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DRIVETIME: MOTORING: JEEP THRILLS; ROAD TEST: JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE 2.7 CRD OVERLAND.

Byline: MIKE TORPEY

SO what's the best off-roader money can buy? No doubt various manufacturers, Land Rover included, would venture their own products for that accolade.

My colours would be hung on the muscular grille of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, and not just due to a soft spot for all things Americana.

As king of the wild frontier, with a history that harks back to World War II, the 'Grand' has the hardware to cope with the toughest conditions.

But in the cut-throat world of the UK market and its obsession for street cred, being a monster mud-plugger isn't enough - you've got to look a million dollars too.

Here's where US design allied to the cream of European technology comes in thanks to the investment in a state of the art plant in Graz, Austria, where the Grand Cherokee is built.

This is a seriously stylish looking vehicle, both inside and out. It's rugged, handsome, instantly recognisable as the archetypal Stateside 4x4 and sophisticated with it.

The cabin is a comfortable and classy place to be in all versions, and sumptuous in top spec Overland trim with big leather chairs, simple dash layout and richly coloured Redwood inserts. Leg and headroom is more than adequate for five and the boot huge.

While a pair of thirsty petrol engines - a four-litre and 4.7 V8 - are available, much the best bet is to strike oil and go for the 2.7-litre CRD, a Mercedes-derived common rail diesel used in several Benz models, including Jeep rival the M-Class.

There's no shortage of kick. Producing 161bhp and a generous 295lb/ft of torque over a range of between 1,800 and 2,600rpm, the Stuttgart built unit features double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and a variable geometry turbocharger.

Mated to a slick five-speed auto box, the result is a car that cruises beautifully in a straight line and offers nifty acceleration to 60mph, even if it sounds in some pain getting there.

Only when you start throwing it round corners does the Grand's guard slip. That's when you notice some body roll and unresponsive steering.

Head for the rough stuff though and the majority of rivals struggle in the Jeep's wake.

The Quadra-Drive system, a pounds 600 option but standard in the Overland, is one of the reasons. It's an industry exclusive that can keep the Grand Cherokee going even if only one front wheel has traction - recommended kit for genuine off-road fans.

It also improves handling stability in wet weather and on slippery roads by making maximum use of traction during acceleration.

Standard equipment is extensive. All models come with leather seats, CD player, air-con, electric windows, cruise control, multi-function trip computer, 17-inch alloys and a string of other creature comforts.

Overland brings in the likes of 10-way powered seats and electric sunroof. Add front, side and curtain airbags along with the largest brake discs in the 4x4 segment and you have a very impressive package.

FAST FACTS

MODEL: Jeep Grand Cherokee 2.7 CRD Overland

PRICE: pounds 32,415

MECHANICAL: 161bhp, 2,685cc, 5cyl diesel engine driving all four wheels via 5-spd automatic gearbox

MAX SPEED: 118mph

0-62MPH: 11.2 secs

COMBINED MPG: 29.1

INSURANCE GROUP: 16

CO2 EMISSIONS: 257g/km

BIK RATING: 35%

WARRANTY: 3yrs/ unlimited miles; 7yrs anti-rust
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Sep 10, 2004
Words:552
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Next Article:DRIVETIME: MOTORING: ELEGANCE AMID THE ELEMENTS; ROAD TEST: MERCEDES-BENZ.


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