Jeep Meridian Review – The Hindu BusinessLine

The SUV for the extended family has become a staple in many brands’ portfolios. The 3-row, 6-7-seater SUV is now in such high demand that many automakers can’t make enough, and long wait times are common. The news that Jeep is entering this category and that the 3-row version of the Compass will hit the market under an India-exclusive name has been in the news. And yet it’s only when I’m standing next to the Meridian (known as the Commander in markets like Brazil) that its size and weight really hit me.

The meridian is huge when viewed from the side. The length seems almost a little unwieldy, which makes me wonder if it will be as capable off-road as the Compass. The rear overhang is pronounced and a big jump over the 2-row compass. But the approach, transition and departure angles have apparently been carefully calibrated with an eye to imbuing it with the same legendary prowess of a Jeep. The Meridian is built with the same genetic material as all Jeeps, but this one is meant for transporting the large Indian joint family. So, how’s it going? I traveled to Chandigarh last month to get behind the wheel of the Meridian. And I can tell you this much that these pictures do not do justice to what you can do with this awesome 3-row SUV.

Jeep Meridian.  Photo: Bijoy Ghosh

Jeep Meridian. Photo: Bijoy Ghosh | Photo Credit: Bijoy Ghosh

Design and build

Although its other dimensions do not appear to have increased (except for the added length), the Meridian has actually grown in proportion all around. The overall length is more than a foot more than the Compass, and the wheelbase is also up nearly half a foot. The height and width of the meridian have also increased by a few inches compared to the compass. The rear overhang is more than the Compass, but it’s not too disproportionate. The Meridian gets a stinky stance due to its long wheelbase and taller dimensions. The square wheel arches borrowed from the Compass and the added drama of the rear window (instead of the quartz glass of the 2-row Compass) give the Meridian context in the Jeep range.

Jeep Meridian.  Photo: Bijoy Ghosh

Jeep Meridian. Photo: Bijoy Ghosh | Photo Credit: Bijoy Ghosh

Some of the chrome elements it gets, especially at the front, also highlight the Meridian’s elevated position in the hierarchy. The trademark 7-slot grille on the hood gets chrome accents at the top and bottom, and the front fender gets a thick chrome band that cuts into the fog lamp housing. The 4X4 trim variant I test drove also had chrome markings for the lip of the underbody guard. Chrome trim for the top of the window line that runs into the D-pillar is another neat addition that catches the eye as my test mule had the contrasting black roof finish. The 18-inch dual-tone alloys look special and feature a snowflake design. The rear design is more unique to the Meridian with its narrow taillights, the thick chrome trim that connects the two and the redesigned rear fender. It also gets an electric tailgate that can be controlled from inside the passenger compartment, and at the tailgate itself.

Jeep Meridian.  Photo: Bijoy Ghosh

Jeep Meridian. Photo: Bijoy Ghosh | Photo Credit: Bijoy Ghosh

Cottage

Quite a few body panels have had to be changed in the Meridian; so it’s not just a compass that’s been extended with a little extra space on the back. The increased length is also evident inside the cabin, with the third row of dual seats catching my eye. It is and there are also the biggest changes in the Meridian’s cabin.

The dashboard has been almost entirely carried over from the compass. The new 2021 model Compass already featured a significant upgrade and all of these have been brought into the Meridian. The center console has some changes, as do the narrower door panels. The color theme of the cabin is different with the warm brown and black combination that elevates the premium feel of the interior. The stitched leather finish on the dashboard panels and the metallic accents and detailing that highlight the panels also add to the perceived quality of the cabin. The digital instrument cluster and 10-inch infotainment system are borrowed from the Compass and feature almost the same updated menu options and control buttons. Connectivity is good with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available. Some of the other features include a 360-degree camera with park view screen, a dual-window panoramic sunroof, wireless phone charging and 3-zone air conditioning with a dedicated fan and evaporator for the third row of seats.

Jeep Meridian.  Photo: Bijoy Ghosh

Jeep Meridian. Photo: Bijoy Ghosh | Photo Credit: Bijoy Ghosh

The seats themselves have a different stitching pattern for the perforated ‘McKinley’ leather upholstery. Even in the Compass, the seats were very comfortable, and they continue to be so in the Meridian. The highlight of the cabin is the third row of twin seats, but the second row is likely to be used more often. In the Meridian, while the second row appears to have been raised just a bit above the compass, the bench row seats (7-seat configuration) still cannot be moved forward or backward for more space. The backrest can be folded back and there is a fold and tumble with the push of a button for easy access to the third row. Coupled with the wide-opening doors, ingress and egress are relatively easy, although the raised floor and comparably low roof can make it a little difficult for adults. The floor-mounted third-row available legroom would also make it more suitable for children only. Boot space in the new Meridian is quite low with the third row in use. Fold down the two seats and the space available for luggage increases from about two small suitcases or soft bags to about 480 liters of usable space. The Meridian is offered in two trim variants – Limited and Limited (O), and with three powertrain options for the diesel engine.

Jeep Meridian.  Photo: Bijoy Ghosh

Jeep Meridian. Photo: Bijoy Ghosh | Photo Credit: Bijoy Ghosh

Performance

The Jeep Meridian is only offered with one engine option; and it’s a diesel. While other 3-row SUVs lower in the size and price segments offer petrol engines, the Meridian’s size and weight make the diesel’s torque at lower rev levels and better usability at lower speeds the right choice. Still, it will lack a petrol engine; the Compass’s 1.4-litre turbo petrol might not have been enough for the Meridian. So, what the new 3-row Jeep gets is the same 2-litre multijet II turbocharged diesel mill from the Compass and in the same condition. The engine delivers the same 170 hp peak power and 350 Nm peak torque. Powertrains include the 6-speed manual transmission or the 9-speed automatic transmission for the 4X2 version, and the top-trimmed Meridian Limited 4X4 variant (four-wheel drive) can only be had with an automatic transmission.

The automatic transmission 4X2 Meridian was the one I drove on the highway leading up to the off-road section that had been curated by Jeep engineers and officials. On the hour-long intense off-road section, I switched to the 4X4 Meridian Limited. The 9-speed automatic transmission’s calibration and mapping have been adjusted to provide a more measured performance. The same powertrain in the Compass feels a little faster. Engine noise levels are better contained in the passenger compartment at higher rpm levels. There is not much change between the compass and the meridian in slow city speed characteristics. On the highway, the Meridian feels even more composed and stable with the longer wheelbase contributing to balance. The extra weight of 100kg does not detract from the Meridian’s on-road performance. Behind the wheel, I also didn’t feel the effect of its size and footprint. The Meridian really comes into its own when it steps off the tarmac.

The off-road course was a mixture of kutcha tracks in forest terrain, steep rocky climbs, a simulated river bed and some ruts that had been cut into the ground. I approach the trails with the feeling that the Meridian should be fine. But it’s still surprising to see how it whizzes up and down the rocky, slippery slopes and executes the crazy banked rudder sections. In fact, I did some of the slippery sections in 4X2 mode and others without even selecting specific settings. There are four terrain settings to choose from, including an automatic “Select-Terrain”. The others are snow, sand and mud. It also gets the full suite of off-road aids like hill control, which was also offered with the Compass. On- and off-road handling is brilliant with independent suspension equipped with hydraulic rebound dampers and frequency-selective damping. Together they contribute to a ride that is firm yet comfortable.

Jeep Meridian.  Photo: Bijoy Ghosh

Jeep Meridian. Photo: Bijoy Ghosh | Photo Credit: Bijoy Ghosh

Conclusion

The Jeep Meridian is in the same size class as the Mahindra XUV 700, Toyota Fortuner, MG Gloster, Ford Endeavor and VW Tiguan AllSpace. In terms of its off-road prowess, it shares the same incredible Jeep DNA and that was very evident from the experience I had up in the hills surrounding Chandigarh. The Meridian adds to Jeep’s portfolio of vehicles that are India-focused and accessible to a larger audience. But it’s hard to gauge how many potential Compass customers might want the extra row of seats. It’s entirely possible that many of them might appreciate and want the extra storage space in the Meridian’s boot. And while most, if not all, Jeep customers will barely use the Meridian’s legendary 4X4 capabilities, it helps to know it can conquer the unexplored and, if necessary, even ford the flooded neighborhood street.

Compared to some of the other 3-row SUVs, the Meridian misses out on ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems) features like lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, etc (regular cruise control is offered). It also doesn’t offer any significant upgrade inside the cabin compared to the Compass. So, the real USP is just the third row and that might be a good enough reason to go for the Meridian. “After all, a family that sits together, stays together.”

I expect prices to range from 30 lakh to 35 lakh.

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