WHO IS THE BOSS?
For this months comparative test,
Andrew Faulkner and Andrew Pearce pitch natural competitors in the £30,000-class against each other. Will the biscuit go to Mitsubishis Shogun or Jeeps new Grand Cherokee?
SOMETIMES a diesel engine, for all its peculiar charms, is not quite the thing for the job.
Jeep makes no bones about it: Having scored a big hit with the boxy little Cherokee, the companys bigger, plusher Grand Cherokee comes (so far at least) only with a petrol engine – a 4.0-litre six or 5.2-litre V8. Likewise, higher incarnations of Mitsubishis Shogun have 3.0-litre or 3.6-litre V6 Otto-cycle engines under their bonnets. So when we decided to investigate life on the smoother side, petrol power it had to be.
The Shogun is an old stager – albeit developed over the years – while the Grand Cherokee is new to the UK. The pair couldnt be more different; the Shoguns conventional smoothed-off box body sits on a ladder chassis, while the Jeeps smaller, shark-nosed shell is chassis-less. Costs, though, can be close; a manual Shogun in five-door, 3.0-litre, Diamond Option trim is £30,159, while a Grand Cherokee will set you back £28,995.
The Jeep comes with much more than just a price advantage. Both cars have most of the kit expected at this level – air conditioning, ABS brakes, cruise control, etc – but the Grand Cherokee adds automatic transmission (£730 extra from Mitsubishi), twin air bags, climate control, electric seats, a trip computer/compass, integral roof rack and more, leaving the only options a sunroof (£645, standard on the Shogun) and a CD autochanger. Clearly its a hard life at the bottom – but having won the goodies war hands-down, can the Jeep pull off the same trick on (and off) the road?
Like the cars they power, the two engines are poles apart in design and character. Chryslers 4.0-litre straight six is made from cast iron, uses two valves a cylinder and puts out 174hp/222lbf ft torque, the latter at 2400rpm. Contrast this with Mitsubishis 24-valve, aluminium-headed V6, whose 3.0 litres muster another four hp but fall short by 34lbf ft in the torque department – with this commodity peaking at a very lofty 4500rpm.
With weights of 1820kg and 1955kg – the Jeep is the lighter, thanks presumably to its monocoque shell – neither car is going to be a real hotshot. But both get along pretty well; certainly fast enough for easy overtaking and with power to spare for a sizeable trailer. At lower speeds the Shoguns V6 is exceptionally quiet and self-effacing, though short on response. But faster action is just a prod on the throttle away – then the whispering hardens into a silky snarl, and the Shogun gets into its stride.
Thats a trick the Jeep finds harder, thanks to the smothering effect of its four-speed autobox. A humming straight six zips the Cherokee quietly away from rest; but before long, high overall gearing and conservative change-up points knock the edge off the motors efforts. And on pulling away from a slow corner, the box sometimes takes time to make up its mind over the right ratio. The positive side of all this is a car thats completely relaxed on the motorway (the Shogun holds 4000rpm at 80mph against the Jeeps 2200), but lacks spark on single carriageways. The gearbox needs a "sport" mode to put more kick into the proceedings, and its odd that one is missing. Maybe the V8 versions 209hp and extra torque is the answer – but for that youll need £1000 more and it is only currently available in left-hand-drive.
Coincidentally, the gearbox is also the weak link in the Shoguns power train. Baulkiness into the higher ratios spoils the change, so it might be worth checking out the auto version before buying.
How about economy? Big engines usually burn a matching hole in the pocket, and these two are not exceptions. Over 400-odd miles the Shogun returned 18.5mpg, while in 500 miles the Grand Cherokee averaged 18.6mpg. Even on unleaded and allowing for half a day cavorting about off-road, thats conspicuous consumption.
Outside and in
Both cars are well put together, with the Austrian-built Jeep fully a match for the Shogun. The latters paint is generally good, but let down by orange-peel effect on the plastic wheel arch extensions.
On interior style and quality the Jeep is streets ahead. The smaller Cherokees ugly dash is junked for a smoother fascia with a big-button, built-in radio and tasteful finish. Occupants lounge around in soft leather seats, theres polished wood inserts for the doors and dash, and enough gizmos to keep a tribe of small boys amused for a week.
Beside the Jeep, Mitsubishis dated plastic fascia looks cheap, with moulding and instruments apparently lifted from a downmarket Japanese saloon. Despite leather seat facings and a fair sprinkling of entertainments, the Shogun cabin simply fails to feel £30,000-special.
But functionally its the better, albeit by default. The Jeeps throttle pedal and gear selector are a long way off and the steering wheel sticks out from the dash, so even with electric seat adjustment its difficult to get comfortable, and a narrow footwell doesnt help. And the seat, cossetingly soft though it is, is sized to hold big Americans rather than skinny Brits. So through faster corners the Cherokee driver hangs uncomfortably on the steering wheel rather than being firmly anchored by the nether regions.
Moving further back, the Shoguns extra legroom, rear heater, long sunroof and adjustable seat rake are all significant pluses. But the Jeep pulls back some ground with seats that fold completely flat, producing a load bay 25mm (1in) longer from a bodyshell thats significantly shorter overall.
With the rear seats up, load bay lengths are comparable. The taller Shogun offers an extra 140mm (5.5in) bay height but 152mm (6in) less between the rear arches, so whether a given load fits will be decided by its shape. Bays are cluttered by the Shoguns drop-down seats and the Jeeps spare wheel, so theres no winner here.
Ride, handling, brakes
Neither car is the least bit uncomfortable, though the two show significant differences.
The Shoguns independent torsion bar-sprung front end and rear coils deliver a controlled, smooth ride on lanes and main roads thats not far short of a quality saloon, with only the odd shiver through the body reminding you that this big, heavy lump is built for dual-purpose use.
Theres not much roll into bends, the steering is accurate and the car feels generally predictable and stable; its simple to jump into and go. Variable-rate dampers still feature, and an apparently narrower range between settings makes them more use than before.
The Grand Cherokees beam axles and coil springs produce a softer ride, more body movement and more roll. On twisty, rough lanes the car feels generally less solidly planted, though good damping stops it from wallowing. Both cars have variable-rate power steering; and while Chryslers system provides a little more lock, its artificial feel and stronger self-centering make it more intrusive. The test Cherokee also moved around more on the road and turned into bends significantly less crisply than the Shogun, though its off-road biased tyres were probably at the root of that. The rubberware also whined at low speeds and roared on the motorway, spoiling what might otherwise be a tranquil Grand Cherokee cabin.
Here the pendulum swings decisively back to the Jeep. As with other areas, 4wd is approached by different mechanical routes. The Shoguns Super Select system offers lever shifts between 2wd or 4wd in high and low ranges, with a lockable viscous centre diff allowing hard-surface turns and a separate 100% lock for the rear axle. Chrysler takes the onus away from the driver by outfitting the Grand Cherokee with Quadra-Trac permanent 4wd. A swan-neck lever shifts to low range, a viscous centre diff splits torque and the rear axle carries a self-locking limited-slip unit.
What does it come to? A hands-down win for the Jeep on suspension travel. Its beam axles plumb the bottom of hollows which have one Shogun front wheel waving in the air, and its more compliant suspension feels to be keeping the tyres in better contact with the ground. The Cherokee rides more comfortably over rough tracks, too – but despite a move to 16in wheels and even on taller-than-standard tyres, it still scrapes its transfer case shield on crests and shoulders that the Shogun steps over.
Parched chalk and short turf didnt limit either cars traction, so there was no clear grip winner. But the Shoguns mechanical diff locks might give it the edge in some going; the rear end certainly shoved the car through some awkward spots, albeit sometimes at the price of crabbing.
lThe verdict: The Shogun may be more expensive and comparatively short on plushness, but its bigger shell brings more usable space and two extra seats. In manual form it feels more lively than the Jeep, and the cars generally tighter handling, sharper steering and more musical motor give it a positive edge on driving pleasure. Minus Shogun points are a dull interior, limited oddments space and a recalcitrant gearstick.
The Grand Cherokee is a definite step up from its smaller brother. Rear seat passengers get a much better deal, the body is a sharper-looker, the interior is in a different league and 4wd largely sorts itself out. But where the small Cherokee is a hoot to drive, the big one isnt; a flawed driving position and over-cautious automatic box spoil it.
Against the Shogun, the big Cherokee only offers a price advantage, superficial comfort, more electrical toys and better off-road performance. Bargain luxury and fine motorway cruiser the Jeep may be, but for everyday rural transport wed take the Shogun.
• Model: Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.0 Limited.
• Engine: 174hp, 4.0-litre petrol.
• Transmission: Four-speed automatic.
• Drive: Permanent 4wd.
• Suspension: Beam axles and coils.
• Weight: 1820kg.
• Towing capacity: 3.5t.
• Price: £28,995.
• Model: 3000 V6 GLS 5-door manual.
• Engine: 178hp, 3.0-litre petrol.
• Transmission: Five-speed manual, auto option.
• Drive: Part-time 4wd.
• Suspension: Independent front, beam axle rear. All coils.
• Weight: 1995kg.
• Towing capacity: 3.3t.
• Price: £30,159.
Newcomer Jeep Grand Cherokee or established Mitsubishi Shogun – both will set you back around £30,000, but which is the more capable machine?
….where the Shogun waves a wheel. But a locked rear diff pushed the car through.
Plenty of axle travel keeps the Grand Cherokees front wheel in contact through this twister…
Jeep groups switches for mirrors, locks and power windows neatly. Expanding map pocket is a novelty.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we will soon be arriving at Heathrow…" Wacky Diamond Option pack dials give the Shogun an altimeter, inclinometer and external temperature gauge/compass.
Contrasting rear doors: The Jeeps upwardly-mobile lid keeps the user
drier than the Shoguns side-opening version, but consigns the spare wheel to the interior of the vehicle – the test cars naked and oversize spare takes more room than the normal covered item. Shogun dickey seats drop down and face forward, boosting passenger numbers to a total of seven.
Above left: Grand Cherokee interior is easily the plusher, with built-in radio and wood cappings on dash – and check out the climate control panel and footwell lighting. But those comfy leather seats lack side support, the driving position isnt the best and the gear selector is a long reach forward. Above right: Shogun operator gets a dull plastic dash, though its well put together. Manual 4wd selection (bottom left) is more complex than Jeeps one-shift Quadra-Trac arrangement.