged 8.0 litres per 100km. While it's hardly going to win an mpg marathon, that's not too shabby for a big SUV such as this, especially given how enthusiastically we were driving on the rally-stage mountain roads.
You wouldn't think that the Grand Cherokee would be up for such driving tomfoolery, but within the confines of the laws of physics, it's surprisingly good. The steering is sharp and unerringly accurate, and the body control offered by the air suspension is excellent.
We also had the chance to put the Grand Cherokee through some properly tricky off-road sections, and with the ground clearance jacked up to its full 275mm, and the 'Quadra-Drive II' four-wheel-drive system (which includes a limited slip differential at the rear) doing its thing, the Grand Cherokee got through it all with utter ease and effortlessness.
Rumbling along a gravelly, pitted forest track, windows down on a warm day, is a truly lovely experience and one amplified by the fact that we were able to do it all on electric power, listening not to the grumbling of an engine but instead the breeze wafting through the trees with a background track of birdsong. Lovely.
What you get for your money
When the Grand Cherokee eventually arrives, it is expected to cost around €100,000, which is a lot of money. Mind you, in Summit Reserve form it's exceptionally well equipped, including the three screens, the top-spec Quadra-Drive II 4WD system, expensive-feeling and looking 'Palermo' leather trim, a high-end sound system provided by amp-maker McIntosh, heated and ventilated front and rear seats, 19-inch polished alloys, a 360-degree camera system and a big glass roof.
If anyone is actually making value judgements at this end of the price scale, that should make the Grand Cherokee a better value car, Euro for Euro, than the Range Rover Sport or BMW X5 for a start.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee will probably not sell in big numbers in Ireland. The combination of a high price tag and a slight lack of image for the Jeep brand here (thus far...) will doubtless hold it back, as it has done in the past. This time, though, that's unfair - this Grand Cherokee might be technically behind the best, but in terms of how it looks, how good its interior is and how it drives it's absolutely top-drawer.