First drive: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee V6 at Jeep Funatic Al Ain
We were invited to an off-road event organized by Eastern Motors, the dealers for Jeep in Al Ain. Called the Jeep Funatic, the event was the first of its kind to be organized in Al Ain, and is similar to the Jeep Jamboree event held annually in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. While the Jeepers were expected to roll in their own Jeeps, we were handed over a ride by the dealer. Expecting nothing more (and less) than a Wrangler, we were in for a surprise, as the ride turned out to be a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited V6.
The Grand Cherokee comes standard with the Quadra-Trac II four-wheel-drive system paired to a terrain management system offering five drive modes, automatic all-wheel-drive with low-range gearing, hill descent control, and skid plates for the engine and steering assembly. The Quadra-Lift air-suspension system is standard in the Overland models, and an off-road package offering more underbody protection, an electronic limited-slip rear differential, and hill-ascent control, are all optionally offered in the Laredo and Limited trims.
Other features in our mid-spec Grand Cherokee included panoramic sunroof, leather seats, heated steering wheel and seats, memory for two driver profiles, smart-key with keyless start and go, UConnect infotainment system with 7-inch touchscreen and navigation, a fantastic-sounding Alpine surround sound system, and a lot more.
The day began with a briefing session at the dealer showroom in Al Ain, followed by a photoshoot at Wadi Adventure in the foothills of Jebel Hafeet, and an adventurous desert drive, before returning to Wadi Adventure for lunch and some rest. The drive was held in three levels — beginner, intermediate and advanced. Having quite a bit of experience in off-roading, we chose the intermediate drive. Thankfully, the dealer had removed the lower panel of the front bumper beforehand. We reached the deflating point after a short drive, deflated the tyres to 16 psi, flicked the terrain-select knob into “Sand” mode, left our preconceptions behind, and set off into the desert.
The 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 engine in the Grand Cherokee is a fairly powerful motor with respectable low-end torque, optimally utilised by the superbly-tuned 8-speed tiptronic transmission. The short-ratio initial gears makes the Grand Cherokee pretty sprightly, and offers better response off-road. While we usually prefer manual gear-shifts during off-road jaunts, we chose to leave the gearbox in our Grand Cherokee in drive mode, and it was surprisingly astute in automatically selecting the apt gear for the situation, which is in stark contrast to most other automatic SUVs.
On the flip side though, the wheel articulation in our Grand Cherokee seemed a tad limited in comparison to the Mitsubishi Pajero, and nowhere near that of the more traditional Toyota Land Cruiser Prado. The modest approach and departure angles saw us occasionally digging the front-end into the sand, or scooping off loads of sand while coming off steep descends, although the bumpers definitely wouldn’t break as easily as they would in the Pajero.
Things would be far better with the optional air-suspension kit though, which provides up to 4.1-inch of lift. Nevertheless, the Grand Cherokee still lives up to Jeep’s legendary off-road heritage, as it easily trailed the more rugged Wranglers almost everywhere with the right driver inputs, without breaking any parts and, more importantly, in the kind of comfort that no Japanese vehicle in its segment can offer.
It was on the road that we absolutely fell in love with the Grand Cherokee. While offering a very smooth ride, body roll in the bends is moderate at most. The impressive handling limits of the Grand Cherokee translates into well-tuned chassis and suspensions, and the Grand Cherokee safely understeers when pushed to its limit. The steering is mildly weighted, and offers good feedback. The braking is smooth and progressive, and strong enough to halt the Grand Cherokee sans any drama. The refinement levels are commendable for a vehicle in this segment, rivalling even the premium brands. The dual-zone a/c with rear vents seemed good, as it easily kept up with the 40-plus noon temperature in April despite the leather-clad interior.
At the end of the day, we were very impressed by the 2014 Grand Cherokee V6. Even without the optional off-road package, it is close to being among the best stock off-roaders, besides offering premium levels of comfort, commendable ride quality, and loads of features for the money. It is among the very few handful of all-rounder SUVs which can be your daily runner, fairly luxurious comfort-cruiser, and a potent off-roader. As for the event, the Al Ain dealer’s initiative turned out to be amongst the most well-organized events of its kind we have attended, and it’s great that dealers take the time to set these things up for customers.
Photos by Vivek Menon and Rahul Jones.