I have to admit I really like the name Jeep Meridian. It is consistent with Jeep’s geography-based nomenclature (like the Compass), and means more than just that. The word meridian is a versatile one, and could be used synonymously with zenith, pinnacle, peak, and apex. We were invited to take the soon-to-launch Meridian on a drive around Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, to find out what aspects of Jeep’s new seven-seat SUV are apt to the name. Being a Jeep, there was the mandatory off-road track arranged as well.
When I first laid eyes on the Meridian in the flesh, it looked much bigger than the Compass, especially around the middle. Yes, it is 364-mm longer, 41-mm wider, 58-mm taller and has a wheelbase that’s 146-mm longer, but the stretched seven-slat grille, and the slimmer headlights give the impression that it’s much wider. It’s a nice look on what is essentially an elongated Compass. It’s also quite noticeable that there is quite a bit of length behind the rear wheel, though — as with the Compass — my OCD kicked in when I saw that the rear wheel and the wheel well aren’t aligned quite right.
Like others of its ilk (three-row derivatives of five-seat SUVs), the Compass and Meridian could be mistaken for one another in the dark, but once the lights come on, you’ll definitely know which one is which. The rear styling is also unique to the Meridian, featuring slimmer lights linked by a chrome strip, which helps, again, to accentuate its width. The new 18-inch alloys also provide more distinction between the smaller Jeep and the seven-seat version. Overall, the Meridian, like the Compass, looks solid, well-put-together, and rugged, while being more urbane than the likes of the Wrangler.
Those familiar with the Compass will feel at home in the Meridian. The lighter brown tones used on the dashboard and on the seats definitely helps brighten the cabin, and the space inside is more ample. The inside feels even roomier thanks to the big panoramic sunroof, and then, there’s the additional row of seats. You climb into them via the one-touch tumble and fold 60:40 split rear bench (a six-seat version with captain seats may also be on the cards), though not many will find the third row usable.
Those will be best for children over short journeys, or folded down to make space for more luggage. Despite the increase in width over the Compass, the Meridian won’t seat three in the rear bench with that much more comfort, making it best for two passengers. Still, the two in the middle bench — even if they are on the taller and larger side — will be very comfortable, even over long distances. Meanwhile, I found the driver’s seats to be the best place to be overall. It is eight way power adjustable, comes with ventilation, and offers excellent support.
The equipment being more or less the same as the Compass, you get wireless charging, the slick 10.1-inch infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 360-degree camera that has a sharp display (and is very useful while off-roading), and a customisable 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster. The powered tailgate is quite useful, especially when the rear seats are folded down to make about 480 litres of boot space. Safety kit, from the tyre pressure monitor and six airbags to the hill-descent control and electric parking brake.
Along with the increase in size over the Compass, there’s a corresponding increase in weight — a little more than 100 kg — which makes the engine output slightly disappointing. The Meridian uses the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, making 168 bhp and 35.69 kgm of torque, though it has been recalibrated. The larger Jeep feels slower, and that feeling is accentuated by the slow-shifting 9-speed gearbox. With just two people in the SUV, there isn’t much difference but load it up and you’ll be able to tell the Meridian struggles a little.
This makes driving exuberantly a chore, but drive it in an easy going manner and the Meridian is an able highway cruiser, and not as difficult in traffic as the near-4.8m length would suggest. And that’s a real shame considering how dynamic this large SUV is. It smothers bad roads with great confidence, and body roll is well-mitigated, too. The all-independent suspension setup works brilliantly on the road, even better than on the Compass, where you can feel a hint of stiffness at lower speeds, and the chassis remains stiff.
Pushing this long SUV into a corner is almost pleasurable, and you won’t have an issue weaving through slower moving trucks on the ghats as even the direct steering provides even more confidence. If it weren’t for the sluggish gearbox, and the relative lack of power, I would dare to call the Meridian fun on the road. But it is off the beaten track where this seven-seat SUV truly shines. Jeep had a gruelling off-road track set up for us to experience what the Meridian is capable of and, I have to say, this is another true Jeep.
The Meridian is adept at crawling up steps, having two wheels up in the air over massive ruts, scrabbling up and down steep slopes, and wading through waist deep water and muck. I’m not an off-roading veteran by any margin but some of the things I managed to perform, such as turning nearly 90 degrees down a 60-degree descent on what is essentially earth, were done so with an ease and poise I had not expected. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, given the brand name and its superb 4×4 system, but I was.
It was only in the sand pit that a specific mode had to be activated, and just once did I have to put it in 4×4 low, and that was due to my lack of experience with maintaining pace on an upslope. Just leave it in Auto and watch the Meridian trapeze all over a trail. I know not many of its buyers will end up using it in this manner, but it’s nice to know that it doesn’t matter which Jeep you buy, it’ll be a jeep through and through.
Based on the Rs 29.9 lakh, ex-showroom, India, starting price, it seems like the Meridian will follow in the successful footsteps of the Compass. The sub-Rs 30 lakh price tag means it’ll undercut the likes of the Toyota Fortuner and the Skoda Kodiaq and even the top-spec Limited (O) 4×4 variant’s Rs 36.9 lakh price tag is quite competitive for the segment. Jeep says it has achieved 82 per cent localisation at its Ranjangaon factory near Pune, which has helped keep costs in check. The Meridian seems to be a great option for those looking for a strong-looking, off-roading, family SUV.
1956cc, I4, turbo-diesel
168 bhp@5500 rpm
35.69 kgm@4250 rpm
F/R: 235/55 R18
Rs 29.99-36.95 lakh, ex-showroom