Jeep Meridian: Better than a Fortuner?

Let’s cut to the chase – is the Jeep Meridian a worthy alternative to the Toyota Fortuner?

A month or so ago, if you were to buy a real seven-seater SUV under ₹50 lakh, there were exactly eight options. Well, yes, that’s the number of colors the Toyota Fortuner comes in. And no, I’m not kidding. There may be other vehicles like the MG Gloster and the Isuzu MU-X competing with the Fortuner, but when it comes to putting your money where your mouth is, 90% of buyers are likely to end up with the Toyota – it’s the default choice for most, point.

Jeep Meridian Water Wading

Now, ever since Ford decided to close shop and pull the Endeavor off the showroom floor, the Fortuner has had a free run in the market. There hasn’t been a real rival since, because none of the other SUVs in that space have the kind of brand appeal or pedigree that Toyota has.

This makes the arrival of the Jeep Meridian quite a major deal. You see, like the Fortuner, the Meridian has solid off-road credentials, and as a product it stands out because it is a Jeep after all. So we ask the following question – is the Meridian a more complete SUV than the Fortuner? We spent a couple of days with the Meridian to get to the heart of the matter.

Jeep Meridian running in the wild

It’s a Jeep thing

There is no mistaking that the Meridian is anything but a Jeep. In addition, it also bears a strong resemblance to the Compass and the new Cherokee. Overall, the design is sharp and gives the Meridian a sleek and elegant look at the same time. Compared to the Compass (4.4 meters long), the Meridian stretches to over 4.7 meters to accommodate the third row of seats. It is also slightly wider and taller (about 40 mm). With a wheelbase of 2,794mm, its footprint is 158mm larger than its 5-seat sibling. While the Compass looks premium and sporty, the Meridian looks stately – much like the Grand Cherokee. In fact, I think it’s the Meridian’s sublime and elegant presence that will give it the edge over the rugged body-on-frame Fortuner.

Jeep Meridian interior Rear seats folded

The inside continues to tell a similar story. Be it the overall cabin quality, leather seats, dual-tone interior (the Compass interior has an all-black theme), panoramic sunroof or ventilated seats, everything about the Meridian’s interior is premium. Sure, the plastic quality of the lower cabin panels could have been better, but overall the Meridian’s interior is premium and exudes opulence.

In terms of features and equipment, it is more or less identical to the compass. The top Limited (O) variants get the same Uconnect 10.1-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual-zone climate control, a 10.25-inch digital driver display, power front seats and six airbags.

Jeep Meridian Center Console

Off-road Cred

Now the Meridian promises to be a do-it-all SUV. You get three rows of seats, premium features, a sophisticated ride and handling package and a powerful diesel powertrain. And the best thing is that it is not a pseudo-SUV or a soft crossover. Despite being a monocoque SUV, the Meridian is said to have hardcore Jeep DNA to help you get anywhere – with your family and dog on board. Is it true though?

In a word, yes! The Merdian is a hardcore SUV that doesn’t shy away from the dirty business of off-road driving. Its 168bhp and 350Nm-worthy 2.0-litre diesel engine might not be a mighty feat, but it’s got a lot of fire in its belly. The model tested here is the AWD version with a 9-speed auto, and in everyday driving conditions, or even off-road, there’s little to complain about when it comes to the powertrain. However, the engine is a bit rough at idle and not as refined as you would want in a 40 lakh premium SUV. On the move, however, the clatter is not as obtrusive. The other notable thing about the Meridian is its balance between ride and handling. It drives beautifully on all types of roads and offers a rock-solid ride.

Jeep Meridian Axle Bender Shot

So, what about its off-road performance? Well, it’s so simple that most of the time you don’t even need to put it in 4WD Low or engage the limited-slip differential. It simply glides over everything effortlessly despite its size and girth. Selec Terrain Management has three modes – Auto, Sand/Mud and Snow – but my personal experience is that you can just leave it in Auto mode and the on-board computer will take care of everything. What I love most about the Meridian is how it masks its size and dimensions when you’re behind the wheel. Navigating through tight and tricky spaces is a cakewalk, as visibility out of the cabin is brilliant – it won’t be wrong to say that the Meridian kind of shrinks around you.

Judgment

Let’s go back to the beginning – is the Meridian a real alternative to the Fortuner? Well, if you’re a politician trying to make a statement, you’re not going to like the Meridian’s rather muted and elegant look over the Fortuner’s brash and intimidating look. Likewise, if your day job involves plowing fields or something similar, the Fortuner will be a better bet as it is a more hardcore offroader.

Jeep Meridian Headshot

“What I love about the Meridian is how it masks its size when you’re behind the wheel”

But if you want a modern SUV – one that strikes a good balance between being adventurous and sophisticated – the Meridian is a damn good deal. It’s raw but not crude, premium but not delicate, and desirable but unpretentious. And, most importantly, it is much cheaper than the Fortuner.

Engine: 1,956cc / 4-cylinder / turbocharged

Fuel: Diesel

Transfer: 9-speed AT / four-wheel drive

Force: 168 hp at 3,750 rpm

Torque: 350 Nm at 1,750 – 2,500 rpm

Award: ₹36.95 Lakh (Ex-Showroom)

Read more:

Jeep Meridian review: First Drive

The Jeep Meridian was launched at Rs 29.90 lakh

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