It’s a pattern that seems to repeat itself with rare exceptions. A foreign car-maker lands in India to start production here. It launches a car that takes the market by storm. In due course, it is unable to chalk up a steady drumbeat of equally good products.
Five years ago, when the Chrysler company (now part of the company Stellantis) launched its Jeep-branded Compass, the market was abuzz with rave feedback on the high quality of the SUV, its sharp design and presence, and the fact that it had little competition, with the likes of Tata, M&M and Ford as its rivals. It made companies such as Kia and MG wake up, who have since launched their own very competent and popular city SUVs.
Coming back to the Jeep, which has enjoyed a global reputation for its cars that include the Wrangler, Cherokee and the Grand Cherokee, it’s ironic that none of those cars has made a significant footprint in India. That’s largely because of restrictive import prices and customs.
However, what it has done is bring in cars that have worked. That includes the Compass.
The new Jeep Meridian, which is essentially a three-row extension of the Compass, is much more your full-fledged off-roader with a hard suspension and a larger frame. It’s powered by the same 2-litre diesel engine and comes in both a 6-speed manual as well a 9-speed automatic transmission front-wheel and all-wheel drive modes.
Like with all large cars that are big, heavy, and expected to cruise in and out of tricky terrain, the new Meridian is equipped with a bucket-load of safety features that include traction control, electronic stability control, several airbags, and other software systems that help lane detection and more.
Inside the Meridian, it feels comfortable and upright with the quality of gadgetry, interiors and plastics expected from an international brand car. However, it lacks the overall premium-ness that may come with a top-end Japanese car or even a mid-range German car such as the Škoda Kodiaq, which is priced higher but is in the same range as the Meridian. Interestingly the Meridian, which is priced at about Rs 30 lakh, is squarely aimed at the Toyota Fortuner whose price tag has been Rs 30-plus lakh in recent times.
The car is adequately powered and glides along happily on both highways and by-lanes, handling bumps and craters with ease and never feeling like it’s off-kilter or in an awkward position. The space in both the front rows is sufficient for a family, but it’s the last row that could have been thought through better — it’s scrunched up and is best used for children, small pets or luggage.
While the Meridian’s offload dynamics are certain to be on par with any established SUV, what makes it practical for India will be its on-road comfort and stability, especially for long distances. The bottom line is, this is a satisfactory car but would have had a deeper impact if it had been launched earlier or positioned with a slightly more premium edge — as one that could take on the Germans.