Let’s cut directly to the chase – is the Jeep Meridian a worthy alternative to the Toyota Fortuner?
A month or so ago, if you were to buy a proper seven-seat SUV under ₹50 lakh, there were exactly eight options. Well, yes, that’s the number of colours the Toyota Fortuner is available in. And no, I’m not kidding. There may be other vehicles like the MG Gloster and Isuzu MU-X that compete with the Fortuner, but when it comes to putting your money where your mouth is, 90% of buyers are likely to end up with the Toyota – it’s the default choice for most, period.
Now, ever since Ford decided to shut shop and pull the Endeavour off the showroom floors, the Fortuner has had a free run in the market. There hasn’t been any real rival since, for none of the other SUVs in that space have the kind of brand pull or pedigree that Toyota has.
This makes the arrival of the Jeep Meridian a rather important affair. You see, just like the Fortuner, the Meridian has got solid off-road credentials, and, as a product, it stands out because it is, after all, a Jeep. So, we ask the following question – is the Meridian a more complete SUV than the Fortuner? We spent a couple of days with the Meridian to get to the crux of the matter.
It’s a Jeep Thing
There’s no mistaking that the Meridian is anything but a Jeep. Plus, it also bears a strong resemblance to the Compass and the new Cherokee. Overall, the design is sharp and gives the Meridian a butch and classy appearance at the same time. Compared to the Compass (4.4 metres long), the Meridian stretches to over 4.7 metres to accommodate the third row of seats. It’s also slightly wider and taller (by around 40mm). With a wheelbase of 2,794mm, its footprint is larger by 158mm than that of its 5-seat sibling. While the Compass looks premium and sporty, the Meridian looks stately – much like the Grand Cherokee. In fact, I think it’s the Meridian’s sublime and elegant presence that will give it the edge over the rugged body-on-frame Fortuner.
The inside continues to tell a similar story. Be it the overall cabin quality, leather seats, dual-tone interior (the Compass interior has an all-black theme), panoramic sunroof, or ventilated seats, everything about the Meridian’s interior is premium. Sure, the plastic quality of the lower panels in the cabin could have been better, but, on the whole, the Meridian’s interior is premium and exudes richness.
In terms of features and equipment, it’s more or less identical to the Compass. The top-end Limited (O) variants get the same Uconnect 10.1-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual-zone climate control, a digital 10.25-inch driver display, powered front seats, and six airbags.
Now, the Meridian promises to be a do-it-all SUV. You’ve got three rows of seats, premium features, a sophisticated ride-and-handling package, and a punchy diesel powertrain. And the best part is that it’s not a pseudo-SUV or a soft crossover. Despite being a monocoque SUV, the Meridian is claimed to have hardcore Jeep DNA that’ll help you go anywhere – with your family and dog on board. Is it true though?
In a word, yes! The Merdian is a hardcore SUV that doesn’t shy away from the dirty business of off-roading. Its 168bhp and 350Nm-worthy 2.0-litre diesel engine may not be a mighty performer, but it’s got a lot of fire in its belly. The model on test here is the AWD version with a 9-speed auto, and, in daily driving conditions, or even while off-roading, there’s little to complain about when it comes to the drivetrain. The engine is a little rough at idle, though, and not as refined as you’d want in a ₹40+ lakh premium SUV. On the move, however, the clatter isn’t as intrusive. The other remarkable thing about the Meridian is its ride-and-handling balance. It drives beautifully on all kinds of roads, offering an unshakeable ride.
So, what about its performance off-road? Well, it’s so effortless that most of the time you won’t even need to put it in 4WD Low or engage the locking differential. It simply glides over everything effortlessly despite the size and girth. The Selec Terrain management has three modes – Auto, Sand/Mud, and Snow – but my personal experience says that you can just leave it in Auto mode, and the onboard computer will take care of everything. What I love the most about the Meridian is the way it masks its size and dimensions when you’re behind the wheel. Navigating through tight and tricky spaces is a cakewalk, as the visibility out of the cabin is brilliant – it won’t be wrong to say that the Meridian sort of shrinks around you.
Let’s go back to the very beginning – is the Meridian a real alternative to the Fortuner? Well, if you’re a politician trying to make a statement, then you won’t like the Meridian’s rather subdued and classy appearance over the Fortuner’s brash and intimidating looks. Similarly, if your day job involves ploughing fields or something similar, the Fortuner will be a better bet since it’s a more hardcore off-roader.
'What I love about the Meridian is the way it masks its size when you’re behind the wheel'
However, if you want a modern-day SUV – one that offers a great balance between being adventurous and sophisticated – the Meridian is a damn good deal. It’s raw but not crude, premium but not fragile, and desirable but unpretentious. And, most importantly, it’s a good deal more affordable than the Fortuner.
- Jeep Meridian
Engine: 1,956cc / 4-Cylinder / Turbocharged
Transmission: 9-Speed AT / All-Wheel Drive
Power: 168bhp @ 3,750rpm
Torque: 350Nm @ 1,750 – 2,500rpm
Price: ₹36.95 Lakh (Ex-Showroom)