THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Smooth powertrain, comfortable ride, lots of space for passengers and cargo.
- What’s Bad: No buttons for seat warmers, thirsty V6.
One of the original family-friendly 4x4s, the Jeep Grand Cherokee was built to compete with the Explorer—a runaway success for Ford in the early 90s.
It was the successor to the Grand Wagoneer, a wood-paneled, iconic barge of a truck that lived well before the SUV craze.
Where the Ford Explorer retained body-on-frame construction, shared with the Ranger of that era, the first Grand Cherokee went modern utilizing computer-aided design (CAD) and a unibody platform.
In today’s SUV saturated market the Grand Cherokee stands apart from its competition for three reasons: a bewildering array of trim levels starting at just under $40,000 for a base Laredo all the way up into six-figure territory for a Trackhawk; more powertrains than you’ll find anywhere else in the segment (from the standard V6 all the way to an insane 707-horsepower supercharged V8); and true off-road capability.
The current Grand Cherokee has been around since 2011 so it’s getting a bit long in the tooth but it’s still very much a relevant vehicle that has aged gracefully and remains a popular choice with consumers.
2019 models get a few updates: blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and the Uconnect 4 infotainment system is now standard fare on all Grand Cherokees.
Yet another model—the Limited X—joins the ranks and comes with the upgraded UConnect system with an 8.4-inch screen and on-board navigation, an aggressive sport hood like you get on the SRT, Granite Crystal trim pieces and badging, a blacked out grille, bi-xenon headlamps, and new 20-inch wheels also finished in Granite Crystal.
This is a handsome SUV that has aged relatively well and I’m especially fond of the Velvet Red paint on the test vehicle I drove for a week. Although, a near $6000 premium for an appearance package and some tech items is hard for me to swallow, especially when you consider that upgrading to the 5.7-litre Hemi V8 costs less than half that. Yes, running costs will be higher with the bigger motor but I’ll take the V8 every single day of the week.
With that said the standard Pentastar V6 is a smooth operator bolted to an equally smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic. With 295 horses on hand, it gets the job done with noise levels that are subdued; the engine only announcing its presence when pushing your foot deep into the carpet. It does a good job of giving the Grand Cherokee a luxurious demeanor that fits the overall package.
The cabin is a nice place to spend time with ample room for front and rear passengers, and whether you like sunroofs or not the panoramic one—a $1,695 extra—in the tester opened up the dark tomb-like interior letting in some welcome light for rear-seat passengers.
The dash layout is familiar and numerous updates over its long run, including the latest UConnect system with its snappy response times and page transitions make it feel up to snuff. Most everything can be manipulated through U Connect, and being able to drag and drop a row of your favourite apps to live permanently at the bottom of the screen keeps what you actually use on hand, and is an easy way to quell driver distraction when on the move.
Good as it is, it still doesn’t replace buttons (for me) of which there are, thankfully, quite a few. Except, annoyingly, there are none for turning on the seat heaters. A button that almost every Canadian instinctively reaches for a split-second after getting into their vehicles. To turn those on, you need to delve into the virtual world and it doesn’t need to be that way.
Blind spot monitors and rear cross traffic alert is standard on all models, but you have to pay extra if you want forward collision warning and lane-keeping assist. Those come bundled in a package with parking assist and adaptive cruise control, among other things.
Fit and finish is good, and it all feels tightly screwed together but look lower down and the presence of hard plastic, especially on the centre console, rears its ugly head. When you pay $65,000 for a vehicle, you should expect more.
The cargo area is generous with a big square opening easing the loading and unloading of items like groceries, full-size strollers, or whatever else a growing family might need to toss back there.
On the road the Grand Cherokee is quiet, the seats are comfortable, and the ride wafty. It’ll lean if you steer hard into turns, and tends to bounce around a bit before finally settling down. Light and quicker than expected steering didn’t help matters in that department. There’s not much sport in this Grand Cherokee but if that’s what you prefer, the SRT and lunatic Trackhawk have you covered.
What you can expect is more off-road capability than pretty much anything else in its class, except for maybe the Toyota 4Runner or a handful of trucks that can be cross-shopped with this. For the tough stuff, you get low-range gearing at the touch of a button and the Land Rover-esque Selec-Terrain traction management system, which gives you a dial to manually select between off-road modes like sand and mud. Or you can let the system automatically determine how best to proceed by leaving it in auto.
Now, while I didn’t actually take it anywhere off-road, the busted pavement of Toronto streets provides a reasonable facsimile to the rough terrain you might encounter off the beaten path. And it’s here you appreciate the laid back and smooth character of the Grand Cherokee which takes a beating and keeps going.
If you plan to use your Grand Cherokee to tow, it’ll do that too. Up to 2812 kg (6200 lbs) nearly double that of competitors like the Ford Edge and Honda Pilot and beating out everything else in its class. Get the V8 and that towing figure rises up to 3265 kg (7200 lbs), a huge amount for this class of vehicle.
Driving a 50/50 mix of city and highway, a recorded 13.8 L per 100 km fuel consumption figure is not the best, but certainly not the worst that I’ve seen.
There’s a lot to like here. I even like the Limited X appearance package. Just not enough to shell out what they’re asking for it, though. But you can rest assured that there are smarter ways to configure the Grand Cherokee and still get everything you need. And with so many trims and states of tune from trail-ready to track burner, it is one of the most versatile vehicles in the segment and continues to be a hot-seller. No surprise there.