AUSTIN, Texas - Perhaps no other vehicle has the heritage of Jeep, yet the brand continues to reinvent itself to meet the demands of today’s ever evolving consumers who first and foremost want a smooth, comfortable ride coupled with the ability to go off-road. And this is the best yet.
The newest Jeep iterations set new standards for the SUV category their competitors will try to emulate. The long list of attributes includes four different models, three engine choices and a new diesel (yeah!), an improved miles-per-gallon fuel rating, sleeker body design, expanded choice of trims, three 4 x 4 stunning breath taking performance systems, an eight speed automatic transmission, sumptuous interior design with trend setting materials and colors, easy-to-use technology and infotainment systems along with an updated grill and higher towing capacity.
The test drive near Austin, was a déjà vu experience, as I vividly recalled my freshman student days at the University of Texas on geology field trips to the Edwards Plateau, a huge geological area rich in Precambrian granite, limestone ridges, llanite a quartz and the Llano Uplift a huge dome known as the Enchanted Rock, which was our luncheon and off-road driving destination.
The Drive from Downtown Austin to a Down-home Ranch Leaving downtown Austin, the topography changed from flat to rolling hills for the drive in the entry level Laredo model with a starting price of $28,755. Why the entry level model? To better gauge and evaluate the other models during the test drives. If the Laredo were the only model available it would exceed expectations and meet the demands of the most critical it’s that good.
The ride was not just comfortable, it was quiet, very quiet, the V6 coupled with the eight speed automatic was responsive and silky smooth on a variety of road surfaces from smooth concrete and asphalt on Interstate and Texas highways to noisy aggregate and from four lanes down to a narrow two on the infamous Texas county farm to market roads.
The interior of the Laredo was surprisingly spacious and even the entry level materials and craftsmanship were quite good. Seating was comfortable, adjustable and supportive. The design of the instrument panel can be described in one word: exceptional. It was a simple cluster design that was easy to read during daylight, how it works at night will be determined in later a follow-up review. The infotainment and navigation system were among the easiest to use even for luddites. The electronic shifter was at first not easy to use. Top marks for the Laredo.
A left turn off a county road to a unpaved road of dusty, hard yellow clay through Mesquite trees, sleeping and grazing Black Angus cattle, scrub brush and cactus led us to the Inks Ranch owned by the Moss family. Once a small, by Texas standards, ranch of just 30,000 or so acres founded in 1883 on the Comanche frontier it was the luncheon location – great Texas grub -- and where an amazing, scary, stimulating and mind-blowing demonstration of off-roading and rock climbing capacities of the Jeep Grand Cherokee would take place. In the distance was the storied Enchanted Rock, the 500 foot high outcropping with a Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit parked on its summit. I’d studied this big rock as a student, but now it’s on 640 acres of land the family deeded to the state.