It’s this magazine’s reigning 4X4 of the Year, but how does Jeep’s latest Grand Cherokee stack up against the established family wagon favourite, Toyota’s Prado GXL?
The 150 Series Prado continues to sell up a storm while the WK Grand is still finding its feet in the market.
At just $45,000, the base-model Laredo brings a new level of value to the medium-sized V6 wagon segment, and is one of the best bang-for-your-buck packages around. Our test vehicle for this drive also had the optional Quadra-lift adjustable air suspension package, which adds $3250, and premium paint at $495, but that still gives buyers a lot of vehicle for less than $50K.
The Prado, on the other hand, has a recommended retail price of $60,490 in GXL V6 manual trim. Add on the auto transmission and metallic paint, like the vehicle on test, and you’re up for $63,404. These prices exclude on-road costs.
There is one major point of difference between these two wagons and it might be one that rules out the Jeep for some buyers. The Grand Cherokee has seating for five in two rows, while the Prado’s third-row seat allows up to seven people on board. The rearmost seats in the Toyota are really only suited to small passengers for any trip longer than a lap of town, but the extra capacity seems to be a must-have for many families these days. Jeep no longer has a seven-seat 4X4 available in Australia since the unloved Commander was discontinued a couple of years ago.
With no need to allow headroom for third-row passengers, Jeep has taken a form over function style to the rear of the Grand Cherokee and chopped the back off at an angle. This appears to take up cargo space yet the WK has a 782-litre volume behind the second row. The boxier Prado has only 553 litres behind its second row, with its third row folded into the floor. The Prado’s large side-hinge rear door can be heavy and requires a lot of space behind the vehicle to open fully and this can pose a problem in shopping centre car parks where vehicles of this ilk spend a lot of their time. The Jeep’s tailgate is a dual opening, top-hinged unit that allows you to just flip open the glass section for easy access.
The Prado is just 108mm longer than the Grand, is 58mm narrower and rides on a 125mm shorter wheelbase. The Grand’s longer wheelbase allows Jeep to make better use of the interior space available for passengers and luggage. The Grand Cherokee might be short of a couple of pews, but it doesn’t miss out on any equipment. Though the Laredo is the entry-level specification in the Grand line-up, it comes with power-adjustable heated front seats, leather wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, touch-screen hard drive audio system with Bluetooth connection and audio streaming, reversing camera with guidance lines, cruise control, keyless entry and starting, plus the usual conveniences like power windows and mirrors.
Safety-wise the Laredo has seven airbags – including one for the driver’s knees – a forward collision warning system, ABS brakes and electronic stability control.
Wheels are 18-inch alloys wearing 265/60R18 Khumos, however, the space-saving spare tyre located under the cargo area floor is a disappointment; especially as the standard road wheel seems to fit in the spare wheel well.
The Jeep’s drivetrain starts with the company’s new Pentastar 3.6-litre V6 engine backed by a five-speed auto transmission and full-time 4X4 with low-range gearing. There are no electronic or limited-slip diffs in this Quadra-Trac 4X4 system leaving the electronic traction control to handle the drive delivery duties. The engine puts out 210kW at 5200rpm and 347Nm at 4300rpm while quoted fuel consumption is 11.4L/100km combined.
Over our road test, on and off tracks west of Sydney, the Jeep returned 15.8L/100km to the Prado’s 16.1L/100km, leaving not much between the two vehicles in this regard. The Prado’s quoted combined fuel consumption figure is closer to the Jeep’s at 11.5L/100km. Both vehicles have an eco light in their respective gauge displays to tell you when you are being light on the gas pedal and driving efficiently.
A big difference between the two comes in fuel tank capacity, with the Prado carrying 150 litres in its two standard tanks and the Grand holding 93 litres in its single tank. Prado remains a freak in new vehicle fuel tanks with unrivalled fuel volume, and hence touring capacity, even if it doesn’t match the 180-litre capacity of its predecessor, the 120 Series.
The Prado GXL might carry more passengers, more fuel and a higher price tag but it can’t quite match the Laredo for equipment levels. It has three-zone climate control including rear aircon with separate controls, keyless entry and starting, manual seats, trip computer, rear-view camera, Bluetooth connection and audio streaming, leather steering wheel, cruise control and a 220-volt power outlet in the back, as well as the usual 12-volt outlets in the console. Again, the two vehicles are close, but the Toyota doesn’t match the heated power seats and bigger, better screen of the rear camera in the Jeep. The result is that the Grand Cherokee feels that little bit, er, grander.
Keeping you safe in the Toyota are electronic stability and traction control, ABS and seven airbags, with the side bags extending right back to protect rear-seat passengers. Tyres are 265/65 Dunlops on 17-inch alloys and there’s a matching tyre and wheel hanging on the rear door for a spare; nice and practical.
Prado’s engine is the proven 4.0-litre V6 that’s been with the model for many years now. On paper, it puts out 202kW at 5600rpm and 381Nm at 4400rpm and it’s this higher torque that really distinguishes the way it drives when compared to the Pentastar V6. Neither engine has much grunt down low and they run scared when faced with any incline, calling on their transmissions to give them more to take on the hill. But the Toyota is less inclined to kick down as far as the Jeep does, and rides its slight torque advantage when you squeeze the accelerator pedal down.
The Jeep engine likes to rev and hold the lower gears where it can be a bit noisy. Most petrol V6s are harsh and noisy in the higher revs, but the Toyota’s willingness to push on at lower revs in a higher gear makes it more relaxing to tour in. Both wagons only have five-speeds in their transmissions, and while they are smooth shifting, one or two ratios more wouldn’t go astray to help out with the relative lack of torque. Both transmissions have manual shift-control functionality.
The peakier characteristic of the Jeep engine is in keeping with the sportier nature of its chassis. While both vehicles still handle like high-riding 4X4 wagons do, the Prado retains its soft, wallowing and pitching ladder frame with live rear axle and coil spring independent front end. The Grand Cherokee has a full, independently air-sprung monocoque that rides firmer with less body roll and much sharper steering. Swapping from the Prado to the Laredo is like going from a barge to a sports car, the difference in dynamics is chalk and cheese.
The wheel travel offered by the Prado’s soft suspension makes it sloppy on the road, but comfortable and supple off it. The live rear axle has plenty of articulation to keep the wheels on the deck and driving forward. The air suspension on the Quadra Lift-equipped Jeep is firm and solid but gives very little travel resulting in lifted wheels, lots of traction control intervention and a harsh off-road ride. Sure it offers the advantage of being able to raise the ride height to tackle uneven terrain and obstacles, but the higher you go in the three settings, the less wheel travel is available from the very short control arms. This really works against the Laredo in attempting to climb steep hills with loose and uneven surfaces and it makes hard work of challenges that the Prado cruises up. It’s visually evident when you follow the Jeep off-road and see the minimal droop at the wheels when they lift off the ground.
We are yet to drive a standard, coil-sprung Grand Cherokee, but wonder if the improved ride of the coils would be worth the trade-off with the loss of height adjustment. You could fit aftermarket raised coil springs and shocks for a full-time higher ride to the standard suspension, although you might have to have the suspension custom-made until the WK has been around for a few more years and the aftermarket catches up. Alternatively, the Prado’s major weakness is its soft suspension and it can be easily fixed with quality aftermarket springs and shocks which are readily available from the usual 4X4 suspension specialists.
Another area where the Jeep seems to over complicate things is its 4X4 system. The Quadra-Trac system offers full-time 4X4 with high- and low-range. This is the lower-spec system, as the optional Quadra-Drive adds ELSDs to the centre and rear. The system now works with Selec-Terrain that offers five different modes for various conditions – Auto; Sport; Mud and sand; Rock; and Snow. While we’ve lauded Land Rover’s Terrain Response since it became available in the Discovery 3, and it is now mimicked by Jeep’s Selec-Terrain and Toyota’s Multi-Terrain Select system in high-end Prados, neither the Jeep nor Toyota systems seem to have got the calibration quite right.
The Jeep system works better than Toyota’s, with sharper response from the throttle and transmission in Sport mode and quicker acting traction control when set to Rock, but then it sends confusing messages via the dash display.
In an effort to sharpen up the transmission shifts to make up for the lack of engine torque, I selected the Sport mode on a twisting mountain road. This does have the desired effect on performance, but the dash tells you the electronic stability control (ESC) has been switched off for off-road use when in this mode.
For one thing, you select Sport mode when on-road not off, and you don’t really want the ESC switched off for safety reasons. In fact, the system hasn’t switched the ESC off, but desensitised it to allow a bit more slide and more of a sporting driving style without the intervention of electronic driving aids. You can manually switch the ESC off via a dash button for driving in mud and snow. Selec-Terrain does work, but it’s not as simple as it could and should be.
Something that does work extremely well is the Jeep’s standard equipment hill descent control. I’m not normally a fan of such systems on vehicles equipped with low-range, and think it best left for softroaders, but the Jeep system is good and it’s particularly beneficial on petrol/auto combos (like this one) that don’t offer a lot of engine braking. The Jeep HDC allows speed control by selecting one of the five gears in the transmission, first being the slowest. Tip the shifter sideways to speed up to second and so on.
On a steep, rutted descent that had wheels in the air most of the time, the Laredo wanted to run away without the HDC activated. HDC on, first gear selected and it crawled down smoothly and confidently. As the slope levelled off you could tap up to second to increase the pace. The only complaint is that the HDC function isn’t available in high-range.
The Toyota’s downhill assist control (DAC) is not so friendly. The Prado is smoother down the same hill without DAC thanks to slightly better engine braking and the wheels on the dirt more often, but activate DAC and it’s a jerky, noisy ride and the nonadjustable speed is set too fast for confident control, meaning you still need to use the foot brake. You are better off without DAC and just hovering your foot over the brake with light applications when required. Choosing the right wagon from this duo really comes down to your vehicle requirements, as they are two different beasts. If you need seven seats there is only one choice, the Prado. Likewise if you were planning a family trip to the outback, around Australia or similar, the Prado would be the pick with its better off-road ability, more compliant ride, more usable space and the huge range of specialised 4X4 accessories available for it.
Alternatively, if you only need five seats, want a wagon that is a bit more nimble, your driving is mainly city-based, with occasional weekends in the bush, and your budget doesn’t extend much beyond $50K, the Jeep is a great value for money option. The fact is that the Prado GXL could easily fill both these roles, but its dual personality comes at an additional cost of close to $15K. It’s this versatility in and out of town that makes it so popular with buyers, and it will continue to rule the family 4X4 segment for some time yet.
Footnote:Before anyone puts pen to paper and asks why we didn’t, we had actually booked a Mitsubishi V6 Pajero to take part in this comparo, but the model in question was sold from under us and went to a customer – whose need was greater than ours!