IAIN ROBERTSON

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The last time Iain Robertson ventured Stateside to drive a Jeep, it was to contest the world’s toughest off-road trial, ‘The Rubicon Trail’, a drive so intense that it coloured his view of all 4x4s forever, to ensure that the original would never lose its crown.

Subsumed over the decades, since the first Jeep Overlands made their debut, by American Motors, then Chrysler, Daimler and now Fiat (in association with Sino-Gallic carmaker, PSA Groupe), it would be fair to state that Jeep has endured many a rocky road. Away from the myth of General Purpose (GP) military demands, no single vehicle manufacturer could be said to epitomise America and its propensity for travelling the ‘great outdoors’ in the manner of Jeep.

If your first thought is ‘US build quality’, followed by ‘low grade detailing’, just remember that the American retail ‘Lemon Law’ provides eight years’ worth of consumer protection that Jeep has never failed to fulfil. Intriguingly, now supported by the recently constructed Detroit Assembly Complex (Mack), which is home to the latest Grand Cherokee L (GC L), a measurement cell that combines laser light with radar to check body-panel geometry is operating most successfully. The fit and finish are precise and uniform and the technology is employed not in a body-shop environment but at the end of the production line, thereby providing greater repeatability and accuracy than conventional camera-based measuring systems.

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As is the practice with all new Jeeps, completing the ‘Rubicon’ is an essential. However, even the car destroying potential of the Chalma Road, just south of Mexico City, previously deemed as being impassable, has been replicated at Jeep’s Chelsea Proving Grounds, Michigan, complete with unfeasible potholes, treacherous cobbles, loose boulders and both diagonal and transverse trenches designed to wreak all manner of hell on a car. The GC L survived and continued to drive without a need for repair. Now, if that ain’t tough, you can forget it! Although Jeep does not like to admit it, because it is indelicate to criticise the opposition, no Land Rover, G-Class, or Land-Bruiser (the GC L’s main class rivals) has survived the destruction tasks, without requiring restorative surgery, some of it extensive, let alone expensive.

The new GC L is the fifth generation of a stalwart model in Jeep’s line-up. Surprisingly punchy for a baseline 3.6-litre 290bhp petrol V6, its ‘flat’ torque curve commences at around 1,800rpm and ends at 6,400rpm, perfect credentials for towing up to 2,812kgs. Thanks to fuel-saving technology (valve shut-off, front axle disconnection and a large petrol tank) its range is given as 500-miles…perfect for a Route 66 adventure. If you want more, the 5.7-litre 357bhp V8 is capable of towing up to 3,265kgs, which is as big as most mobile-home trailers get, without having to qualify for an LGV1 licence status. I am almost certain that the 6.2-litre high-performance V8 gas-guzzler will be available at some point in the future (unconfirmed), because Jeep just loves to tease. Both engines are mated to an ingeniously mapped 8-speed automatic transmission that provides smooth on-road responsiveness, a degree of relative frugality and prodigious off-road reactivity.

Jeep’s Quadra-Lift air suspension system fitted as standard, now with electronic adaptive damping, delivers class-leading ground clearance (from 212mm ‘Normal’, to 276mm in ‘Off-Road 2’ settings) and phenomenal water fording potential (up to 609mm, 101mm more than before). The system automatically adjusts the damper tuning to variable road conditions for enhanced comfort, stability and control. Five height settings, complete with manual over-ride, are available, with a special 21mm reduction from normal ride height for more efficient motorway cruising.

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Needless to say (but I’m going to anyway), Jeep’s ‘Selec-Terrain’ traction management system allows drivers to choose the appropriate on and off-road setting for optimised 4×4 performance. Completely electronic, it coordinates up to six different powertrains, 4×4 torque split, braking and handling, steering and suspension systems, including throttle control, transmission shift, transfer case and traction control, stability control, anti-lock brakes (ABS) and even steering feel. It also offers five terrain modes (Auto, Sport, Rock, Snow, Mud/Sand) to cater for any geographical demands. Naturally, Hill-Descent Control, standard on Overland and Summit trims, manages the car’s speed down steep, rugged gradients, with electronic paddle shifters as standard, and works both in forward and reverse gears.

Totally recognisable externally as a Jeep, the new GC L’s interior has been prescribed an uber-luxury makeover; it is a match for the Land Rover’s Autobiography programme, with its applications of diamond-pattern Palermo hide and open pore natural wood (oak, or waxed walnut) finishes. A strong horizontal emphasis to the cabin design provides an aura of airy spaciousness befitting of a large 6/7-seat SUV. The driver focused centre stack operates logically (climate control, stereo system etc.) and looks splendid, matched by the 10.25-inch digital display confronting the driver. This main panel can be configured through 23 different menu settings; it sounds complex but is, once again, surprisingly logical and accessible. A 950W McIntosh hi-fi system entertains the troops royally and also links with Alexa for maximum connectivity.

The new GC L features no less than 110 safety and security devices, including innovative technologies that refine the connection between driver, vehicle and the road. A full complement of ADAS driver support, safety and convenience technology rockets the GC’s reputation to market-leading level. Jeep has been working on this model for much of the past decade and its determination to exceed has never been stronger.

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There is so much more to this all-new Jeep but I wanted to leave it for this moment to highlight the first application of an all-digital rear-view mirror, which displays video in real time from a rear-facing camera, offering an image unobstructed by the D-pillars, or rear seats. It reverts on demand to a traditional reflective mirror. However, an optional rear-seat monitoring camera system, positioned in the headlining between the second and third-row seats, enables a clear view of second-row, rear-facing child seat occupants, a split-view display and an unique ‘zoom-to-seat’ function. It is surrounded by three infrared lights that illuminate the cabin non-distractingly in low-light conditions.

Conclusion:      Set for launch this mid-year, UK pricing for the Jeep Grand Cherokee L has not been established as yet but, as soon as I can get my hands on a RHD example, you can be certain the test will appear here.

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