First drive: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee

First drive: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee

The rugged American marque has been peddling competent off-road machines since 1941 and the release of the original Grand Cherokee back in 1992 arguably saw the first proper compact SUV hit the market. Jeep big wigs like to remind folk that the Grand Cherokee remains "the most awarded SUV" in history, but the segment is currently busier than ever with the big German brands and a certain Land Rover stealing the limelight. So can the larger-than-life Jeep make an impression on UK buyers? AOL Cars popped to Sicily to find out...

What is it?

This is the new and improved five-seat 4x4 that happily juggles on and off-road duties while offering an air of luxury inside and out. A new eight-speed ZF gearbox is said to improve comfort and refinement while the interior receives a big dollop of opulence. The exterior styling has also been treated to a dash of 'European' glitz in the form of LED running lights, chrome accents and a more sculpted front grille and backside.> What's under the bonnet?

There are plenty of options here but choice will be fairly limited to fuel-price conscious UK customers. The 3.0-litre V-6 diesel will likely be the best seller but petrol fans can opt for a 3.6-litre V6, a bonkers 5.7 litre V8 or the completely lunatic-asylum-spec 6.4 litre V8 found in the ferocious SRT model. There is also an entry-level, 188bhp V6 diesel that will only be available in basic Laredo trim. Jeep believes this engine will make up under 5% of UK sales. The beefier petrol options will be popular in the USA where motorists don't have to take out a small loan every time they fill up but here, the 248bhp V6 diesel offers up the best balance of torque-y performance and fuel economy. It's a powerful lump that offers enough pull to ensure overtaking is relatively effortless but it can feel slightly muddled now it's mated to that new eight-speed auto gearbox. Exit a corner too slow (which is often, thanks to its two-tonne mass), nail the throttle and the gearbox takes a while to make up its mind and then, bang! All that torque is delivered in one big wallop. Switching to manual mode and shifting with the steering wheel-mounted paddles helps but sometimes it's more sensible to simply take it easy when the road gets twisty.

What's the spec like?

Americans like choice and the Jeep is offered with plenty of it. Four trim levels are up for grabs and they include: Laredo, Limited, Overland and SRT. Laredo is aimed at the more frequent off-roader (or penny-pincher) so does away with some of the more showy interior and exterior bits of trim. It also doesn't come with a sat-nav as standard and lacks the more competent air suspension of the pricier models. Part with slightly more and opt for Limited and you'll be treated to a leather interior, more chrome and a power-assisted boot. Limited Plus will be offered to UK customers and this will feature the brilliant sat-nav system developed by Harman & Kardon and for that reason, it's touted to be the most biggest seller on these shores. Opt for the Overland and Summit models and you'll get the aforementioned air suspension - which is slightly more compliant on smooth roads and more comfortable off - and a whole dollop of extra glitz and glamour that some will love but others may loathe.

Any rivals?

If you're in the market for a blingy SUV that goes like stink on a motorway yet can happily tackle the odd mountain, you're in luck. The Porsche Cayenne diesel should be the first stop for anyone wanting premium quality in a machine that can tame a road like a car half its size. Then there's the VW Touareg that may not be quite as in-your-face but offers the practicality, reliability and sensible design the German marque is so famed for. Those wanting even more razzle dazzle could look towards the Audi Q7 and BMW X6 but the Range Rover Sport is due out soon and that will step into the ring at just a few grand more expensive than a top spec Grand Cherokee Summit (estimated to be just shy of £50,000). It's certainly worth holding out for.

First drive: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee

What's it like to drive?

It's exactly as you would expect an enormous V6 diesel that weighs nearly two tonnes to drive - rolling a fair bit around corners, lurching forwards under heavy braking and generally not doing a great job of disguising its mass. But it's very comfortable at cruising speeds - apart from some wind noise emanating from the enormous wing mirrors - and extremely capable off-road. Most customers won't even tackle a muddy field, let alone a rocky descent, but the Jeep remains true to its roots and offers a drive-select system that handles almost all terrain. Snow, sand, rock and mud are all covered thanks to its clever on-board computer, while adjustable suspension ensures the vehicle's undercarriage remains intact.

The AOL Cars verdict

The Jeep Grand Cherokee is something different and its very difficult not to like it for that reason alone. Yes, in Summit spec with an Ice White paint job, chrome-plated 20-inch rims and the LED running lights beaming away it can look a little, er, Essex, but some will love the show-business of it all. Personally, basic Laredo or Limited trim will suffice and the amount of equipment available as standard is impressive. Above all else, there's something to be said of a vehicle that offers this level of interior luxury yet can happily take on a 30ft cliff face that's covered in snow. Just watch out for boulders, you wouldn't want to scratch the chrome alloys.

The knowledge

Model: Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit
Price: £48,000 (estimated)
Engine: 3-litre V6 diesel
Power: 248bhp, 570Nm
Max speed: 125mph
0-62mph: 8.2 seconds
MPG: 38mpg (combined)
Emissions: 198g/Km CO2

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee
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First drive: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee
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