Jeep’s newest SUV sits in a segment that’s a perpetual favourite with the hairy-chested lot of SUV buyers!
The seven-seat, premium SUV segment is not only an important one in India, but is also a very interesting one. And the Jeep Meridian, the American SUV maker’s newest offering, will be positioned in this very segment. It’s an SUV many have been waiting for – for reasons more than just the fact that it is a Jeep.
I mean, the name is enough, given Jeep’s legacy in making some of the most hardcore SUVs on the planet. But in the Meridian’s case, it is a full-sized three-row premium SUV, a configuration that’s been a favourite with SUV buyers who either spend more weekends mucking around off tarmac with friends than at family brunches, or those who want to be ‘seen’ in their social/work circles.
And the Meridian is based on the same platform as the Jeep Compass, an SUV that’s truly helped the manufacturer become a household name in India. In a nutshell, expectations are really high and it wouldn’t be wrong to say the Meridian is a very strategic product for Jeep in India. It needs to repeat the success of the Compass and carve its own niche in a segment that’s pretty much evergreen! And shortly before it goes on sale, we got a chance to drive the Meridian – on tarmac, obviously, because that’s where most Meridians sold in India will spend their lifespan! But more importantly we spent the better part of our day driving the Meridian off-road. It’s a Jeep after all!
But before we got it covered in dirt, I had to soak in the design. There’s a resemblance to the Compass (obviously!), but Jeep has ensured there’s enough visual distinction between the two. More importantly, the Meridian looks grander, especially from the front, and reminds me of the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The front end uses what in my opinion is the right mix of chrome and gloss black plastics on the trademark, seven-slat grille, besides chrome embellishments on the bumper. I really like the little ‘cut’ on the front edges of the hood, which makes for a sharper appearance for the headlamps. The Meridian is also 364mm longer, 41mm wider and 58mm taller than the Compass, making for a more impressive on-road presence.
Move to the sides and you will instantly notice how different and how bigger the Meridian looks, especially past the C-pillar, with the full bodied appeal of a three row SUV. Of course, at 2,782mm the Meridian’s wheelbase is longer than the Compass’s by 46mm, adding to the feel. The 18-inch alloys deserve a mention too, as their two-tone design is very distinctive looking. One of my favourite angles to look at the Meridian though is from the rear. The split tail lamp design looks very appealing, especially when lit up, besides which there are generous helpings of chrome on the tailgate and rear bumper that add to its sense of grandness. Overall, the Meridian is a very good looking SUV and while it isn’t tall as say, the Toyota Fortuner, it looks very distinctive.
Interiors look identical to the Compass’s as the dashboard design, 10.2-inch instrument cluster display, 10-inch infotainment screen, steering wheel, switches and knobs for the climate control system, centre console and even the drive selector lever and switches around it are all the same. But that isn’t a bad thing as this is a very good looking cabin, given the design, surface finishes and fit-finish levels that make it look and feel very premium. Jeep has ensured the Meridian’s cabin is a cut above the Compass’s in terms of premiumness by equipping it with copious amounts of brown leather and the dashboard’s central rib, seats and door trims are all swathed in the material. Seat covers also get a quilted finish, adding to the sense of occasion.
Its additional width over the Compass makes the Meridian more spacious. Seats all round are comfortable and supportive, though some might find the cushioning a little firm. Second row seats offer good legroom and kneeroom and should help in appealing to the chauffeur-driven lot of SUV buyers. There are no sun blinds here though, a miss in my opinion. Access to the third row is quick as a single lever lets you flip and tumble the second row seats forward.
That said, getting into the third row and occupying it might be a bit of a squeeze for adults – the space is best suited to kids. The good news is the third row does not feel claustrophobic and the panoramic sunroof also helps in making the cabin feel roomier. Ventilation all round is excellent, including the third row. The Meridian gets the same dual-zone air-conditioning system as the Compass, along with ventilated front seats.
Then there’s the elaborate feature list. Jeep will offer the Meridian in two trims only, loaded with equipment, as demanded by buyers in the segment. A crisp looking, 10-inch touchscreen is your gateway to UConnect5, Jeep’s proprietary connected tech and the nine-speaker audio system from Alpine. UConnect5 offers a mind-boggling number of customisation options and information, besides which the infotainment screen also integrates 360-degree view. The Meridian is equipped with Type-C and Type-A USB ports upfront along with wireless charging and wireless smartphone connectivity. It also impresses on the safety front and will be offered with six airbags as standard along with hill start, hill descent, ESC, tyre pressure monitoring and more.
The Meridian will only be powered by the same 2.0-litre diesel engine as the Compass and there will be no petrol on offer, at least at launch. Outputs are identical at 170PS and 350Nm and like the Compass, you can have the Meridian with a six-speed manual gearbox or nine-speed torque converter automatic. The 4x4 will be offered only with the automatic, while the 4x2 can be had with either gearbox. We drove the automatic and my current daily driver being the Compass 4x4 S, I am well-versed with the powertrain and its impressive manners.
In fact the engine feels more refined here as Jeep has worked on making it smoother, while the automatic gearbox offers seamless gear changes. Overall power delivery is linear and the strong bottom-end grunt is a highlight. The linear delivery helps in covering distances quickly on the road, while the strong low-end grunt helps off tarmac. The 2.0-litre diesel engine thus feels perfect in the Meridian too, despite its increased overall weight and size.
Let’s get to the juicy bit now! Being a Jeep, hardcore off-roading is a part of the Meridian’s DNA. It uses independent suspension at both ends along with frequency selective damping, hydraulic rebound stoppers and of course, Jeep’s own selec-terrain system. In addition to its tech, the Meridian also boasts impressive approach (21.5 degrees), break-over (23.1 degrees) and departure (23.6 degrees) angles.
Off tarmac, it thus felt more like a hardcore, off-road ready SUV. It had no trouble in the articulation pits, climbing a set of stairs, or even going up steep inclines, also courtesy its 203mm ground clearance. The Meridian is equipped with a 4x4 low ratio too, but I did not need to switch to 4-low for most obstacles. In fact certain sections had me doubt whether the Meridian would be able to make it or not but it did, every single time, and very impressively! It’s demeanour and capabilities should in fact help in drawing more people to off-roading as a culture I feel.
Our driving time on tarmac was limited but enough to tell me the Meridian is very impressive on the road too. It feels very composed thanks to its monocoque chassis and well-tuned suspension. Body roll is well controlled and the Meridian portrays likeable manners as a comfortable family SUV too. The steering feels perfectly weighted and offers good feedback, whether doing crawling speeds off tarmac or triple digits on a highway. Jeep has also made extensive use of high strength steel in its construction besides which the SUV boasts 82 percent localisation and feels like a thoroughly modern SUV that is solidly built, safe and engaging.
The Meridian thus comes across as a well-engineered SUV that lives up to the expectations you would have from a modern-day Jeep. Over the years we have seen the Toyota Fortuner dominate the three-row premium SUV segment besides which the Ford Endeavour was truly popular and impressed on road and off-road too. Then there’s the Skoda Kodiaq, which impresses with its luxury and its car-like feel, but is more of a road-biased SUV.
And the Meridian seems to offer a mix of the best of everything we have seen in the segment. It looks very good, feels solidly built, is hugely capable off-road and comfortable on it with excellent road manners and low NVH levels and is very well-equipped too. It will be interesting to see where Jeep prices the Meridian though. A starting price of around Rs 33 lakh ex-showroom would be spot on as it would help the Meridian undercut its established rivals and also appeal to a larger audience.