Here's the SUV that has given me writer's cramp. It kept ticking every box, yet it's the most basic model in the lineup. That's odd, because I'd always found things not to like about earlier models of the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Yet along comes the Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo with its "poverty pack" specification and, at $64,990 for the V6, I reckon it's one of the best value-for-money packages of any new SUV.
I'm not talking about crossovers and wussy soft-roaders, but proper 4WD wagons with low-range gearing and the ground clearance for real off-roading. The kind of stuff on which Jeep's reputation was built.
You can, of course, pay way more for a Grand Cherokee. The swanky bathed-in-piped-leather Overland is $91,000 with the V8 Hemi and the hot SRT-8 will be more than $100,000 when it arrives soon.
The clever thing about the Laredo, which can be bought with a V6 diesel for $5000 more, is that it keeps most of the good stuff that has helped endear the new American to the local market, and loses things like leather seats, variable-height air suspension, 20-inch rims, adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring.
None of these is impossible to live without, unlike the Laredo's climate-control air-con and good-quality sound system.
What's left is a nicely equipped, roomy and grunty vehicle that handles and rides well, topped off with one of the best fitted and finished interiors of any mass-market American automobile.
True, it takes an appreciation of the general lines of American vehicles to fully appreciate the Grand Cherokee, even though the latest version, which first reached our shores a year ago, is more mid-Atlantic than Heartland United States.
Let's look at the value. Its smaller sibling, the non-grand Cherokee, can be bought for $47,000 but is pig-ugly and lacks the Laredo's on-road oomph and some of its off-road ability.
A Range Rover Sport costs $135,000, and the big one, the Vogue, starts at $200,000. The most basic Land Rover Discovery 4 is $90,000. They have way more gear than the Laredo, but at those prices they should. And yes, you can compare the Grand Cherokee to the British aristocracy. Mitsubishi's rather nice base Pajero, the GLX, is now pushing $74,000. Nissan Pathfinder, which shares much with the Navara ST-X ute, comes in one spec for $77,000, and the big Patrol is similar money -
tens of thousands less, it's worth noting, than its arch-rival Toyota Land Cruiser 200.
The Cruiser 200 these days costs $125,000, the smaller Prado a bit under $81,000 for the base model, and the odd but capable FJ Cruiser from $71,000. Some of those 4WDs are tempting to be sure, but I'd rather lasso a Laredo.
There are other super-good-value 4WD wagons out there. Mitsubishi's Challenger, which shares rather a lot with the Triton ute, costs from $59,000.
If you don't mind design compromises wrought by its retro styling, Toyota's FJ Cruiser is value at $71,000. Suzuki Grand Vitaras cost way less than the Grand Cherokee but are smaller. From $38,000 for a five-door, they offer great bang-for-buck. Outside the mainstream are the SsangYong Rexton at around $50,000 and the Great Wall X240 from $28,990.By Phil Hanson