2022 Jeep Meridian review, first drive - more than a three-row Compass?
Jeep for the larger part of its young innings in India has been perceived as a one-car brand. The Compass was and continues to be a stellar ambassador for the SUV maker, and when the Wrangler came in it fired up aspirations even though it reached out to few wallets. But in a nation where aspirations change at the flip of a widget, Jeep kept growing smaller and smaller in its competitor's rearview mirrors. Five years later, the iconic American automaker has a new project going branded as the Jeep Meridian. This large premium SUV is based on the same platform as the Compass, but is unique enough to set it leagues apart.
Structural changes to the monocoque have enabled it to grow larger, giving it the space to envelop three rows of seats. And that is the crux of the Meridian. While the intent did not exist when the product was conceived, the Jeep Meridian wants to fill the gap left by the Endeavour, another 3-row SUV. I expect Jeep India to price it such that the bracket it falls in will be somewhere close to the Fortuner. Though a better place to be would be closer to where the Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace resided. So, having grown larger does the Jeep Meridian fill that space adequately?
2022 Jeep Meridian styling, exteriors
Visually the Jeep Meridian has the poise and stance to emulate its much larger sibling, the Grand Cherokee. It has a stately but modest aura, you could even call it rich (old money that buys expensive subtlety) and that makes it appealing to me. The increase in length, and width clearly separate it from the Compass. It even has the embellishments to highlight its positioning. The chrome surround on the grille that extends from headlamp to headlamp without overlapping the traditional vertical slats is a unique design element. As are the chrome strip running across the bumper and the lower lip enforcing the increase in width.
The shoulder line running from A-pillar to the rear is almost a straight line without a kink until the it meets the D-pillar clearly establishing its length. The variant I drove had an exterior two tone paint finish, with the base coat in a rich burgundy with a black mirror finish roof adding a dash of flair. The Meridian stands almost as tall as the Compass, however the external running board and the roof rails give it the perception of being taller than the Compass.
2022 Jeep Meridian interiors, features, space
Inside the Meridian, the appearance is almost identical to the Compass. Minor changes can only be seen in the addition of a two-tone upholstery. Of course with the increase in width, the dashboard has grown wider as well, as is the space between the seats lending more shoulder room. Even the instrument cluster has grown to 10.2 inch offering clearer and more readable displays. The front end of this cabin feels premium, luxurious and should be comfortable irrespective of the distances driven. The air-con cools the cabin adequately, and adjustable blowers direct airflow to the third row as well.
But the Meridian is not just about that front area, this cabin has three rows of seats and ideally seats 4 adults, and 2 kids (not more than 12 years old). The third row lacks the generosity of the first two rows, and since the middle row cant be adjusted to make more space for the third row occupants, it is a tight squeeze. However a one touch operation enables the 60:40 split middle row seats to tumble down and provide easy access to the third row. Ingress and egress into that third row isn't pretty even though the doors open up nearly 80 degrees wide, and you certainly don't want to be sending anyone but kids in to that space unless you're looking for some hilarity.
The application of soft-touch surfaces with reasonably good shut lines and the neat double stitch on the dashboard is impressive, the same high-quality surfacing isn't visible everywhere. While most surfaces look and feel impressive, there are a few areas where you do get the sense that corners have been cut. The quality of plastics especially in units around the middle row is questionable. Apart from the basic amenities, you don't get much else in terms of features.
2022 Jeep Meridian driving impressions
Underpinning the Jeep Meridian is the same platform as the Compass, however it has been lengthened and widened to frame the new Meridian. The Meridian is 4.769 metres long resulting in a longer wheelbase with width having grown too, to 1.859 metres. Kerb weight has also gone up to a little under 2 tons, but minor tweaks to the suspension and chassis balance the additional weight without compromising the dynamics. Ride quality is impressive too, and the Meridian feels much like the Compass, solid and built to take a beating with an added dash of plushness.
Hydraulic rebound stoppers and frequency selective dampers along with anti-roll bars negate body roll, keeping the Meridian tightly in rein. Front end dive is also tightly controlled thanks to those rebound dampers. This also works well for off-road conditions where the Meridian feels quite at ease tackling steep trails and water crossings submerged almost up to its nose despite the long overhangs. Depending on the trim and the position of the gearbox, the Meridian has varying angles of approach, break over and departure with the 9-speed automatic AWD being the best there is.
On an artificially built articulation track, you can see more dramatic articulation angles because of those hydraulic stoppers too. It's a fun SUV off-road and there was seldom a moment where I felt it wouldn't be able to achieve what it set out to do.
The Meridian is powered by the same 2.0-litre multijet diesel engine used for the Compass delivering 170 horses with 350Nm of max torque. This is a reliable workhorse, and it's mated to a choice of two transmissions, a 6-speed manual or a 9-speed automatic. Jeep India packages this as three powertrain options, a manual and automatic with 2WD and an automatic with a 4WD drivetrain.
In the 4WD variant you get selective drive modes for sand (low ground resistance) and snow (low surface traction) conditions, an automatic mode along with hill-descent control. One grouse, given all the hype over its off-road capabilities I would have expected to see a bevy of off-road information on the infotainment screen like on the Wrangler, unfortunately there are no goodies. What you do get are 360-degree cameras that give you a good view of the conditions surrounding the vehicle though these cameras could have had higher definition for clearer displays.
2022 Jeep Meridian expected prices, verdict
The pricing of the Meridian would decide if this SUV sees encouraging numbers or not. Purely the cosmetic, mechanical or ownership traits of a vehicle don't hold much more sway over consumers than its price. And as is with the Stellantis group we have so far seen a slightly higher premium for products from its group companies compared to its peers in the segment. This offsets the quest for scale without taking a hit on profitability. And this has worked for the Compass, with Jeep officials claiming that they are a profitable business because of that position. To achieve commercial success in such a short period is a commendable task. It has given the company the confidence to seek a slightly upmarket audience and I believe this would work in the favour of the Meridian. This also explains why they aren't exactly in a rush to bring out a mass-market product. From where we stand Jeep certainly looks like they are on the right line!
Images by Varun Kulkarni
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