Change for the bet­ter

Jeep’s Grand Chero­kee has had a makeover, writes PAUL GOVER

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive Jeep Grand Cherokee -

THE mid-life up­date of the Grand Chero­kee could not have come at a bet­ter time for Jeep— or its cus­tomers. Sales of large four-wheel-drives are down. Buy­ers are drop­ping down a cou­ple of classes in search of fuel econ­omy, leav­ing the Jeep flag­ship to linger in show­rooms.

But the 2008 model Grand Chero­kee comes with ev­ery­thing from a more ef­fi­cient V8 en­gine to a cabin with some much-needed class and even heated sec­ond-row seats.

The nose looks newer and smoother and an SRT8 model is claimed to be the fastest Jeep yet. Prices still start from a rel­a­tively af­ford­able $59,490 for the Laredo diesel, but for buy­ers who have the bucks and don’t mind an econ­omy hit, the loaded SRT8 with a 313kW Hemi V8 and a 0-100km/h time in the five-sec­ond bracket comes in at $89,990.

No amount of change will be enough to bring some peo­ple to the Jeep, which has never been our favourite in its class, but the im­prove­ments run deep and show the famed Amer­i­can off-road brand is do­ing what it can to fight back against the Ja­panese.

The up­dated Grand Chero­kee is more car­like to drive. The cabin is a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment and the com­pany is look­ing for a sub­stan­tial lift in sales.

‘‘I think it’s a win­ner. It will cer­tainly get us back to where I’d like to be,’’ says Gerry Jenk­ins, the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Chrysler Jeep Aus­tralia.

But even he knows that large four-wheeldrives are not as pop­u­lar as they were.

‘‘I still think there is an ap­petite there for 75 to 80 a month. But I think the days of sell­ing 100 or more a month are be­hind us,’’ he says.

Jeep sales in Aus­tralia were up at mid-year. Jenk­ins says the Pa­triot is do­ing best, and a sec­ond-year spurt is ex­pected from the Grand Chero­kee and smaller Chero­kee.

The main work on the facelifted Grand Chero­kee has gone into per­for­mance and re­fine­ment, par­tic­u­larly to the cabin.

The changes run from ma­te­ri­als and de­sign to seats and equip­ment. A MyGIG en­ter­tain­ment sys­tem now goes into ev­ery Chrysler Jeep prod­uct.

In the en­gine room, most of the work has gone into the 4.7-litre V8. Power is up 30 per cent, there is 10 per cent more torque, and Jeep claims a 5 per cent im­prove­ment in econ­omy.

Jeep is also tout­ing hill-de­scent con­trol, hill- NY­ONE wor­ried about fuel econ­omy can have their Grand Chero­kee and drive it too, thanks to a new fac­to­ryap­proved LPG con­ver­sion.

A sys­tem from Par­nell LP Gas Sys­tems in Vic­to­ria is ap­proved for the Grand Chero­kee and Chrysler 300C, for six-cylin­der and V8 en­gines.

It uses a vapour se­quen­tial­in­jec­tion sys­tem de­vel­oped by Par­nell in a dual-fuel con­ver­sion.

Par­nell is also de­vel­op­ing LPG kits for other Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge mod­els and th­ese should be on sale soon. start as­sist and trailer sway con­trol as safety im­prove­ments.

There is ex­tra equip­ment at all lev­els. The top-line Lim­ited picks up a rear-view cam­era and park­ing radar, MyGIG, au­to­matic wipers, me­mory seats and an iPod con­nec­tion.

Jenk­ins says the pack­age is in­tended to put the Grand Chero­kee back where it be­longs, even if sales are tougher.

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