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The beast is back, bigger and better

Small is beautiful . . . except, that is, for many American drivers who, before austerity and common sense trimmed their sails, loved their gas guzzlers to look the part – vulgarly muscular and unstoppably agile, like a Marine on steroids.

One of the gruff favourites in those halcyon days of unbridled prosperity, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, has just been given a significant makeover for 2014.

And fans of the marque's hugely popular flagship, unveiled in Palermo, won't be disappointed as its large premium SUV retains all the imposing looks of its popular predecessor.

However, leading Jeep's new charge into Europe, the Grand Cherokee now boasts a more subtle bodystyle and in a nod to more restrained economic times on this side of the Atlantic, still comes in a wide range of punchy powertrains but ones that are more refined and efficient.

That's not to say, though, that the car – still massive by European standards – won't mount an assault on your pocket when you go to either purchase or refuel it.

Depending on the model it will cost as much as €60,000 and more (prices not yet announced) to own one in the first place. Then you're likely to get a meagre return of, at most, 35mpg for your hard-earned buck.

LUXURY

But you're likely to enjoy every mile, perched high above ground in the lap of spacious luxury, with oodles of power under your right boot, and in such a commanding driving position that you could easily convince yourself, for a while at least, that you're the undisputed king of the road.

Since 1992, the Detroit-built Grand Cherokee has notched up some five million sales. Now fitted as standard across the entire lineup, a new gearbox reduces consumption and emissions while improving acceleration.

Here from July, expect SRT and more exclusive Summit trims, both driven on test, to appear here.

A 3-litre CRD engine (250 bhp) – there's an irrelevant 3.6 litre V-6 petrol as well – and a low-output 190bhp version of the 3-litre CRD is available on Laredo and Limited spec but they are unlikely to be sold here.

Ready for more madness? There's a 5.7-litre V-8 petrol on the Overland and Summit models. And the high-performance SRT has a 6.4-litre V-8 HEMI engine (468bhp).

A new, 8spd automatic transmission is paired with all petrol and turbodiesel engines.

Exterior changes include bi-xenon headlamps with LE daytime running lights, while there is a well-finished interior trim. There's a new UConnect infotainment system with 8.4ins touchscreen and 7ins TFT configurable cluster display.

Meanwhile, the Cherokee's renowned off-road capability is maintained, courtesy of three 4WD 'Quadra' and 'Selec-Track' traction management systems which should allow you get over the most challenging of terrain at the twist of a dial.

The Grand Cherokee package is pitched against the Land Rover Discovery. On the evidence of this First Drive the Discovery retains pole position given its superior and steadier handling characteristics on the open road.

The floppier Grand Cherokee was let down by spongier steering and more wallowy suspension.

Still, you may not yet be king of the road but you're nipping at the heels of some very refined regal company.

Irish Independent