Jeep Meridian Driven — Can it trouble the Toyota Fortuner?
The term white-space is more often than not misused, but the 7-seater Jeep Meridian could genuinely find itself in one. The obvious rival is the segment emperor, the Toyota Fortuner, but that’s built on a ladder-frame unlike the monocoque of the Jeep Meridian. If you don’t option 4x4, the Fortuner is RWD while the Jeep Meridian, when not optioned with AWD, is a FWD. There are obvious pros and cons to the mechanical layout, which we will come to in a bit, but the point I’m trying to make is that, while both are technically SUVs, the Meridian and Fortuner are chalk-and-cheese.
Then there’s the sweet little gap that the demise of the Ford Endeavour has left for the Meridian to slot into. Endeavour buyers, if you recall, were those who wanted better dynamics and performance than the Fortuner; and wanted to distinguish themselves from the hordes of white Fortuners. It will not surprise anyone to see those buyers, left high and dry for a year now, hanging a hard left for Jeep showrooms. There finally is an alternative to the ubiquitous Fortuner, but is it a worthy rival?
Styling of Jeep Meridian
Jeep — actually Stellantis folk — do not want you to view the Meridian through the prism of the Compass, but there’s no getting away from the Compass lineage. The nose has familiar Compass cues with the addition of buckets of chrome. The seven-slot Jeep grille has more of the shiny stuff that extends into the new full-LED headlamps giving it chrome eyebrows and eyeliner. The bumper is new, re-profiled for a better approach angle, and gets more chrome trim. It’s over on the profile where the changes are properly evident starting with the Meridian badging replacing Compass on the front doors and more blingy 18-inch wheels. Aft of the B-pillar everything is new with longer rear doors courtesy the 158mm added to the wheelbase and a more formal and upright rear end styling that’s on-brand with Jeep’s gigantic all-American SUV’s, the Grand Cherokee and Wagoneer. The slim taillamps are distinctive, even polarising, and are connected by a slab of chrome, while at the bottom of the bumper there’s more chrome trim.
Measuring 4769mm the Meridian is just 26mm shorter than the Fortuner and it definitely looks big and imposing on the road. I think it looks great but you’re free to form your own opinion. My only bone of contention is the noticeable gap in the wheel arches (ground clearance remains the same at 203mm) to accommodate the 19-inch wheels that the Jeep Commander (as the Meridian is badged in Brazil) can be optioned with.
Interiors of the Jeep Meridian
On the inside there’s no getting away from the fact that the Meridian is based on the Compass. Nothing is changed from the recent face-lift, and I won’t complain because that face-lift effected an excellent revamp to the cabin. You get a massive infotainment that includes wireless Apple CarPlay along with wireless charging, a customisable digital cockpit, properly meaty steering wheel, panoramic sunroof, comfortable seats that are electrically adjustable, and some brown leather trim to make it seem more upmarket than the Compass.
The big change is at the back with the 2794mm wheelbase removing the one big criticism we had of the Compass, that it was not great to be chauffeured in. You won’t complain about middle row knee room in the Meridian, though we have to point out it is not overly generous either, and the seats don’t slide so you can’t adjust the space either. No captain’s seats either for the middle row, which is a strange miss. The middle row folds and tumbles out of the way with a single lever — this is engineered very well — and the long doors make access to the third row surprisingly easy. That’s in complete contrast to the space which is extremely tight for normal-sized adults. For kids this is manageable though I suspect only for short distances as they too will find it claustrophobic. The roof-mounted air-con vents will keep the kids cool though.
Jeep claim the Meridian is the widest in its class but the shoulder room is no different to the Compass, which isn’t known for accommodating three abreast in comfort. The quoted 41mm increase in width over the Compass has either come from the new bumpers or wing mirrors. As for boot space the third row folds flat into the boot to liberate a 418 litre boot, and that’s the best use of all the extra length of the Meridian. With the third row up you get 170 litres, which is good enough to squeeze in one airplane carry-on suitcase.
Only diesel on the Jeep Meridian
The familiar 2-litre Multijet II diesel is retained and it makes the same 168bhp and 300Nm as it does in the Compass (and the Harrier, Safari and Hector). Performance is claimed to be best in class, and I have no doubt that the Meridian will out-accelerate the Fortuner with a claimed 10.8 seconds 0-100kmph time. But I also have to point out that you do notice the extra 112kg which makes it a few tenths slower than the Compass in the acceleration sprint with the gap opening up a bit more in the in-gear roll-ons. The top speed is quoted at 198kmph which, again, is better than the segment leader.
You have the option of the 9-speed automatic, and it’s only with this auto box that you get all-wheel-drive. With the manual you only get front-wheel-drive. The AWD is an on-demand system that sends drive to the rear when slip is detected, but you can lock it in 4x4 mode, and there are three drive modes to choose from depending on the terrain you’re tackling. Press the Low Ratio switch on the centre console and the 9-speed gearbox engages the first gear — this is geared so low that in regular driving you always start off in second.
You still don’t get paddle shifters for the gearbox and the shift speeds are like what we have experienced in the Compass, which is on the relaxed end of the spectrum. Refinement too is similar to the Compass — you are in no doubt of a diesel engine under the hood, but it’s never intrusive either.
Jeep guys say this is a diesel segment and that’s why they are not offering a petrol engine at launch. What’s left unsaid is the 1.4 turbo-petrol being asked to haul all 1890 kilos of the Meridian would be a bit too much.
On the road with the Jeep Meridian
The Meridian continues with the Koni Frequency Selective Dampers as seen on the Compass along with the independent rear suspension, with obvious fine tuning to account for the added size and weight. You also get rear disc brakes and in keeping with the focus on the rear seat, the setup is softer and tuned to deliver a better ride quality. This is particularly noticeable in the city where the Meridian takes the edge off the Compass’ firm low-speed ride. Build speeds and the Meridian retains the Compass’ fantastic composure, feeling extremely robust and composed over bad roads, cushioning out road undulations that you hit at speed, and feeling very confidence-inspiring. The excellent road manners will be the big (if not biggest) reason Fortuner (and erstwhile Endy) buyers will gravitate towards the Meridian. There’s no comparison with the Toyota’s firm and unsettled ride, though when the going gets really, really bad the indestructibility of the ladder frame does have its obvious benefits.
We didn’t get the opportunity to throw the Meridian round corners with Jeep focusing the majority of the drive on a particularly demanding off-road trail. But there definitely is more body roll and it doesn’t enjoy being hustled at an indecent pace. That said on this front too the Meridian scores a clear win over the Fortuner and will run rings around it in the hills.
Off road with the Jeep Meridian
I don’t know how many Meridian buyers will actually take their Jeep off-road but if they do, they are in for a surprise. A big surprise! The off-road ability of the Meridian is off the charts, at least as far as monocoque AWD SUVs are concerned. We tested the Meridian in Chandigarh where they take their off-roading to another level, and lined up for us was a mix of level 5 and 6 challenges. One wheel up in the air, clambering up steps, axle twisters, rock trails, side-slopes, steep drops to test hill-descent control, this goes through everything like a champion. It’s fantastic that Jeep takes their off-road reputation seriously, and most of their energies on the launch drive was seemingly channeled into the off-road course. And the best part is the Meridian demands no effort. Stick the Selec Terrain system in the Sand/Mud, lock 4WD and let the 20.426 crawl ratio do its thing.
How expensive will the Jeep Meridian be?
This, as they say, is the million dollar question. From sitting between the Creta and Tucson, the Compass now sits above the Tucson, and the Meridian will attract at least a Rs 5 lakh premium to the Compass. Rs 36 lakh ex-showroom for the Meridian is pricey, but Jeep find themselves in the white-space I mentioned at the start. The Tiguan is a 5-seater and is only petrol. The Kodiaq is sold out. The Gloster doesn’t seem to have really taken off and with Mahindra calling time on their Ssangyong ownership the end is near for the Alturas G4. It leaves only the Toyota Fortuner, which commands a lion’s share of this segment, and not without reason. The quality, reliability, indestructibility and astounding resale value still make it the default choice but if you’re looking for something different, something that’s car-like to drive, that is comfortable, that is loaded with features and can do more off-roading than most of us will be brave enough to put anything through, the Jeep Meridian is on point.