If one vehicle is responsible for the current state of the Sports Utility market – it is this one.
A long time ago, Jeep boasted that it wrote the book on four-wheel drive vehicles. It also wrote the book on refined SUVs. If you reach back several decades to the Wagoneer Limited, it would provoke the idea that SUVs can be luxurious and satisfy its occupants all the way to where the trails end. By the late 1980s, the smaller Cherokee continued the tradition of combining luxury and off-road capability. There was one little detail – most top-of-the-line Cherokee owners never took their leather laden SUVs off-road.
After Chrysler brought in Jeep, they still needed to create a refined SUV with its legendary capabilities. By 1993, the Grand Cherokee was born. It hit all of the points Chrysler wanted from a top-of-the-line Jeep. Since then, it became the one Jeep everyone wanted – well, next to the Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited.
Today’s Grand Cherokee is still a special vehicle. It sits in a position that attracts both families and professionals alike. It is the one SUV that combines off-road capability with comfort and luxury. For anyone selling something its class – both mainstream and premium brands – it is the target vehicle to aspire to.
Two years ago, the current Grand Cherokee underwent a deep mid-cycle refresh. This 2015 Limited tester had a few tweaks since then. After years of waiting, it is time to finally put it to the test. And, it got one heck of a road test!
For starters, the Grand Cherokee has one thing going for it above all else. There is no question what this vehicle is from the outside. It is a Jeep – a refined one with presence that distinguishes it from all others on the road. The seven-slot grille is framed in an aggressive manner. The updates for 2014 yielded a set of LED surround lights lit both day and night, while the single-beam lamps illuminate the road ahead. Fog lamps also help at the pitch of the night.
Still, if you run your fingers along the body and examine closely the details, you will find that there’s a complete difference from Jeeps in the past. However, you will find a different take on rear-end design with the tail lamps going across the rear instead of up-and-down. The Grand Cherokee is pretty substantial in size and stature.
Where the Jeep’s emphasis in quality is completely evident is inside. The interior materials are of a higher quality, including the seating. The steering wheel is thick-rimmed and grippy. The gear lever is different and designed for a person to do quick shifts if need be. Better still is the switchable center TFT screen housing the speedometer and key vehicle, trip and fuel economy information. It is designed as a screen inside the dial with everything customized for use. The graphics are among the best in the class.
The 8.4-inch UConnect Touch offered plenty of audio options – including Pandora. The trick to get Pandora and other apps connected is to download the UConnect app for both iPhone and Android. The Bluetooth connection takes care of the rest. That same connection offers quick pairing and usage from your mobile device.
Seating for five adults is available. Front seats offer both hard and soft cushioning, but are plenty big to command the Grand Cherokee. In the course of a round trip from the Twin Cities to Chicago, my body was fine behind the wheel. Rear seat room is fantastic for three adults to sit next to each other. Cargo space is huge – enough to swallow an extended weekend for five or a very long road trip for two.
Under the hood is the Pentastar V6. This 3.6litre mill packs 290 horses, but only 260 pounds-feet of torque. This engine is truly coming on to its own in the Grand Cherokee with the power to muscle this 4,875-pound SUV. One thing to note about this motor is that you can fuel it up with either regular unleaded gasoline or E85 Ethanol.
Connected to this V6 is the TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic transmission developed by ZF. It is a quick shifting gearbox that makes the most out of the Pentastar V6 – and any other engine it is attached to. The power from the V6 and the TorqueFlite is sent to all four wheels by the Quadra-Trac system, controlled by the Selec-Terrain System. It is one of the best four-wheel drive systems available on the market making things easier by selecting a traction situation – Snow, for example – and having the system take the guess work out of the equation to provide proper traction down to the surface. It is one of many reasons why one should buy a Jeep.
The ride is supple and elegant, and that works in the city and on long drives. In this case, the Grand Cherokee did both – in Chicago and Madison and long stretches of Interstate Highways 90 and 94. The added Quadra-Lift air suspension has automatic levelling, bringing the Grand Cherokee down a notch to limit under vehicle airflow on the highway. It also works to raise the Grand Cherokee for optimal ground clearance off-road. Handling is quite good with near flat cornering and limited body roll. You can feel the balance of grip and smooth, quiet ride from the Michelin Latitude tires on the ground.
Though the steering might feel detached on-center, it is actually reactive with very sharp and quick turns. Once in a maneuver, steering response is quite good. Braking response is as sharp. Normal and panic stopping situations yielded a powerful and precise braking system that is aided by a great anti-lock system and active safety features, including Forward Collision Warning with Stop Advanced Brake Assist. The Grand Cherokee is definitely none of the safest SUVs in the marketplace.
In taking a long road trip, one would hope for the best on fuel economy. Fuel consumption is what makes a vehicle worth buying, right? Overall, the V6-powered, four-wheel drive Grand Cherokee averaged 19.8MPG with a low average of 18.3MPG. Considering there is 4,875 pounds of Jeep to drive, those numbers are quite decent – and very realistic. Good news, however – the Limited model is available with the 3.0liter turbocharged V6 EcoDiesel promising up to 28MPG on the highway with four-wheel drive.
The Grand Cherokee lineup begins with the Laredo model. Pricing for a V6-powered 4×2 model starts at $29,995. The Limited is the next step up. My Limited 4×4 tester came with a sticker price of $47,780. Beyond the limited, there is the sporty Altitude, the luxurious Overland and the top shelf Summit. In case you are wondering, the incredibly fast SRT model is still around. Having driven the SRT in the past, I can assure you that it is one experience an enthusiast needs to have at least once in your life.
There is no other conclusion to make other than this is one of the best vehicles of its kind in the world. It is definitive in the way it drives, the way it sets forth on adventures both on and off the road, and the way it does it with all the refinement you’d expect in a Grand Cherokee.
It did not need a round trip between the Twin Cities and Chicago to confirm the Grand Cherokee’s reputation for excellence. Just driving around town confirms the one biggest intangible this Jeep has to offer – its calling card. You know what it is by its presence. That alone is why you are proud to own a Grand Cherokee.