Sunday Drive by Hormazd Sorabjee: Coming in strong

The timing could not be better. The Jeep Meridian arrives when the 7-seater category sees new action, and shortly after, the Ford Endeavor ends. But most importantly, the Meridian is Jeep’s second common model in India. Until now, the compass – which was launched long back in 2017 – was the company’s only pillar in India, on whose shoulders the company’s fortunes rested. Niche models like the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee are good for image, but Jeep needed another mainstream model to gain critical mass in the rapidly evolving and growing Indian SUV market.

Balance is everything

While the Meridian is based on the compass, Jeep has honorably redesigned the entire car with a significantly longer wheelbase and new body panels. And it’s the wheelbase, along with the relatively short front and rear overhangs (critical to a Jeep’s off-road capability), that gives the Meridian outstanding balanced proportions. The Meridian is actually more Grand Cherokee-like than a stretched compass.

The infotainment system is transferred from the compass

The instrument panel is pretty much the same as the compass and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The material quality, the solid door handles and the chrome finishes all radiate an exclusive feeling. But a little more differentiation – apart from the two-tone, brown and black color scheme and the various sewn seats – would have been welcome.

The fully digital dashboard is also transferred from Compass, so you get a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster with multiple screens, a 10.1-inch infotainment system that has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto wireless, a 360-degree camera and a large panoramic sunroof. But when you look at how rivals pamper owners, Meridian comes across a bit stingy with its gadgets.

The misery of the third line

The middle row is similar to the compass, which means that there is a little lack of space. The seats themselves, however, are a big improvement, with nicer cushions; this automatically improves your sitting position. The high seating position and the large window make it easier to look out, and this improved visibility makes long journeys more comfortable. Unlike other 7-seater seats, however, the center row does not slip, which is a shame as this could have given some much-needed extra legroom.

The car has a longer wheelbase
The car has a longer wheelbase

The third row is quite disappointing when you consider the space offered in other 7-seater. Sure, the one-touch or one-pull lever that tilts and tumbles forward both sections of the 60:40 rear seat base makes it easy to access the last row, but the low roof forces you to turn around a bit to wiggle inside. It is not a place where adults can travel long distances comfortably and it is best to leave for children or for luggage.

Rides with boldness

Meridian comes with only one engine option, the same 170 hp, 2.0-liter diesel that drives the Compass, but in a slightly different setting. It’s a bit quieter than the Compass, but when you turn the engine hard it sounds characteristically gravelly, the diesel drone quite well. The performance also feels a bit blunt compared to the compass, a result of the extra weight of 110 kg and the softer engine calibration. In isolation, the Meridian does not feel the slightest bit of powerlessness. But even if the car is strong and has enough mood, it does not feel very sporty, and that is due to the rather lazy 9-speed gearbox.

The compass is known for its driving and handling, but Meridian takes it to another level. The stability is simply phenomenal and the way the Meridian flattens out a road is amazing. The confidence it gives you through curves is amazing and there is simply no other SUV in this category (or even a segment above and below) that rides and handles with such conviction.

The meridian has no direct competition given its unique set of talents, but the price is around 35 lakh, it’s not cheap. However, it is a good case for those who want a three-wheeled, tough SUV that is comfortable, user-friendly and equally skilled both on and off-road.

The views expressed by the columnist are personal

Capture Hormazd Sorabjee’s column every fortnight in HT Brunch. It will next be shown on May 28, 2022.

From HT Brunch, 14 May 2022

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