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Rough with the smooth
T ime was that you could have a luxury saloon car or a four wheel drive vehicle. Many opted for both depending on their driving needs. After all, what was designed for cruising on motorways wasn’t going to be optimal transport on a muddy field and vice-versa.
But that is no longer the case — gone are the days when you could finish washing your 4X4 on the outside and then turn the hose on the inside to swill out the mud with no ill effects.
Those driving what were mud pluggers are now pampered and preened just like their executive cousins and the appeal and subsequent sales broadened to the point where the majority barely skirt a verge on the school run.
I was pondering all this behind the wheel of the latest version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
There I was sitting on a motorway surrounded by Land Rovers and BMW X class cars and I could not help thinking all of them, including the Jeep, were completely over-qualified for the job in hand. That said, I was enjoying the experience because the Grand Cherokee has a huge list of driver comforts that make even the longest journeys effortless.
Cocooned in heated leather upholstery I switched on the cruise control, sat back and enjoyed the ride.
There is a new engine in this latest version of the American classic — a three-litre diesel sourced from Jeep’s new owners Fiat. But there is no clatter here, just a smooth surge of power on tap.
As its name suggests the Grand Cherokee is a big vehicle — in fact, it is bigger than its previous incarnation with 80mm of additional leg room in the back. That means there is plenty of room for five people with their luggage stored securely in the capacious boot.
Automatic transmission just adds to the smooth driving experience but the big Jeep handles well for its size and with plenty of electronic wizardry at hand, it corners with little roll while acceleration is brisk.
And there are so many driver aids it is difficult to know where to begin.
The powered tailgate was a neat function which could be controlled from the key fob and saved getting your hands dirty when fiddling for the release.
The main beam of the headlights also switched off and on automatically, a feature that has been tried on American cars since the 1950s but has still never really caught on.
I found myself reaching for the light stalk before it dipped automatically but otherwise it worked well and didn’t seem to dazzle oncoming drivers.
The stereo is more a ‘media centre’ with a 30Gb hard drive while there are steering wheel controls for the computer and Bluetooth telephone system.
The test car came with optional heated steering wheel which is a bonus on cold mornings, while a dual sun roof is also available along with satellite navigation.
In fact there are more toys than Santa carries in his sack.
But what about the original reason this car was built? I needed a reminder the Grand Cherokee is supposed to be a rough, tough cross-country machine capable of fording rivers and driving through snow drifts.
There were not many of those on the M1 but there is plenty of evidence of its capabilities starting with a neat dial between the front seats which allowed the driver to select a mode such as ‘rock,’ ‘snow’ and ‘sport.’ The air suspension adjusts the ride height depending on the conditions and the system automatically co-ordinates features such as hill start assistance and descent control — in all 12 different driving systems.
So the message is that when the going gets tough, the Jeep really gets going and I thoroughly believe it.
The sense of confidence this vehicle inspires is reassuring and helps the driver relax and enjoy any journey.
Even in town, the Grand Cherokee is easy to drive and even parking is not a major hassle with a rear view camera and sensors back and front to guide you in.
So who would buy this car? Anyone wanting a vehicle that offers effortless performance and capability whatever the conditions.
And, let’s face it, that is all of us at some time or another.
Model tested: Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited Price: £36,795
Fuel consumption (combined): 34mpg 0-62mph: 8.2 seconds Top speed: 126mph Luggage capacity: 1554 litres CO2 emissions: 218g/km