With Ford Endeavour making its exit, the timing of Meridian’s entry is almost perfect. After the Compass, this is the next big bet on the Indian market for Jeep. The competition, however, is fierce with a swathe of three-row SUVs, with ample performance and features at various price points, entering the market. Will the strong Jeep DNA give the Meridian an edge?
The rear wheel is 5ft in the air and the car is at an angle where it could easily tilt over, but it never does. I gently accelerate out of the deep rut, and the Meridian deftly transfers power to the wheels on the ground as I swing over into the next rut. The rear wheels alternate high into the air from left to right on a superbly curated course outside Chandigarh.
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The Meridian never falters here, but a steep sandy climb is ahead. I reach to engage the 4-low button, and I am immediately told I won’t need it.
Like a mountain goat, the Meridian clambers up the slope and the next obstacle, a set of stairs. Incidentally, the Meridian uses the same system as the Trailhawk, where everyday driving on the road is in gears 2-9. Yes, it has a nine-speed gearbox, and when low is engaged, the first gear that sits in the box is activated. You also get multiple drive modes (Sand/Mud, Snow and Auto). Still, most owners can stick to the default Auto setting, which automatically maximises traction depending on the surface you’re driving on, as I did for this entire course.
As we descend down another steep slope, there is a ditch full of water, precisely made to parade the 16-inch water wading capability of the Meridian, and it sails through. The track tests its ramp, approach and departure angles to the limit and the Meridian never breaks a sweat. Besides showing off the off-road prowess of the car, this brilliant track has also highlighted the dynamics of the Meridian—body roll is superbly contained, and the ride quality is quite remarkable. The rough road didn’t feel as rough inside the cabin.
Suitably impressed, I take it out of its natural habitat and on to the tarmac. The Meridian comes with the same 170hp, 2.0-litre diesel as the Compass but has various transmission options. The 4x2 gets a six-speed manual gearbox and the nine-speed auto, while the top-of-the-line Limited 4x4 only comes with a nine-speed auto, which I drove. The same engine, however, has been recalibrated for the Meridian. And one notices that immediately as it doesn’t get off the line as quickly as the Compass, and performance delivery is more linear.
The nine-speed gearbox is quite lazy too, and it adds to the feeling of performance being blunted compared to the Compass. Having said that, it doesn’t feel underpowered. It picks up pace from low speeds and pulls steadily up to the 4500 rpm mark.
Once you build up power, the Meridian cruises comfortably and quietly. It also feels solid and stable, making it a great highway car. I soon realised driving with gentler inputs to the throttle works better than flattening your foot to the floor. It feels more refined, and getting away is easier. What’s also great is it never feels large from behind the wheel and is agile.
Sadly, the Meridian disappoints in the third row, especially when you consider others like the Kia Carens and XL6. Getting in is super easy with rear doors that open up wide and the one-touch tumble mechanism, but the tight space in the rear makes you contort to fit in. With the seats set low to the floor, your knees are literally in your chin. Honestly, it’s best for smaller kids. You get roof-mounted air-con vents served by a separate blower and an evaporator, so staying cool is not a problem. The middle row also does not slide, so adjusting the space between the rows is impossible. It also means room in the middle row is just about as much as the Compass, although the width is a bit more with slimmer door pockets.
The interior, in general, is similar to the Compass but to differentiate, the Meridian interior is two-tone brown and black instead of the plain black of the Compass. You do get a fair amount of kit. There’s a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster with multiple displays, a 10.1-inch infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a sharp 360-degree camera. There’s wireless charging, driving modes, USB Type C and USB Type A ports, and a panoramic sunroof, which bags all the must-have features that SUV owners want.
But this segment has pushed the envelope on features and the Meridian falls short of some must-haves. There are no ADAS features like adaptive cruise control or lane departure warning, which the XUV700 and Gloster have made the norm. The exterior is better differentiated than the interior, with slimmer lamps and lots of chorme. It is also longer, wider and has more space between the wheels.
Priced between ₹29.9 lakh and ₹36.95 lakh, the Meridian undercuts the Fortuner by quite a margin. With the Endeavour gone and Kodiaq unavailable at this price, the Meridian is a class-leading ride, with great off-roading ability. It can take you long distances in a relaxed manner.
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