Jeep Laredo makes a splash

LAREDO: Interior
LAREDO: Interior
LAREDO: Big splash
LAREDO: Big splash

The Grand Cherokee has been in the spotlight lately, picking up a few gongs late last year in overseas COTY awards.

The availability of the Laredo model doubtless played a part in its success in these markets. This version has just gone on sale locally, bringing the starting point of GC ownership down to $65k for the V6 petrol model, or $69,990 for the CRD, featured here.

Habitual readers of NZ Autocar will know that when it comes to big SUVs, we generally favour the diesel options. Plentiful turbo-made torque means they move with less exertion, and so there is less need to bury the throttle and the fuel use is not as savage. Even though the $5000 difference here is a significant premium to pay for the diesel, particularly when the 210kW/347Nm petrol V6 is a pretty handy unit itself, the oiler is likely to be worth more come time to trade, as buyers in the second-hand market will like its frugality. At 8.4L/100km, it consumes three fewer litres per 100 kilometres than the V6 petrol model. Where the latter has 90 per cent of its torque cued up by 2000rpm, the diesel churns out its full 550Nm output at the same point on the dial. Rounding out the diesel dominance is its 3500kg towing capacity compared to 2268kg for the petrol.

The VM Motori-sourced 3.0-litre diesel engine is smooth and powerful, like a good six-cylinder oiler should be. Some lag is evident off the mark and the real surge arrives around the 2000rpm, but give it a squirt, and there's enough grunt to get the rubber chirping, despite the all-wheel-drive grip. Meantime, the five-speed auto is, shall we say, adequate, but occasionally requires a helping hand from the manual gear selector to hurry things along. According to our spy network, an eight-speed auto is planned sometime in the GC's future.

But whichever powertrain you select, the Laredo is no bare-bones stripper model, despite costing $10k less than the Limited. Sure, there are a few more blanking switches on the dash, the ventilation controls are lower-rent, and you have to make do with cloth trim, but otherwise, it's well equipped for the price point. A leather-wrapped steering wheel features controls for the Bluetooth, cruise control, and the stereo, which has a 40Gb hard drive. While the seats might be not quite up to the armchairs in the Overlander, they still come with electric adjustment, and have the facility to warm your buns on a chilly day. There's no skimping on safety, either, and a useful rear camera is included. Despite the lower-grade interior fit-out, the Jeep still exudes a reasonable feeling of quality, being robustly built. And it's genuinely roomy inside, with seats for five, and enough space in the boot for most purposes. The seats fold easily as well. 

It's off-road ready, of course, what with permanent all-wheel drive and a variable-torque split, hill descent, and a terrain selector gadget that primes the traction control and gearbox to suit the conditions. Low range is selected via a button. What does it lack? The Overlander's adjustable air springs. And it rides on 18-inch wheels.

Our Laredo was a just tad lighter than the fully loaded Overlander we tested a few months back, so was faster, but only just, shaving 0.2 of a second off each speed trial. But while it may weigh less than its dearer siblings, it's still not a lightweight on the move. Being a genuine 4x4 means sacrificing some on-road finesse, and compared to a large crossover, the Laredo shows more body roll and less of a willingness to change directions. Big tyres and an ample track width do their bit to ensure the vehicle stays on course, but the threat of understeer is a constant; the Jeep leans over hard, testing out the sidewalls of the Kumhos on every corner. Get too frisky, and the roll-oversteer triggers the ESP into action. Appropriately for off-road work, the steering is slow geared, meaning that the GC also requires more of an effort on road to turn in, and it's also slow to centre itself. These traits are true for most real-deal off-roaders, the Discovery the exception, which is quite wieldy by comparison.

As for other rivals, the Laredo undercuts the likes of the Disco and Toyota's Prado while offering similar capabilities, other than being able to ferry six passengers. It's definitely a do-it-all vehicle, but after a week at the wheel, we were glad to get a more urban-friendly crossover for the weekend. Which highlights the fact you should buy one of these tough SUVs only if you've the job for them - one that involves frequent use of the low-range button, or that can take advantage of all that tow. 

MODEL: Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo CRD.
PRICE: $69,990.
ON SALE IN NZ: Dec 2011.
ENGINE: 2987cc, V6, 177kW@3600rpm, 550Nm@1800rpm.
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed auto, all-wheel drive.
VITALS: 8.30sec 0-100 km/h, 8.4L/100km, 218g/km, 2325kg.

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