Handsome and capable, the Jeep Grand Cherokee can easily pull off luxury for the family, with refined handling and ride. It’s also a wilderness trekker for adventuresome people and a tow vehicle for summers with the boat or horses. It can also be a hotrod SUV.
Multiple powertrains, some of them incredibly powerful, are available, along with a choice of all-wheel-drive systems to manage conditions ranging from ice and snow to boulder fields.
2018 is the eighth model year of Grand Cherokee’s fourth generation, so it’s undeniably old by car years. A new 2018 Grand Cherokee Sterling Edition celebrates 25 years of the Grand Cherokee.
And it had to happen, the car world would be remiss if it didn’t: an SUV with the power of the ultimate muscle car. The muscle car would be the 707-horsepower Dodge Hellcat with its 6.2-liter supercharged V8 engine, and now we have the identically powered 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. Naturally its drive components are bulked up, including the transmission, suspension, brakes, cooling system, and all-wheel-drive system, The Hellcat can go 180. It’s sleek compared to the Jeep, but Chrysler says the Trackhawk can go that fast too. What’s even more impressive is how an SUV with that much power can be so tractable, docile and comfortable around the neighborhood. Most passengers in the Trackhawk will never guess it has that much power unless they are told or it’s demonstrated to them by punching the throttle.
Back in the mainstream, the base Grand Cherokee engine is a 3.6-liter V6 making 295 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. It’s strong at the low end, and responsive in the mid-range. It’s EPA-rated at 19/26 mpg City/Highway, or 21 mpg Combined. All-wheel drive drops it by 1 mpg.
The 5.7-liter V8 makes 360 horsepower, while its 390 pound-feet of torque carries it to a first in class in towing, with a capability of 7200 pounds. But even the V6 can tow 6200 pounds. Equipped with cylinder deactivation, the V8 is EPA-rated at 14/22 mpg City/Highway, or 17 mpg Combined.
If it’s towing and fuel mileage you care about, there’s a turbodiesel 3.0-liter V6 making 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet. It tows 7400 pounds, and is EPA-rated at 22/30 mpg City/Highway, or 25 mpg Combined with rear-wheel drive. With its big tank, the diesel has a range of 730 miles of highway travel.
An optional air suspension can boost the highway mileage, by lowering the vehicle closer to the ground. Or it can raise it from 6.4 inches to 11.3 inches above the ground, for offroad around rocks.
The Grand Cherokee SRT, with its 6.4-liter V8 making 475 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, can accelerate from zero to sixty in just 4.8 seconds, if equipped with launch control. Grand Cherokee SRT has all-wheel drive and that helps traction off the line too. With all the on-track tuning the suspension has received from engineers, it’s just about the best handling SUV anywhere. It’s a gas guzzler, at 15 Combined EPA miles per gallon.
Each engine is mated to a responsive 8-speed automatic transmission. Rear-wheel drive is standard Laredo, Limited, Overland, and Summit. Three separate four-wheel-drive systems are available, with the transmission having a low crawl ratio. The Selec-Terrain system automatically alters powertrain settings to suit the terrain: Sand, Mud, Snow, Rock, or Automatic.
Smaller changes for 2018 include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto added to the Uconnect infotainment system with the 8.4-inch touchscreen; a 7.0-inch screen on base models replacing a 5.0-inch screen; and active noise cancellation that comes along with the available Alpine audio system.
A rearview camera and trailer sway control come standard. Blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and frontal-crash warning are optional.
The Grand Cherokee earns five stars overall in crash testing by NHTSA, with four-wheel drive. If it’s rear-wheel drive, it’s only four stars. The difference appears to be in rollover resistance, with all-wheel drive earning four stars, and rear-wheel drive a mere three. The IIHS gives it the best Good scores, except for Marginal in the challenging small-overlap frontal collision.
2018 Grand Cherokee models are Laredo ($30,595), Altitude ($36,690), High Altitude, Limited ($38,195), Overland ($44,995), Summit ($50,995), SRT ($67,395), Trailhawk ($43,295), and Trackhawk ($85,900). Plus that anniversary Sterling Edition. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Laredo comes with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive ($32,895), new fabric upholstery and 17-inch aluminum wheels, air conditioning, keyless entry, a CD player, satellite radio, rearview camera, and parking sensors. An off-road option package includes skid plates and Selec-Terrain.
Grand Cherokee Limited gets 18-inch wheels, leather seating with a power front passenger seat, heated front seats, a power tailgate, and remote start. Options include adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, navigation, and off-road assistance systems.
The turbodiesel V6 and Hemi V8 engines are available for Limited models and above.
The Trailhawk comes with Quadra-Drive II four-wheel drive, 18-inch off-road tires, red tow hooks, an electronic limited-slip differential, air suspension, Selec-Speed Control, skid plates, and a black leather interior. Trailhawk has front and rear tow hooks, skid plates, 18-inch off-road tires, and an air suspension.
Overland upgrades with Nappa leather seating with ventilated front seats, a panoramic sunroof, leather-trimmed dashboard, 20-inch wheels, and navigation. Two-wheel drive is standard. All-wheel drive ($47,995) includes an air suspension.
Summit ($50,995) features its own wheel and wood choices, a suede headliner, 19-speaker, 825-watt Harman Kardon surround-sound audio, parking assist and a trailer-hitch camera view.
SRT gets leather/suede seats, carbon-fiber interior trim, metallic pedal pads, active noise cancellation, and a leather-trimmed/heated steering wheel. Performance Pages display timers and performance data. Options include a dual-pane sunroof, Luxury package, and SRT Night package.
The Grand Cherokee carefully blends traditional with contemporary design, in a shape that is classic SUV. Its looks convey pedigree. It’s very handsome, with an expressive but understated grille that doesn’t carry an excess of chrome. It’s more sophisticated than its luxury competitors, especially the large ones.
The rear end is distinctive and assertive, with LED taillamps and strong details.
All Grand Cherokees boast an intelligently designed cabin layout. The upper models are richly equipped, with materials and textures that match luxury rivals, such as real wood trim on the dashboards and doors. A console bin holds illuminated audio ports. Uconnect infotainment systems with simple interfaces rank among the best
Front occupants get wide cushions with satisfying bolstering, except for the base Laredo, which has short, flat seat bottoms.
Grand Cherokee has a roomy interior that holds five grown-ups, with good legroom all around. Six-footers have ample headroom. Big doors open 78 degrees make climbing in and out easy.
Cargo volume with the rear seats up is 36.3 cubic feet. The seatbacks recline 12 degrees, and the flip down with a lever for more cargo space.
Forward visibility is past a hood and over fenders whose slope makes it easier to see the car’s corners. Only the big square sideview mirrors transmit any noise into the cabin, from the wind.
The Grand Cherokee excels in ride, handling, steering, and off-road prowess. Its smooth road manners make it feel like a crossover that has quick responses and a controlled ride.
With five engines and three four-wheel-drive systems, you can build or choose the Grand Cherokee that works for you. For high performance, both the SRT and Trackhawk offer great grip, impressive handling, and a ride that’s softer than the comparable Dodge SRT and Hellcat Chargers and Challengers. The SRT and Trackhawk hold their own against the best from Porsche, BMW M, and Mercedes-AMG, and they do it for a lot less money.
The V6 engine has strong low-rpm torque to deal with demanding situations, especially off-road conditions. It can tow up to 6200 pounds.
The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 makes the SUV feel almost like the brawny Dodge Charger sedan, including its rousing engine note. But because the V6 is so powerful, we don’t think the V8 is necessary, or worth the penalty in fuel mileage, at 17 Combined mpg for the V8 versus 21 mpg with the V6.
The 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 lacks the punch of the V8, and doesn’t have as much passing power as the gasoline V6, but it has awesome torque for towing and gets 25 mpg. It’s a bit loud while idling and at low speed.
The SRT uses a 6.4-liter V8 making 475 horsepower, and its fantastic handling puts it in the rarified air of the best European SUVs like the Porsche Cayenne. It brakes to a stop from 60 mph in just 116 feet, which is impressive for any vehicle, let alone a 5104-pound SUV.
The new Trackhawk can accelerate from zero to sixty in 3.5 seconds, and does the quarter-mile in 11.6 seconds, stunning times for an SUV. Yet when motoring around neighborhood streets, it’s as docile as any other sport-utility, with little indication of its incredible performance.
Three all-wheel-drive systems are available. Basic Quadra-Trac I has a locking differential and 50/50 front/rear power split, but no low range. It will do the job in snow and mud, but don’t expect it to climb sand dunes.
Quadra-Trac II has the two-speed transfer case that Quadra-Trac I lacks, with an electronic limited-slip rear differential for more traction at the rear wheels. It also comes with hill-start assist and hill-descent control. It can split torque variably from front to rear when slip is detected at either axle, so 100 percent of the power can go to one axle if that’s where all the traction is.
Quadra-Drive II is for the most severe off-roading.
Jeep also adds its Selec-Terrain system to both the Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive II systems. It offers Auto, Sand, Mud, Snow, and Rock modes that optimize the electronics of various vehicle systems to provide the best grip over each terrain. Any Grand Cherokee with the Selec-Terrain system and an off-road package gets Jeep’s Trail Rated badge.
We’ve scrambled up a 200-foot climb with a 55-degree incline, using the Selec-Terrain system that controls the speed in increments of one kilometer per hour. The smart electronic controls make for brainless throttle control during off-roading. Although you still have to steer.
The beautiful Grand Cherokee offers more than its share of good things, with virtually nothing bad. It’s hard to go wrong with the powertrains, from the base V6 to Hemi V8 to turbodiesel to even the ridiculous 707 supercharged horsepower. Great 8-speed automatic transmission, impressive brakes, and realistic room for five.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports.