Buying Used: Jeep Grand Cherokee (2006-11)

A few decades back the Jeep brand looked dead and buried. Then came the Sport Utility Vehicle revolution – and a new, more luxurious breed of Jeep

Buying Used: Jeep Grand Cherokee
WH Series (2006-2011)

Jeeps with station wagon bodywork have existed for almost as long as the legendary military models. Early wagons from the 1950s carried Overland badging, long before the first locally-assembled Cherokees appeared on Australian roads in the 1970s.

As US buyers began to demand greater comfort and safety  in their off-road vehicles, Jeep added leather trim and loaded in the accessories while trying to visually excite a fairly drab exterior.

Mid-2005 brought WH Series (WK in the US market) Cherokees to local showrooms. These handsome, roomy but quite conservative SUVs came with petrol or diesel six-cylinder engines and three levels of petrol V8s, plus loads of standard equipment.

Jeep was obviously keen to cash in on a corporate executive market that was moving away from large passenger cars like the Ford Fairlane and Holden Statesman. Power, luxury and performance were important considerations and for those reasons we've chosen to look specifically at the more expensive Grand Cherokee.

Although the WH shape wasn't altered significantly from the preceding model, a new grille and headlights with Jaguar-style 'eyebrows' helped the manufacturer modernise its design without spending much money.

Lowest priced in the new range was the 3.7-litre V6 Laredo model at $51,990. An extra $5000 tipped buyers into a 4.7-litre V8 with 170kW of power and five speed automatic transmission courtesy of Mercedes-Benz.  Prices were up considerably on the preceding WG versions, but helping justify the increase was a package of goodies that included 17-inch alloy rims, body-colour bumpers and mouldings, tyre pressure sensors and heated, folding door mirrors.

Jeeps fitted with the more potent 5.7-litre Hemi V8 initially cost more than $70,000, but by 2008 that had fallen by $4000. Three years later the cost of a 5.7-litre Limited had plunged below $60,000 and contributed to a sales surge that saw annual figures finally exceed 1200 units.

Lovers of diesel power were offered a Mercedes-sourced 3.0-litre turbo V6 with 160kW  and a hefty 510Nm of torque. Initial pricing didn't help sales, but once the 2011 price slash took effect the cheapest Grand Cherokee diesel could be bought for a very appealing $49,990. Those wanting to surround themselves with leather-trimmed luxury could choose the Limited version which also included a CD stacker, reversing camera and seat heaters.

As part of the Chrysler Group, Jeep also had access to the most potent engine in the company's arsenal, the 317kW SRT8. These Cherokees were seen as  a pure performance vehicle and few would have been found churning through door-handle deep sand or bouncing along a fire trail. Not to say they couldn't deal with a bit of rough stuff, but SRT8s in the used market generally won't show evidence of off-road experience.
Active and passive safety features were high on Jeep's priority list for the Grand Cherokee but its ANCAP crash rating would stubbornly remain at four stars until 2014 when it was replaced by a new design.

It is said that whenever one of those 'He bought a Jeep' TV ads hit the airwaves, people in living rooms across the country would shake their heads and mutter "Poor devil."

Even among those who don't know a lot about cars, the brand's reputation for patchy build quality and dubious reliability is inescapable. In fairness it must be said that only a minority suffer the hair-tearing problems that prompt furious on-line attacks and letters to current affairs programmes,  but mud sticks.

Mud - ironically - plus beach sand and rough tracks are environments that allow the well-appointed Jeep to deliver its best. The Quadra Trac transfer system can alter in a micro-second the torque being sent to each wheel so those with the most grip do the most work.  Various other electronic gizmos help with hill descent, safe restarting on a slippery slope and the maintaining of vehicle stability.

For those who tow, a Trailer Sway function senses when the load behind might be getting a bit unruly and brakes opposite sides of the vehicle in quick succession to maintain control (Anyone who has needed this function and can comment on its effectiveness might drop us a note).

It's difficult to be dogmatic over which Grand Cherokee represents the 'best buy' within the range because appeal varies according to buyer needs and where you intend to drive.

The V6 diesel comes with plenty to recommend it, especially if you're looking for economical cruising over long distances plus decent off-road ability. Throttle response is excellent for an oil-burner and the transmission, even if you don't use its manual over-ride function, will usually select a gear to deliver optimum performance.

However the diesel does cost a bit more to buy than a basic petrol V6 or the smaller V8. In fact the saving can buy quite a lot of petrol which makes these Jeeps appealing for short suburban runs or towing the boat a few kilometres to the launching ramp.

Presence counts for plenty in the market for off-roaders that rarely go off-road, and for car park cred it just has to be the SRT8. Definitely not for crossing the Nullarbor, these are best suited to staring down the neighbour’s pathetic 4.0-litre Prado or Territory.

Lack of headroom for tall drivers was a problem with earlier Cherokees but this was cured when the shape changed in 1999. Legroom for all occupants is good, and space with the rear seat lowered is impressive. Those venturing off the beaten track will be happy to see a full-sized spare wheel tucked away in the back.

>> Poor build quality has been a source of owner concerns and on-going warranty disputes. Some are minor niggles, but fuel leaks, failure of expensive electronics and reports of major engine issues will deter some people from even considering a Jeep. Before making a decision, do your research, insist on seeing the car's service history and engage a professional to undertake the essential pre-purchase check

>> Recalling vehicles to fix a manufacturing defect or design flaw is pretty much unavoidable in the motor industry – but Jeep has taken unscheduled dealer visits to the extreme. We won’t list here every recall notice issued since 2007 that involves a Jeep, but lists can be found on the Internet. Among the more serious issues were corrosion of brake components and the possibility of fuel leaks which could start a fire.

>> Spend time inside the cabin checking that the warning lights all illuminate when the ignition is switched on and extinguish (where they should) once the engine is running. The 'engine check' light is particularly important and warns of various mechanical and electronic issues. However in some cars it illuminates so often, and for no reason, that it may be ignored when there is a genuine problem.

>> Windows, power seats, mirror adjusters and other electrical items suffer frequent failures so spend time ensuring they all work at acceptable speed and without noise or shuddering. Jeep interiors also tend to show wear at an earlier stage in the vehicle's life than Japanese or European rivals.

>> Poor paint quality and coverage can allow rust to attack the underbody of Jeeps that have been used off-road. This can occur in quite recent vehicles so an on-hoist inspection is vital.

>> Jeep's Instruction Manual puts a 511mm limit on the depth of water that can be safely forded. That's not much above bumper height and needs to be strictly observed because water entering the engine through the air-intake will cause major damage. If you need to traverse deeper creeks, a high-mount 'snorkel' is essential.

Design & Function: 10/20
Safety: 12/20
Practicality: 13/20
Value for Money: 10/20
Wow Factor: 12/20 (SRT8)

Also consider:
>> Land Rover Discovery
>> Toyota Kluger
>> Ford Territory

Technical information courtesy of Red Book Inspect

RedBook Warranties are available for this car. Click here to find out more.