It was a memorable vacation, to say the least.
For vertically challenged people such as myself, sometimes the only way to feel tall is to drive around in something big and somewhat obnoxious. Now, big and obnoxious are nothing new in the US because SUVs and full-size trucks dominate. Americans love 'em. But in Europe, American automotive obesity isn't that common (yet). On my recent vacation to Austria and its gorgeous countryside I needed a ride that's proudly all-American.
But I also wanted to show Europeans what we love to drive most, the all-American SUV, specifically a Detroit-built Jeep Grand Cherokee. The folks at Fiat Chrysler Austria were more than happy to provide me with a 2016 Grand Cherokee Limited V6 EcoDiesel for a week because, well, it's actually kind of exotic to Austrians because it's only just gone on sale there. Audi Q5s, Q7s and BMW X5s are the most common SUVs in Austria. Point being, my Grand Cherokee received a lot of admiring stares. Driving from the FCA press office in Vienna to the western Wolfgangsee region with my girlfriend riding shotgun, I began to suspect the Grand Cherokee wasn't going to fit on some of the narrow country roads.
Fortunately it's Trail Rated and off-roading would always be an option (assuming it'd be legal). Jeep's Quadra-Drive II four-wheel-drive system is, without question, one of the best out there and I was fully confident in its abilities. Our first stop was the town of Wiener Neustadt and let me tell you, if you like beer and pork, Austria will treat you well. Highly recommend is the pork knuckle, slow-roasted for 12 hours. The residents of Wiener Neustadt couldn't help but notice the hunk of Detroit steel driving through their quaint town. My biggest regret was it didn't have the optional 5.7-liter Hemi V8; the 3.0-liter diesel V6, paired to an 8-speed automatic, is amazingly quiet and highway acceleration is brisk, thanks to its 420 lb-ft of torque at only 2,400 rpm.
Fuel economy? I managed a combined 30 mpg, which is pretty good considering the Grand Cherokee weighs around 5,400 lbs. Following that Austrian townie experience, we were off to the mountainous western upper region, home of St. Wolfgang and Salzburg. Within ten minutes of entering the highway a serious thunderstorm struck, complete with heavy downpours. Many cars exited to the nearest parking lot for safety. Us? Nah, we kept right on trucking. The Grand Cherokee was fearless and the 4WD grip provided extra confidence. Other features I appreciated were the wood-trimmed steering wheel, premium Natura-Plus leather seats with heated and ventilated buckets, and the 19-speaker 825-watt Harmon Kardon sound system.
A dual-pane sunroof, 20-inch rims, and adaptive bi-xenon HID headlamps were also very much welcomed. Although we didn't need the space, with the rear seats folded flat there's a total of 70 cubic feet available. Fast forward a few days and many wiener schnitzels and potatoes later, a trip to historic Salzburg was in order. One problem: parking. We were told it was complete parking hell in the city of Mozart's birth. Fortunately, there's a huge mall complete with an underground parking garage on the outskirts of town, and bus fare to the city center was dirt cheap. It was easy backing the Jeep into a parking spot thanks to its backup camera on the 8.4-inch touchscreen.
Speaking of which, FCA's Uconnect infotainment is the easiest and most intuitive system on the market right now. Returning to the Jeep several hours later I discovered a business card for a used car dealer on the windshield. No other car parked around me had one. Turns out, after speaking to the FCA press officer, the card is utter bullshit. The "company" doesn't buy cars; it steals then ships them to countries such as China and possibly Russia. It's not a new phenomenon, I was told. This Grand Cherokee is new to Austria and with only a handful on the road, it's become an attractive target. Why wasn't mine stolen? Likely because people walked by as the thief/phony used car salesman tried to make his move and feared he'd get caught.
Placing his "business card" on the windshield made him look less suspicious. I even called the number on the card just to see if anyone would pick up. Someone did. Told him I was interested in selling a car (that wasn't mine to sell). He replied in English that his employee made a mistake leaving the card and he wasn't interested in 4x4s. Whatever. After driving the Grand Cherokee around the gorgeous lakes of Attersee, Wolfgangsee, and Mondsee and going for a spot of minor off-roading due to a road which suddenly ended near a restaurant for no apparent reason, I only had to fill up with diesel once, partially thanks to its just shy 25-gallon fuel tank. Impressive.
It's too bad I didn't get the chance to try out the Jeep's 7,200-pound towing capacity but just knowing it had that capability was good enough. Few of those German-built luxury "SUVs" couldn't tow that much, especially in lower-spec trim. Returning the Grand Cherokee V6 diesel wasn't easy, but what impressed me most about it was its ability to combine luxury and comfort, road refinement and a sense of security only a 4x4 can provide. Trail Rated, stylish, sophisticated and, above all, an all-American Jeep. The 2016 Grand Cherokee Limited V6 Diesel is one hell of an American ambassador.