Jeep Grand Cherokee: Jeep and nasty inside

The new Grand Cherokee looks the part, and offers a much-improved driving experience. But why the dreadful plastic interior? By Melanie Bien

Price: £32,895
Engine: 3-litre diesel
Performance: 0-to-62mph in 9 seconds, 27.7mpg
CO2: 270g/km
Worth considering: BMW X5, Volkswagen Touareg, Toyota RX300

Something that appears good in isolation often looks less impressive when compared with its peers. This is the case with the new Jeep Grand Cherokee: a real improvement on its predecessor but not as good as the best in class.

The competition here is just so good. It has to be: motorists spend serious cash to buy a car in this sector and they want value for money. From the slick offerings of the BMW X5 and Mercedes M-Class to the Volkswagen Touareg, Toyota RX300, and, for those who want to splash the cash a bit more, the Porsche Cayenne and new Range Rover, the class exudes comfort and sophistication.

That's not to say that the Jeep Grand Cherokee is a dreadful drive, because it isn't. The 3-litre V6 turbo diesel, which our panel tested and is likely to be the most popular UK choice, is responsive and powerful. It's quiet for a diesel when idling, and there is little road and wind noise. But when you put your foot down there is a satisfying rumble.

The other two available engines are both petrol: 4.7- and 5.7-litre. A five-speed automatic gearbox is available on all versions, which can be overridden. The dynamics are better on this Grand Cherokee, heeding the fact that most owners will drive it on-road. There's less weaving at speed and more accurate steering.

The exterior is well executed; it looks the part. But inside the designers got it horribly wrong. It's dominated by cheap-looking, light grey plastic - understandable in a budget car, but not one costing just shy of £33,000. The handbrake is huge and extremely ugly. The few bits of token wood don't help.

The female tester on our panel felt overwhelmed by the masculinity of it all. Yet this is the type of car many mothers drive the kids to school in, so it would have made sense to appeal more to this market with a more tactile, softer interior.

First impressions were that the build quality was good but by the end of the week I had the car on test, one of the rubber door seals was hanging off. This could have been a one-off, but on a new car you would expect it to be some time before problems start to emerge.

The other problem - incredibly for a vehicle with such a high driving position - is the poor rear visibility. The rear window is small and with three headrests in the way, its distance from the driver, and the fact that it was blacked out in the test version, made seeing out of the back very difficult. This was bound to end in disaster, and it did when I reversed into a concrete pillar because the parking sensor didn't go off.

That was a shame, because otherwise the general experience of driving the new Jeep Grand Cherokee is positive.

Clive Lambert, 52, criminal lawyer from south London

"The engine emits a rather nice growl when you put your foot down. It gives the Cherokee some personality. I did worry that it would feel a bit bland, but it can shift a bit. It is quite relaxing, though: you don't feel pressure to drive particularly fast, although it can handle that. The seats are very comfortable and the interior is pleasantly understated. But I didn't like all the blind spots when reversing: you have to use your wing mirrors. I'd worry about driving an American 4x4 because of the impression this would create, but the fact that it is a Jeep gives it the right heritage. It is not the kind of car I would ever buy, but if you're a two-car family, it could fulfil a role."

Charlotte Hubner, 30, PA from Bow, east London

"I really liked the fact that the seat moves into your driving position when you turn the ignition key and then shifts back when you remove it so you can climb out with ease [only on the Limited version]. It is a very smooth ride, nice and easy to drive, and not heavy to manoeuvre at all. It is good over speed bumps, without jolting. The brakes are very responsive. I love the height of the driving position; the visibility is fantastic. You do feel very superior being this high. I'd say it is reasonably priced for a new Jeep, but it is not the sort of car I would buy: it is too masculine-looking, and the interior is ugly. It's no head-turner, unlike the BMW X5."

Martin Gallagher, 42, insurer from Richmond, Surrey

"Visibility out of the rear window is a problem - you can't see anything - but you would think being positioned this high up would mean you get a good view out of every window. The engine sounds quite noisy. The pick-up when overtaking is good; there wasn't the delay that can happen with a diesel. I would feel confident about accelerating and overtaking, but I was surprised at how soft the brakes were. It is very bouncy, which I don't like. The turning circle isn't too bad. The car seems very solidly built, so you'd feel safe ferrying the kids about. I am not sure it would be good on school runs, because of its size. It's not unpleasing to look, but no head-turner."

THE VERDICT: If you would like to take part, e-mail motoring@ indepen or write to: The Verdict, Features Department, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.

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