The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a luxury vehicle in addition to being a solid highway cruiser and a capable off-road machine. The current-generation Grand Cherokee was introduced for the 2011 model year.
For 2016, Jeep Grand Cherokee is available in a new High Altitude edition based on the top Overland trim. Electric power steering is new for 2016, and the 2016 Grand Cherokee SRT gets a revised instrument cluster.
Seating five passengers in two rows, the Grand Cherokee features a richly furnished, luxury-level cabin with ample interior space. Superior capability is the rule. Not only does a Grand Cherokee ride comfortably, it handles and performs well. The powertrain lineup ranges from a fuel-efficient EcoDiesel V6 to gasoline V6 and V8 engines, topped by the outlandishly quick Grand Cherokee SRT.
Three engines are available for the Grand Cherokee, four if the SRT is counted. Base models use a 3.6-liter V6, which makes 295 horsepower and is fitted with fuel-saving engine stop-start technology. The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 generates 360 horsepower. The most fuel-efficient option is the EcoDiesel 3.0-liter V6, producing 420 pound-feet of torque. Estimated at 30 mpg on the highway, it stretches range per tankful to 730 miles.
Each engine mates with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Grand Cherokee promises best-in-class towing capacity, at up to 7,400 pounds.
Jeep also offers a fourth powertrain, in the performance-focused SRT, whose 6.4-liter Hemi V8 now whips up 475 horsepower. All that energy reaches all four wheels, whereas other Grand Cherokees can have either rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.
An available air suspension can improve gas mileage further by lowering the vehicle at highway speed. The 8-speed transmission allows a lower crawl ratio, which matches the EcoDiesel especially well. Buyers choose from three four-wheel drive systems. Selec-Terrain automatically alters powertrain settings according to the surroundings.
Gasoline V6 versions include new engine stop-start technology. With rear-wheel drive, the V6 has been EPA-rated at 17/25 mpg City/Highway. EcoDiesel is EPA-rated at 22/30 mpg City/Highway. Rear-drive Hemi V8 models earn an unappealing 14/22 mpg. But it’s the SRT that guzzles, at 13/19 mpg.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has given the Grand Cherokee either four or five stars overall, with five stars for frontal and side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated it Good in all but the tougher small-overlap test.
Five trim levels are available. Grand Cherokee Laredo ($29,995) includes air conditioning; cloth seats; power windows, locks, and mirrors; CD player; satellite radio; 17-inch wheels.
Grand Cherokee Limited ($37,365) gets leather seating; heated power front seats; power tailgate; remote start; rearview camera, 18-inch wheels. Adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, and navigation are optional. The EcoDiesel V6 and Hemi V8 are available on Limited models and above.
Grand Cherokee Overland ($44,195) features 20-inch wheels; Nappa leather seating; ventilated front seats; a panoramic sunroof; leather-trimmed dashboard; navigation; and on 4WD models, an air suspension. The High Altitude Edition includes dark chrome exterior trim and a sports suspension. Grand Cherokee Summit ($49,595) comes fully loaded with every available feature, including steering-linked headlights and 19-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound audio with active noise-cancelling.
Grand Cherokee SRT ($64,895) has leather/suede seats, carbon-fiber interior trim, and metallic pedal pads, as well as Performance Pages that display data. An SRT Night Edition ($70,485) includes black 20-inch forged aluminum wheels and black Laguna leather.
With its rugged-looking, high-shouldered stance, Grand Cherokee neatly straddles the dividing line between traditional and contemporary. Not everyone applauds the current front-end styling with the small grille, but it all melds together in a coherent way. In a segment that leans toward expansive panels and substantial chrome, Grand Cherokee takes the understated route.
Even measured against luxury-brand competitors, the biggest Jeep is quite sophisticated. All versions have a spoiler, while LED taillights give the rear end a little more stature.
Grand Cherokee boasts one of the most comfortable, best-appointed cabins in its class. Even in base trim, the handsome cabin feels warm and inviting. Materials go upscale in upper trim levels, including real wood trim.
Seating is particularly well-designed, with adult-friendly legroom in front and back. Large doors open wide, easing entry/exit. The driver and front passenger get generously wide cushions with moderate bolstering. Laredo seats are somewhat flat, with short cushions. Even with a sunroof, six-footers can expect adequate headroom.
That extra width helps in back. Three adults will likely sit comfortably. Rear seatbacks recline and tilt, folding down using a single lever.
Quiet generally, the Grand Cherokee has big mirrors that generate wind noise on the highway. Forward visibility is top-notch.
Grand Cherokee is one of the best handling, best steering SUVs in its class. Road manners are smooth and crossover-like, without a bounding ride. Upper trim levels can get an optional Quadra-Lift air suspension, able to raise the Grand Cherokee from 6.4 inches to 11.3 inches off the ground. The air suspension can also lower the Jeep all the way for entry/exit.
The refined 3.6-liter V6 offers strong midrange response, plus sufficient low-rpm torque to handle demanding off-road tasks. With the 5.7-liter Hemi V8, Grand Cherokee feels almost like a muscular Dodge Charger sedan, including a great-sounding engine; but the performance improvement over a V6 doesn’t quite offset the gas-mileage penalty. The admirably responsive 8-speed ZF automatic includes paddle shifters.
The most costly choice is the 3.0-liter turbodiesel six-cylinder. Despite producing strong low- and mid-range torque, it doesn’t feel as potent as the V8. Engine clatter can be heard at idle and lower speeds.
Maximum towing is rated at 6,200 pounds with the V6, while the rear-drive diesel manages 7,400 pounds.
Three four-wheel-drive systems are available. Basic Quadra-Trac I has a locking differential with 50/50 power split, but no low range. Quadra-Trac II splits front/rear torque variably. Quadra-Drive II adds an electronic limited-slip differential. Selec-Terrain lets the driver choose among five traction-control modes: Auto, Sand, Mud, Snow, and Rock.
The SRT is in a performance class by itself, unbridled in ways you’d never expect from the Jeep brand. Not only does it promise 0-60 mph acceleration in about 4.8 seconds, SRT ranks among the top-handling SUVs we’ve driven.
Considering the Grand Cherokee’s lack of a luxury badge, it’s on the pricey side, especially in upper trim levels. Buyers seeking a versatile, comfortable family vehicle would likely be happy with a Laredo or Limited. Overland and Summit models bring a more distinct appearance, as well as features that echo luxury-brand SUVs.
Driving impressions by Bengt Halvorson, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.