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Way Over the Top

My first encounter with Jeep's over-muscled Grand Cherokee was a few years ago, when the first version hit with a four-speed auto transmission. I recall hurtling around the Anglesea testing ground speed loop in Western Victoria and watching the speedo go way past 200km/h with the nose of the Jeep still pointing into the sky - until I ran out of room and had to hit the gigantic Brembo brakes.

Later, I threw the big SUV around the handling course, which included a steep winding descent, and wondered how such a big and heavy lump could drive like a WRX, and just as fast.

The latest version is not quite the brute that the original was. Refinement has added ratios to the transmission, softened the suspension little - admittedly with more flexibility - and toned down the roar from the exhaust pipes.

Yet it's still a 6.4-litre Hemi V8, and the suspension, steering and brakes are still well up to the task of keeping 2.4-tonnes under firm control

This Jeep has a new eight-speed transmission which has up to 90 shift maps embedded in its memory. That's probably why rapid on/off throttle movements confuse it at times and leave you hanging in a lower gear while the engine revs and the system has a committee meeting to decide the right ratio.

I'm told that the system gradually 'learns' your driving style and adapts. Didn't happen in the week I had it. But it's usually just a mountainous surge of power that gets you to the legal limit in a blink and then burbles away happily with some fuel saving tricks up its sleeves. The most prominent of these is the cylinder deactivation system, which turns the 6.4-litre V8 into a 3.2-l

itre V4 when conditions allow.

Unfortunately, the system brings a vibrating resonance when the activation engages, which only goes away when you prod the right foot and get the whole engine back on song. I tended to avoid the system by driving a little more enthusiastically than I usually do.

Inside the Jeep Cherokee, occupants will feel pampered and special, as the trim is high quality and high grade - it smells and feels luxurious. The dash and control set-up is a little dated now but Jeep's designers have managed to add the latest tech to various places. Once you get the hang of where everything is it'll become second nature to engage, suspend, adjust, lighten, increase, select or tune with at the flick of a finger.

It's not a small job to help an off-road SUV transition into a sports car, but Jeep's drive system helps a great deal here, There are several modes available and the system will allocate torque between front and rear depending on what you're asking the car to do. Sport, Track, Snow and Tow can be juggled behind the scenes by the Auto setting, and with passengers in the car, particularly relatives that get alarmed fairly easily, the Auto setting will allow you to take advantage of any road conditions.

Value-wise, or bang-for-buck as a Jeep owner would put it, there's nothing from Europe that can match it. The little quirks are not just forgiven, but forgotten when that big V8 takes over and a family off-roader transforms into a track burner.

Price: $92,450 (plus on-road costs)

Engine: 6.4-litre eight-cylinder petrol

Output: 344kW/624Nm

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Fuel: 14.0L/100km (ADR Combined), 16.3L/100km (as tested)

CO2: 327g/km (ADR Combined)

Safety rating: Five-star ANCAP

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