Does the Jeep Grand Cherokee tip over? Will it join the failed likes of the Suzuki Samurai and Isuzu Trooper? One Swedish magazine thinks so, with dramatic evidence—and it’s sending Chrysler engineers and PR folks into damage-control overdrive.
The “moose test” is designed for motorists to avoid the large Alces alces that roam the scenic Scandinavian countryside. It’s an evasive panic maneuver that consists of a rapid swerve, designed to showcase the car’s handling, traction control and anti-lock braking abilities. And it’s a common test, performed on both continents, but it’s one that makes for dramatic headlines—with the exciting chance of a rollover and subsequent danger to consumer safety, it’s broken the reputations of entire car lines.
In America, the most famous case was the Suzuki Samurai, which according to Consumer Reports liked to lift its wheels around corners, patches of moss, and small children. Suzuki sued Consumer Reports and eventually settled, but Isuzu wasn’t so lucky; its Trooper was also found by the same magazine to exhibit dangerous wheel-lifting characteristics, but Isuzu ultimately lost its lawsuit against CR.
Curiously enough, both vehicles were independently tested by third parties—Suzuki by a company called Failure Analysis Associates, Isuzu by the NHTSA—that called into question the magazine’s original testing principles. A slight divorce from reality, they found: real human beings in panic situations wouldn’t drive so erratically, and does the media have an ulterior motive?
So, there’s some precedent for controversy here. And in today’s continuation of this proud tradition, we see Chrysler squaring off against Swedish magazine Teknikens Värld over the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which was caught on video up on two wheels, close to nearly flipping over.
“It is obvious that Jeep has been careless in the construction of the current model,” says the magazine. “It does not perform as a modern car should.”
The testing methodology involved loading the Grand Cherokee with five passengers and as much additional weight as the vehicle is rated at, which in this case is 580 pounds of luggage. (Total payload for the Grand Cherokee is 1,600 lbs, assuming that the five passengers weigh approximately 200 lbs.) The “luggage” is represented by sandbags, tied to the back of the car. A few runs and evasive maneuvers are performed around cones on a flat runway, and the results are tallied to see what speeds the vehicle can make it through.
Results? The tipping point for the Grand Cherokee seems, for a modern SUV that’s been in production for a few years now with no major incidents, suspiciously low. The magazine also ran the Volkswagen Touareg, Volvo XC90, and BMW X5 through the same maneuvers, but even at 43 miles per hour they had no problems. Meanwhile, the Grand Cherokee was in danger of tipping at 39 mph. And from the screenshot above, the Grand Cherokee definitely has a more dramatic time doing so.
We all learned about the scientific method in 5th grade: during an experiment, something’s only proven true if its results can be replicated. Likewise, Chrysler engineers recreated the experiment on both sides of the ocean, once at its proving grounds and once in Sweden, watching the magazine’s staff perform the tests themselves. Out of 11 runs that the magazine replicated—with proper loads and tire pressures and everything—not a single time was the two-wheel-up incident recreated.
The controversy lies in the weight of the Grand Cherokee’s payload. Mattias Rabe, the magazine’s web editor, doesn’t remember how much weight was loaded into the back of the vehicle. And according to Chrysler, test driver Ruben Börjesson admitted himself that the Grand Cherokee was overloaded by 110 pounds, compared to the other SUVs that were on hand. However, he did mention that the tire pressures were inflated to owner’s manual specifications, and everything was done in accordance to cargo weight specs as outlined by Swedish registration.
In that case, whether he can’t remember leaves him with little excuse. That’s certainly what Gualberto Ranieri, Chrysler’s senior Vice President of corporate communications thinks: today he issued some scathing, sarcastic words on the test on Chrysler’s official blog. “Mr. Rabe didn’t remember such a negligible (!) detail,” he writes. “Hilarious, isn’t it? I kindly recommend Mr. Web Editor get some phosphorous tablets, ‘a well-known supplement to support brain and memory.’”
“Not only are its readers denied the truth—that the uncharacteristic result is counterfeit—the magazine also slammed the door on the time-honored practice of allowing fair comment, a fundamental building block of journalistic principle.”
Naturally, Ranieri is upset. Because word like this gets around fast—exploding across the Internet just a day afterwards—and it’s more fatal to a car’s sales than if they came with Legionnaire’s disease in the seatbelts. Is the Jeep Grand Cherokee unsafe? Ranieri is quick to offer us a reminder of the Grand Cherokee’s crash test results—in four-wheel drive models it gets a four-star overall rating, while its four-star rollover rating reflects a rollover chance of 16.8 percent.
Teknikens Värld aren’t exactly spring chickens at this game. They’ve been testing cars for their rollover propensities since 1977. They were instrumental in getting Mercedes-Benz to own up to its A-Class’s questionable handling characteristics. Toyota followed suit in 2007, when its Hilux pickup did the same thing.
The magazine doesn’t always get it right, however—when it rolled a Skoda Superb in 2010, the company found that its tires weren’t properly inflated. Edit: Rabe says that the car did not roll, but tended to separate its tires from the rims; and the magazine’s tests helped Skoda revise its recommended tire pressures. If anything, this underscores the age-old importance of checking your tire pressures.
If something can’t be replicated with the exact same conditions, then that casts suspicion on your entire methodology in the first place. To concerned shoppers looking to buy a Grand Cherokee, and is hearing these dramatic headlines shouted from news media, perhaps take the news with an unhealthy heaping of salt.
And the magazine’s response to the controversy of “we don’t remember off the top of our heads” seems not only unprofessional, but a travesty to the rigorous scientific, instrumented testing the magazine is trying to perform here. These aren’t parking lot hoons. A lot more than they realize is at stake here: Jeep’s overall success in Europe, a market that Chrysler has been attempting to break since the Rootes Group. This is possibly the first time that Jeep has built a luxurious, capable, attractive SUV to capture the luxobarge-crazy plutocrats of European tastemakers.
And if it all falls to pieces because of this test, Chrysler will have a lot more to build from the ground up.