We drove Jeep's new 7-seater extensively. Here are our thoughts…
Words: Neeraj Padmakumar Photography: Sarath Sasi
Jeep Meridian aims for the highly sought-after 7-seater family SUV space. It, I must say, comes in at just the perfect time. The space has been dominated by the Fortuner for years. If you might remember, someone planning for a large 3-row SUV half a decade ago would have just two options- Toyota Fortuner and the Ford Endeavour. Although there were a couple of other options available like the Isuzu MU-X, Mahindra Alturas (or the Rexton previously), these had minimal market traction (or segment shares). Fast forward to 2022 and you no longer have the Endeavour on sale. The Ford has left a small, sharp but crucial void in the game, and the Meridian aspires to be the pitch there!
Jeep hopes to find its second volume seller in the Meridian. While models like the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee are still on sale here, the Compass continues to be the bread and butter model for the manufacturer here. Being an under 50 lakh SUV, or a Fortuner rival (or an Endeavour alternative!), the Meridian aims to be the second hot seller. But can it? Read on to know the SUV in detail and our thoughts on it...'
Jeep Meridian Design
The Meridian is often referred to as the 'Compass 7 seater', essentially because it builds on the popular nameplate. It borrows most of the key mechanicals from the smaller SUV. However, this is no game of bolt-ons or dimensionally different look-alikes.
|Ground Clearance||203 mm|
The Meridian is big, brawny, and masculine. It has the longest wheelbase in its class, even more than the Fortuner! Pit it against a Compass and the hike in wheelbase would amount to as much as 146mm! That to be honest, is some serious increase.
The overall shape might invoke memories of the Compass at multiple places. However, this influence doesn't go too far. The Meridian's design does have a number of OG cues. You could easily mistake the front fascia to be that of a Compass when viewed from a distance. However, a closer examination would reveal that key areas like the grille, headlamps, and bumpers deviate sharply from those of the smaller Jeep in their designs. If viewed carefully, it would be the Grand Cherokee that you would end up drawing visual connections to. Strong resemblances could be found in the headlamp and tail lamp designs. The SUV features Jeep's new-age LED headlamps, which stand out with their throws, beam intensities, and spreads. I had absolutely no complaints after driving it for 100 odd kilometers at night.
The grille design is unique to the Meridian. While it might seem to be the familiar 7 slot unit from the Compass, the seven-seater gets it with a different set of details. On the Compass, each of these slots has full Chrome surrounds, while here they are partial. The upper and lower ends of Chrome never meet to complete the rings- minor detailing tweaks that do wonders in the overall aesthetics...
The front bumper looks fresh with more details incorporated into it. The profile is vocal about the sheer size of the SUV. Some of the lines might seem familiar. In fact, the silhouette remains comparable to that of the smaller SUV, till the B pillar. Beyond it, most things have been restructured. There are new doors (that open a wide 80 degrees), new C and D pillars, and fresh-looking rear quarter glass.';
The D-pillar stands upright and goes well with the butch proportions of Meridian. A lot of components, like the D pillar, for instance, are had in Black, improving the overall aesthetics. Chrome has been used judiciously. The vehicle gets 18-inch wheels with 235/55 R18 tyres and the roof rails are mere show-pieces.
The rear design is something I particularly like on this SUV. The aesthetic imbalance that the upright design of the D pillar could potentially create, has been taken care of well by the lines on the tailgate. The rear windscreen, and tailgate in general, look clean and clutter-free. The LED taillamps are sleek and take clear design inspirations from those on the 2022 Grand Cherokee. To sum it up, Jeep Compass looks good, and the Meridian ranks higher...
Interior And Features
The Meridian's cabin is quite a nice place to be in. Several bits inside, like the dashboard for instance, would strongly resemble those on the 2021 Compass. Material quality at large is impressive. ( A few bits like the seat bases could have had better plastics). My favorite bits however, are the Black-Brown color theme and the generous use of leatherette inside.
The seats are comfortable and differ from the ones on the Compass in their stitching patterns. Key features on offer here, include a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster with selectable displays, 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 360-degree camera, front ventilated seats, wireless charger, traction modes, panoramic sunroof, and powered front seats.
The instrument cluster looks good and has a promising resolution. There is a lot of information on offer here. Selectable display modes are something we had seen previously on the Citroen C5 Aircross- the Meridian's distant cousin (Since both Jeep and Citroen are parts of Stellantis). However, on the 7-seater Jeep, the display design doesn't look as futuristic (or game-like) as on the C5. And there are lesser animations and drama here!
The infotainment system feels great. The touchscreen is fairly responsive and gets a neat UI. The vehicle comes with a 9-speaker audio setup from Alpine. The audio quality feels impressive. There is some jarring when you pump up the bass and mids. However, in most cases, this could deliver decent 'party car' vibes.
The Meridian comes with a powered tailgate which can be operated via a button on the tailgate and another inside the cabin, handy to the driver. Furthermore, a button inside the boot can also be used to close the tailgate.
Talking of space, the second row gets a 60:40 bench on the fully-loaded car. It is quite a comfortable place to be on. While the leg room is still identical to what's on offer on the Compass, the slight increase in overall width, together with a set of reworked door panels, has generated more room and comfort for the middle row occupants.
You also sit higher than what you would in a Compass, with a much better under-thigh support. Expect no major improvement in the seat width, if you ever had that complaint about the Compass. While the mid-bench can be reclined slightly for some extra comfort, it misses out on the sliding function, indicating the prevalence of a 'one legroom fits all' logic.
But The Third Row...
Jeep is quite vocal about the Meridian's third row. They have put in much effort to serve the last row occupants with ample space and comfort. But have all of those fetched results? Well, the third row, on the most honest note, didn't feel to offer the amount of space that I expected it would, going by the visual bulk on the outside. Two can be seated, but with compromises.
The last row of seats sits on the floor and demands you to have your knees up and against the middle row, while seated. The thigh support too is minimal. Being 6 feet tall, I found the headroom to be just adequate. The last row seats offer recline functions, that could possibly prove to be of great convenience on long drives. Furthermore, there are other features like roof-mounted air vents with a dedicated blower/evaporator and USB charging points, for added comfort. Even with all these said, I would recommend the Meridian's last row primarily to kids or passengers who aren't too tall.
Accessing the last row would give you no major pain on the Meridian. The middle bench gets a 'one-pull tumble' function that is easy to use and efficient. However, the roof design and high floor might demand you to 'adapt and improvise a little' while wiggling in!
The boot space is definitely a strong point of the Meridian. The SUV has ample space for storing a couple of small handbags or soft bags even with all three rows in use. With the last row folded down, there is close to 481 liters on offer. Folding the middle row could generate huge amounts of space- enough to store a mini-refrigerator may be!
The Meridian borrows its core mechanicals from the Compass. It is powered by the same 2.0 liter Multijet II diesel engine from the Compass (and the Safari, Harrier, Hector, and Hector Plus, to be more specific!) . No petrols for now. The engine produces 168 hp and 350 Nm on the 7-seater too. However, I felt the core character of this engine to be a tad different from that of the Compass'. 6 speed manual and 9-speed automatic gearboxes are on offer, of which the latter can be had with an AWD system- like on our test car. There are, however, no paddle shifters- a major miss I would say.
Talking of refinement, the Meridian's engine feels a touch quieter and smoother than the one on the Compass. The reworked fuel injection unit also contributes to this. However, it is still quite audible, especially when revved. The cabin insulation feels quite competent.
|Engine||2.0 liter Multijet II diesel|
|0-100 kph time||10.8 seconds|
Even while sharing the same powertrain as its younger sibling, the Meridian feels quite different from the Compass on the performance front. The engine outputs are definitely the same, but the way these are delivered is different from the Compass. The Meridian you could say, offers a significantly more linear delivery than its smaller sibling. This could apparently be due to the different ECU maps, engine calibration, and maybe even the revised injection timings. The folks at Jeep claim to have done this for a smoother drive (and hopefully a better ride, which the SUV has an immense focus on!).
You would feel the Compass to be quicker off the line. The Meridian, on the other hand, would deliver torque in a more measured way and gain momentum in a more relaxed manner. You get to feel the tug till 4500 odd rpms. 0-100 is done in a claimed 10.8 seconds time.
However, the Meridian can get to serious speeds and still feel planted and comfortable. Floor it hard and you could reach up to 198 kph, which as a matter of fact, is higher than most of its rivals! Worth mentioning here is how lazy the 9AT feels to be! It is slow-shifting and has a rather tall gearing to it. Driving around in the cities and in extremely slow-paced traffic, wouldn't thus, be the most pleasurable experience. However, the Meridian makes for an immensely comfortable and engaging highway car. You can cruise all day and still not be tired or bored! Also, the first gear here, is set very low. This is mostly engaged in 4x4 scenes, than on roads. The vehicle starts off in the second gear in most road conditions.
Ride And Handling
We've loved the Compass for the way it drives and handles. The Meridian ups the ante further. The suspension setup on this vehicle, gets Frequency Selective Damping (FSD) and Hydraulic Rebound Stoppers (HRS) along with a rear independent suspension. Jeep has been very particular about giving this SUV a very comfortable ride quality with minimal compromises in dynamics.
Start rolling and you would instantly recognize a very desirable firmness to the ride. The suspension feels just as firm as to let you have good road manners, and doesn't escalate further to disturb the occupant comforts. This SUV could simply flatten most of the uneven patches like a pro, lending a comfortable ride to all its passengers.
Also, from whatever we experienced during our days with it, the Meridian feels very civilized and composed for its size, around corners. It feels very maneuverable and confidence-inspiring. The monocoque construction and Jeep's careful engineering have helped in keeping the body roll under check. Plus, the steering offers good feedback too.
Driving in the cities wouldn't be a pain at all. You wouldn't feel intimidated by the sheer size of the SUV. However, you would definitely feel the bulk while braking. The Meridian gets four disc brakes that feel progressive in action and instill much confidence in the driver. Despite its size, this SUV stays tamed at all times. The Meridian could even be the best in the game, when it comes to the ride-handling balance.
The Compass is quite capable on off-roads, despite its monocoque construction. We still love it for its smart proportions, desirable approach, departure and breakover angles and the smart 4WD offered on select variants. The Meridian ,however, falls slightly lower in its angles, but doesn't lose much on the actual terrain-tackling abilities.
The significant hikes in its wheelbase and the overall length could obviously bring in compromises in the approach, ramp and departure angles. Going by how the overhangs have evolved, the departure and breakover angles could assumed to be the worst-hit. However, it turns out that Jeep has engineered the Meridian in such a way that it retains fairly capable angles.
|Approach Angle||21.5 degrees|
|Breakover Angle||23.1 degrees|
|Departure Angle||23.6 degrees|
Since we did not have a custom-built off-road track to our disposal, we took the Meridian to some natural trails, of medium difficulties. The SUV impressed us at the inclines, and in the slush. We could wade through mud, without even engaging 4x4 low, in most cases. Engaging the same helped us do relatively more hardcore stuff. The Meridian gets an on-demand 4WD which starts functioning when a loss of traction is detected. There is, however, the option to engage the '4WD lock' manually. Furthermore, the SUV features tech like selectable traction modes and a Hill Descent Control (HDC).
I presume one could confidently take the Meridian to mild and medium trails, without having to worry about the lower ground clearance and less capable angles that it has.
In real world conditions, the Meridian returned us fuel efficiencies in the range: 9.2-11.4 kpl, on mixed road and traffic conditions, and with varying driver behaviours. In a more ideal scene, you could probably achieve close to 13-14 kpl.
Price And The Competition!
As a product, the Meridian does make much sense. It is a seven seater (that is best had as a five seater with a lot of room for luggage!) offering you supremely comfortable ride, good road manners, new-age features, a capable diesel engine, and an obvious off-road supremacy among similar monocoques.
However, Jeep has placed the Meridian on the pricier side. The ex-showroom prices for the SUV start at 29.90 lakh and go till 36.95 lakh for the top-spec variant that we had for review. While this could simply not be the most ideal pricing, it wouldn't harm the Meridian for the time being. The segment today, has the Fortuner as the Jeep's ' seemingly sole' rival. The Endeavour is out of the game, the Gloster hasn't been having a great time in sales, and so has the Alturas. The Meridian's price fairly undercuts that of the Jap and could make it a considerably pitch, atleast as a meeker Endeavour alternative!
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