Jeep has one of the tougher challenges in the business, especially when it comes to its longest-running nameplates, such as Wrangler and Grand Cherokee.
That challenge is this – how to keep models that are based on an old-school formula, one that heavily involves off-road chops and, in this case, an optional V8 engine, modern.
Jeep has been up to the task so far with the Wrangler, even introducing a hybrid to the line. Now it’s the Grand Cherokee’s turn.
Electrification is part of the story, but not yet – the Grand Cherokee 4xe is coming but won’t be here for a bit. For now, Jeep has replaced the aging yet venerable fourth-generation Grand Cherokee with a vehicle that feels thoroughly modernized while still keeping the old-school charm.
(Full disclosure: Jeep flew me to Moab, Utah, and fed and housed me for two nights. I didn’t see what swag was offered, if any. All I took was a notebook.)
It starts with the cabin. Jeep has given the Grand Cherokee a wholly different look that’s heavily influenced by the larger Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer line. And it mostly works.
I did initially find the steering wheel – which looks larger than normal – to be a bit off-putting. But steering-wheel size aside, the design is sleek and cohesive. The center console area seamlessly blends into the main infotainment screen, which itself blends nicely into the dash. There’s even a 10.25-inch screen for passengers, and it’s not visible from the driver’s seat, much to the relief of all those who care about safety. Available for rear-seat passengers are individual 10.1-inch screens.
The infotainment screen itself is easy to customize and runs Chrysler’s Stellantis’ Uconnect 5 infotainment system, which is one of the best on the market. It’s also large at 10.1 inches, and easy to read.
Less impressive was the digital-gauge cluster. My beef isn’t the use of digital, per se – it works fine in other vehicles – but that the menus have a bit more of a learning curve than they should. To be fair, it’s the kind of thing owners will get used to. Perhaps chalk it up to the necessity of car reviewing – us scribes are always dealing with operations that are new to us but would quickly become old hat to someone driving the vehicle daily for several years.
Jeep sent us to play along the Colorado River on Utah 128 before climbing a mountain via a twisty, serpentine two-lane. I set out in a V8, with 5.7 liters of displacement (357 horsepower, 390 lb-ft of torque) and an eight-speed automatic transmission. The Grand Cherokee isn’t the best dance partner for this kind of road, even in Sport mode, and it exhibited a predictable amount of body roll, though the steering was accurate enough and weighted just fine – at least in Sport. There was a bit too much play for my taste in Auto mode.
The V8s power wasn’t quite enough to make quick work of the straights – this isn’t a light-weight SUV – and the noises it made in the upper rev range weren’t the pleasing rumbles you’d expect from an eight-cylinder engine. Instead, I heard the primal scream of a car that wasn’t quite prepared to be pushed like this.
All that said, no one is selecting a Jeep Grand Cherokee for that kind of road. It’s built for luxury calm when driven sedately, and for off-road ability, especially in the Trailhawk trim.
And it does both of those things perfectly well. When I was driving in a more relaxed manner, the JGC rode nicely and was nicely quiet, with wind noise nearly fully muted and tire noise kept to a minimum. The engine also faded into the background as long as the RPMs were kept below four grand. As expected, the vehicle was calmer in Auto mode than Sport. Considering that most Grand Cherokee buyers will do 90 percent or more of their driving in suburban commute mode, the JGC is perfectly setup for the daily grind.
If you consider the Grand Cherokee to be a luxury SUV – and in terms of features and price, it is, at least in the upper trim levels – then it does that job really well.
It also handles the dirt and rocks just fine, at least in Trailhawk trim. We drove V6 Trailhawks in a lead-follow up a challenging trail that leads to Moab’s famed Hell’s Revenge route, and the Jeep acquitted itself just fine. While automakers sometimes stack the deck, this path was tough enough to require spotters, and skid plates smacked rock at times. I do think a Rubicon Wrangler wouldn’t have broken a sweat here, but then, it’s more purpose-built than the Grand Cherokee.
There are off-road goodies such as a sway-bar disconnect on the Trailhawk, and that feature was helpful when rock crawling. I also dug the hill-descent system that used the shift paddles to maintain a set speed, which increased in increments of 0.6 mph. The only flaw with it was that when the wheel was turned to lock, the system wouldn’t allow the paddles to make adjustments – a staffer told me this was to prevent accidental changes, and Jeep might change the programming to allow drivers to use the paddles even when the wheel is wrenched over. At least one can use the pedals to override the system in the meantime.
Other Cherokee off-road features, depending on trim, include ground clearance up to 11.3 inches, up to 24 inches of water-fording ability, Quadra-Trac I/II or Quadra-Drive II four-wheel-drive systems, and an air suspension with electronic semi-active damping. Trailhawks specifically get all-terrain tires, an off-road camera, Quadra-Drive II with electronic rear limited-slip differential, air suspension, 11.3-inches of ground clearance, sway-bar disconnect, skid plates, tow hooks, Selec-Speed hill-descent control, Trailhawk decal, and 18-inch tires.
Back on the pavement, I took a V6 out for a quick spin. I didn’t find it all that lacking, in terms of power, compared to the V8, despite a big power gap (293 hp/260 lb-ft), though I didn’t have the chance to really push it. If I were buying a JGC, I might consider the V6 over the V8, unless towing was important to me – the V8 tows up to 7,200 pounds. The upfront savings and improved fuel economy make it a tempting choice. For reference, the V6 also uses an eight-speed auto.
The trim walk reads as follows: Laredo, Altitude, Limited, Overland, Trailhawk, Summit, and Summit Reserve trims. When the 4xe model arrives, it will be available in Limited, Trailhawk, Overland, Summit, and Summit Reserve.
Base pricing starts at $37,390 for a 4×2 Laredo. A Trailhawk will set you back $51,275 for the V6 and $54,570 for the V8. A Summit Reserve V8 will start at $66,660. Destination is $1,795. Production is slated for Detroit, with the ICE versions of the Grand Cherokee reaching stores in the fourth quarter of this year. 4xes will arrive in North America early in 2022 and in global markets later in the year, assuming all goes to plan.
Both the vehicles I drove on-road were Summit Reserves with a base price of $59,365. The Hemi V8 cost $3,295 while the Summit Reserve Package added four grand – and along with that, the excellent McIntosh premium stereo. The V6 I drove totaled out at $69,790, the Trailhawk at $61,040, and the V8 Summit Reserve was $73,085.
Available features include Alpine or McIntosh audio, Amazon Fire TV for the passenger screens, leather seats, heated front and rear seats, cooled front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, head-up display, wireless cell-phone charging, night vision with pedestrian and animal detection, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital rearview mirror, Bluetooth with multi-device pairing, Uconnect mobile app, Amazon Alexa, Wi-Fi hotspot, navigation, satellite radio, a power liftgate, up to six USB (Type A and C) ports, and more.
Standard driver-aid tech includes forward-collision warning with active braking and pedestrian/cyclist detection, rear cross-path detection, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, active lane management, lane-departure warning with lane centering, blind-spot monitoring, drowsy-driver detection, 360-degree camera, intersection collision assist, and more.
Wheels are 17-, 18-, 20-, or 21-inches. Fuel economy is listed at 19/26/22 for the V6 with either two- or four-wheel drive and 14/22/17 for the 4WD-only V8.
As I thought things over in advance of writing this review, I kept coming back to the same conclusion – the redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee does what it always has, and just does it better than before. It continues to be an upscale five-seat SUV with some off-road abilities that are rare in the segment. It’s still a comfortable around-town cruiser but not particularly at home when hustled on a twisty road.
The biggest change is here is that the interior leaps forward. The previous-gen rig had a decent, if aging, cabin, but this one manages to be a nice place to hang out without falling into the techno trap that other automakers have got themselves into (cough, Volkswagen, cough). Everything is modern and pleasing to the eye, but knobs and buttons remain used for most key controls.
The prices do make my eyes pop, but I can’t imagine most buyers will be disappointed. The overall package works better here than with Jeep’s larger Wagoneer family, and I found it more pleasant to drive than even the three-row L version I sampled earlier this year. In fact, I’d steer any perspective well-heeled Jeep buyer toward the two-row GC unless they absolutely needed three-row seating and/or the extra space of a larger SUV.
It’s not perfect – the on-road manners are still not great when you want to push the pace, and the sticker price is eye-watering – but Jeep was up to the challenge.
What’s New for 2022
The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee is redesigned, with new features, new exterior styling, a revamped interior, and more.
Who Should Buy It
The Jeep loyalist, the off-roading family person, those who are drawn to tech and luxury.
[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC, Jeep]