Jeep Wrangler SUV

Price range

$32,500 – $49,000

overall

Good: The original ‘Willy’ styling with excellent contemporary off-road ability! The ‘Unlimited’ four-door brings a big improvement in interior space PLUS not only can the roof be removed, so too can the doors, AND the windscreen also folds down – that’s a CONVERTIBLE!

Not so Good: Petrol V6 is thirsty and lacks low-down torque. On-road ability not as exciting as the off. Interior plastics seem a little cheap…

Design and Engineering

Good : All-new model arrived here in ’07, yet thankfully the design stays faithful to the famous Willy’s Jeep shape from the 1940’s. This definitely ain’t no soft-roader; it has separate front guards, removable doors, a windscreen that folds flat (for hunting on the go?) and it even has drain holes in the cabin floor! Tiny front and rear overhangs are yet another hint of the Jeep’s off-road capabilities. This is also the first generation Wrangler to be offered with four doors (the longer wheelbase ‘Unlimited’ offering over 50cm extra interior length space than the two-door).

Not so good : An ol’ school ladder-frame chassis ensures the Wrangler is quite heavy…and the Petrol V6 engine still has pushrods and overhead valves.

Interior and Styling

Good : The October 2009 upgrade brings along a useful drop-in bin added to the centre console and a handy storage net added to the lower centre stack. A wider cabin see’s an improvement in shoulder room compared to the previous model. The Wrangler soft top has a fantastic number of roof adjustments on offer. The convertible grades are also quieter than the previous TJ series soft top.

Not so good : Steering wheel adjusts for tilt but not reach. The driver’s seat could offer more side bolster support. The plastics on the dash are hard, and look a little cheap to our eyes. The rear doors (on the Unlimited) are short, so entry space is tight; rear legroom is fine (however, knee position is not the most comfortable).

The second row passengers lack storage compartments and the two-door model has virtually no rear cargo capacity (behind the second row seats).

Performance

Good: 2.8L Turbo diesel engine produces a maximum 460Nm of torque when fitted with the five-speed automatic transmission (the manual makes do with a still respectable 410Nm). These are impressive figures for a four-cylinder engine and thus ensure the Turbo Diesel Wrangler easily keeps up with the traffic. All that torque also performs wonders when negotiating steep inclines off-road…

Not so good : 146kW and 315Nm of torque is no way near class-leading figures for a modern Petrol V6 engine. No surprise that the V6 never feels rapid (and combined with the poor real world fuel consumption) so we’d recommend the Turbo Diesel any day. The Petrol engine also lacks grunt down low, and the four-speed auto is outdated (the Turbo Diesel automatic gearbox has five-speeds).

Ride and Handling

Good : The current JK series Wrangler benefits from a significantly stiffer chassis than the previous; no doubt this is a more refined handling vehicle and overall, the ride is pretty good. Steering has acceptable levels of weighting, providing decent feedback. Live axles all ’round contribute to excellent 4×4 ability. Tick the optional Off-road Group for the electronically-controlled rear axle differential lock and electronic front sway-bar disconnect to further improve the Wrangler’s off-road skills!

Not so good : A ladder-frame chassis may help off-road but it certainly doesn’t help on the tarmac (compared to the majority of modern SUV’s which now have almost car-like handling coming from the car-based monocoque platforms). Yes, on-road dynamics have improved over the previous generation, but really that’s not saying much. Turning circle of the longer wheelbase Unlimited takes you by surprise when performing your first u-turn in busy traffic.

Buying and Owning

Good : Standard ABS brakes and Electronic Stability Control are important safety features. If you’re after a four-door convertible then look no further.

Not so good : We certainly prefer the Turbo Diesel out of the two engines on offer; however the price difference over the V6 petrol is significant. If you’re not planning to take it off-road, you must really love the unique styling, as it can feel cumbersome in an urban environment. Curtain airbag count at two is nothing to shout about.

Jeep Patriot SUV

Price range

$25,150 – $33,000

overall

Good: Good value for money; confident styling – we like the flat side profile combined with the muscular jutting out wheel arches and the retro five-spoke alloy wheel design (standard on the Limited grade); balance between on and off road ability.

Not so Good: Rear seat legroom is only average; limited cargo space with the rear seats up; only one engine on offer (and no turbo diesel).

Design and Engineering

Good : With looks that bare more than a trace to a friendly bulldog (just look at that front end!?), the Jeep Patriot launched Down Under in August 2007 as the American brand’s first ever player in the ever popular compact SUV segment. Whilst lacking a little polish, thankfully the mid life facelift (arriving early in October 2009) has improved a number of issues we previously had with the Patriot. Largish 17 inch alloys are now standard on both grades and contribute to the Patriot’s confidant stance.

Not so good : Whilst the overall shape is definitely spot on for a vehicle with some off-road credentials (we like the short front and rear overhangs and the tough angular wheel arches), the bluff front end with the two ‘startled’ looking headlights and oversized grille is polarising. This isn’t any fence sitter – you’ll either like or dislike.

Interior and Styling

Good: A nicer place to spend time in than the pre facelift Patriot. The new circular air vent design and higher quality upper dashboard plastics lift the ambience. The front seats are comfortable; however the steering wheel (leather trimmed on both grades) adjusts for reach but not rake. Space up front is good (however in the second row legroom is only average).

Not so good : But let’s not get too excited, the interior is still somewhat off the pace of the segment best (i.e. compare the dials, buttons and instruments against the competing Volkswagen Tiguan and you’ll quickly see which one feels more premium). Rear cargo space is on the small side for this sized segment of vehicle (however when not in use the split fold rear bench can be folded flat down – creating easily enough space to carry a mountain bike), the lack of rear space is a price to pay for the short exterior overhangs which contribute to a more muscular look from behind (especially compared to a Nissan X-Trail with it’s larger rump).

Performance

Good: The 2.4L four cylinder petrol engine generates a decent 125kW of power and 220Nm of Torque (on ball with the top selling players in this competitive segment); the engine staying refined in both a variety of urban and highway settings. The Sport grade offers the sole manual, with the far more popular automatic transmission (technically a CVT transmission) offered in both the Sport and Limited grade. It’s a smooth shifting unit, no disappointments here.

Not so good : Loaded with five up and baggage in the rear you’d never call the Patriot fast, in this situation one wishes for greater torque (unfortunately just what the deleted turbo diesel grade offered). Throw in some hills as well = a less than happy engine that unfortunately will be heard from inside the cabin.

Ride and Handling

Good: Decent ground clearance and a 4WD system with a locking mode, ensures the Patriot is towards the front of the compact SUV segment when heading onto rougher terrain.

Thankfully, on-road ride AND handling also gets the thumbs up. The ride stays relatively composed over a wide variety of our countries tarmac quality, the suspension copes with average sized potholes and cat eyes (side of road ground lights) nicely. The steering feels secure and is sensibly geared (turns to lock).

Not so good : Again with a reference to the competing Tiguan – the Patriot can’t match the handling slickness of the segment’s best and that big bluff front end creates more wind noise than ideal.

Buying and Owning

Good: Available in two trim levels (Sport and Limited) – both generously featured. Ticks the safety box with 6 airbags, Anti-lock brakes (ABS) and Electronic Stability Control as standard. Thankfully the Patriot comes standard with a full size spare wheel (rather than a temporary ‘space saver’) considering it’s likelihood of travelling to the beach / snow and on adventure holidays.

Not so good : Now petrol powered only (unfortunately the more economical Turbo Diesel grade was put out to pasture in 2009); fuel economy is slightly better than the average figure for a petrol powered compact SUV, however a combined average figure of 9.1L (CVT auto transmission) can’t match that of competing turbo diesel powered offerings.

Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV

Price range

$45,000 – $81,900

Overall

Good: Fantastic exterior design; Luxurious interior; On-road driving capabilities on par with the competition; Off-road handling leads the pack; Easily Jeeps best ever model.

Not so Good: Petrol V6 lacks a little torque; Five speed automatic transmission could be smoother; No option of third row seating.

Design and Engineering

Good: This fourth generation Grand Cherokee arrived in Australia in February 2011.

We’re big fans of the new styling, highlights include the squared off wheel arches, the high waistline and a tasteful use of chrome highlights.

Underneath the shiny sheet metal the Grand Cherokee shares much of its platform and hardware with the Mercedes Benz ML-Class (2012 year onwards), which just so happens to be a more expensive competitor.

Torsional stiffness is reported as being 146 per cent better. It’s also far roomier with a notable increase in both wheelbase (135mm) and width (76mm).

A Land Rover style Select-terrain system lets you select the optimal use of the 4WD system for a wide variety of on and off-road conditions.

Not so good : By retaining serious off-roading credentials the current model is no lighter than the outgoing model (the entry level variant coming in at just under 2.2 tonnes).

Interior and Styling

Good : Fit and finish is much improved as is the choice of materials used in the cabin. The truly upmarket feel inside is a first for a Grand Cherokee and the uncomplicated dash layout is mostly high quality too. We also like the new soft touch plastics and the carpets aren’t the el-cheapo variety either.

The Overland variant features a stitched leather covered dash and across all grades is a three spoke steering wheel which feels great in the hand and adjusts for both rake (up down) and reach (in and out).

Rear legroom is 100mm greater than previously, luggage space is up by 17 per cent (782 litres seats-up and 1554 litres folded) and the doors open wider than the last one.

All grades feature a big glovebox, a covered storage bin and removable dual bins in the spare wheel well. The Laredo comes standard with dual-zone climate control, heated seats, keyless entry and the Select Terrain system. The Limited adds leather trim, a driver’s memory seat, front and rear parking radar and a premium audio system. The range topping Overland also gets a heated steering wheel, the leather trimmed dash, a large panoramic dual sunroof, satellite navigation and radar controlled active cruise control amongst other goodies. Phew!

The go fast SRT model features SRT embroidered bucket seats that are finished in nappa leather and comfy suede. SRT models also get carbon fibre look highlights that are integrated into instrument and door trim panels. There’s also drilled aluminum finished race pedals.

Not so good : The Grand Cherokee still doesn’t match the best interiors of the German brands (however, the big Jeep is priced significantly less).

No third row seating, even as an option (but neither do a number of competitors).

Performance

Good: The Jeep Grand Cherokee range comes with the choice of three petrol engines and one diesel engine.

Laredo and Limited variants come with a 3.6-litre V6 that produces 210kW of power and 347Nm of torque when matched to a 5-speed automatic transmission.

The higher Overland grade comes with a 5.7-litre HEMI V8 that produces 259kW of power and 520Nm of torque when matched to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The Limited variant can also be optioned with the V8 HEMI if desired.

Laredo, Limited and Overland variants can also be optioned with a 3.0-litre turbo diesel engine that is capable of 177kW of power and 550Nm of torque when matched to a 5-speed automatic.

Sitting at the top of the food chain and the most exciting of the bunch is a 6.4-litre SRT HEMI V8 capable of 344kW of power and 624Nm of torque when matched to a 5-speed automatic.

On the road the 3.6-litre is smooth, quiet and sounds mighty impressive when the accelerator is pressed hard into the carpet.

If you’re going to be towing a boat and fuel economy is big on your list then the 3.0-litre turbo diesel is the best option.

However, if you love the sound of a growling beast and fast past acceleration then the two V8 options are sure to whet your appetite.

Not so good : The petrol V6 lacks torque down low so acceleration from the lights is adequate rather than brisk.

The 5-speed automatic transmission is less impressive than a number of competitor’s newer six or even eight speed offerings. It’s by no means bad, just lacking a little in smoothness, as gears ratios seem to be too far apart.

Ride and Handling

Good : This is the first Grand Cherokee with independent suspension (front and rear) and the top of the range ‘Overland’ variant adds adjustable air suspension (named ‘Quadra-Lift’) to the mix.

The ride quality is greatly improved over the outgoing model. We found the handling to be stable on road and refined too. For a two tonne plus full size SUV the amount of bodyroll present is entirely acceptable, especially considering that the Grand Cherokee has retained its awesome off-road capabilities.

Steering feel is also much improved with decent levels of feedback. An 11.6m turning circle is entirely acceptable for such a big vehicle.

The Select-Terrain traction control system allows the driver to choose from five different drive options (Snow, Sport, Auto, Sand/Mud and Rock – the latter rising ground clearance to an impressive 271mm).

Top of the range SRT8 variant get an Electronic Limited Slip Differential that gives drivers more control on the road by improving handling and eliminating rear wheel spin.

In addition the SRT8 features a new SRT-tuned adaptive damping suspension managed by the Selec-Trac system that interacts with the multiple driving systems equipped.

The STR8 also gets red-painted, Brembo 6-piston (front) and 4-piston (rear) calipers, with vented rotors at all four corners that dramatically help pull the vehicle to a halt.

Not so good : Lacks the class leading road handling capabilities of a BMW X5 or a Porsche Cayenne (excluding the SRT8 Grand Cherokee of course).

Softer than most ride can get the big Jeep a little wrong-footed over rougher road surfaces when the pace is on.

Buying and Owning

Good : Far, far better value than any previous big Jeep. Less expensive, more features, better economy and far better to drive.

Ticks the safety box with hill-start assist, hill-descent control, trailer-sway control, full-length side-curtain and seat-mounted side thorax airbags, and active front head restraints.

Not so good : No seven-seat option. The 5-speed automatic feels a bit dated when compared to 7 and even 8-speed automatics on the market.

Jeep Cherokee SUV

Price range

$28,000 – $37,000

Overall

Good: The macho ‘don’t mess with me’ design is backed up by the genuine off-road ability PLUS you get a usable interior with clever storage functionality and a decent handling Large SUV on and off the road…

Not so Good: The V6 Petrol lacks low-down torque and is thirsty. In this age of refined SUV’s the Cherokee feels a little like a truck and is just a tad ‘agriculture’. If you only drive your Cherokee on the bitumen, you’re not doing it justice.

Design and Engineering

Good : The current shape Cherokee arrived to our shores early in 2008 with a chiselled, more masculine styling than the previous model. The Cherokee is also better packaged than before, with improvements to 2nd row and cargo space clearly evident.

The Cherokee features a ‘car-based’ monocoque platform (becoming more common) which is then modified enough to ensure it can still handle the rough stuff whilst being reasonable on the flat stuff…

Not so good : The strengthened chassis helps off-road; however the added weight results in on-road manners that are less polished than a number of other SUV’s (have a think about what you would prefer: off-road or on-road performance? What are you willing to sacrifice? You may need to consider these things at some stage).

Interior and Styling

Good : Decent levels of space onboard for the driver & four passengers, rear seat space has improved over the previous model and thanks to the rather ‘upright’ rear bench, legroom shouldn’t be a problem for most. The second row seats fold down flat; the rear cargo space is decently sized and features a reversible plastic floor tray (which comes in handy when returning from the beach or garden centre). The spare tyre is now mounted under the rear floor, so the rear door is now an easier-to-use vertical opening hatch than the previous side-opening tailgate.

Not so good : The Cherokee interior doesn’t feel ‘premium’ enough; excessive use of plastics that still look & feel a step behind the best. The steering wheel adjusts for tilt (up and down) but not reach (in and out), making it that touch harder to get yourself into your favourite driving position…

Performance

Good : The 2.8L Turbo Diesel engine produces a maximum 460Nm of torque when paired with the five-speed automatic transmission – impressive figures for a four-cylinder engine. The engine feels muscular and yet is relatively frugal with fuel (considering the vehicle’s weight).

Not so good : 151kW and 314Nm of torque simply isn’t class-leading for a modern Petrol V6 engine – compare it to Toyota’s V6 Kluger, this V6 feels at least one generation behind the best… It’s not quick and combined with the poor real-world fuel consumption – we’d rather drive the Turbo Diesel.

Ride and Handling

Good : When driven smoothly the Cherokee is a composed handler on the tarmac (especially considering it ain’t no featherweight at almost two-tonnes). The Cherokee is also a very capable off-roader; the high ride height and short front and rear overhangs mean it won’t get stuck in tight situations…

Not so good : The steering isn’t amazing – there’s only a little feedback of what’s happening between the tyres and the road filtering through to the driver’s hands. The Cherokee’s body weight does sit high, so it feels a little like a wallowing beast when pushed too hard on the tarmac.

Buying and Owning

Good : Good levels of standard equipment. It gets the safety ‘tick’ by coming standard with ABS, traction control, electronic stability control and a decent number of airbags…

Not so good : Some of the Japanese brand SUV’s have a much higher quality feel to the fit & finish of the interior plastics used.