- The chassis is bigger, stronger and lighter than before.
- A new interior represents a giant step up in tech, luxury and refinement.
- On-road comfort isn't sacrificed for off-road capability.
In 1992, to announce the arrival of the Grand Cherokee into the family, Jeep drove its new SUV up the front steps that led to the North American International Auto Show, through a plate glass window and parked it in the lobby. Quite the introduction, but the Grand Cherokee was a big deal. It was a step up from the fun but more utilitarian Cherokee, and put Jeep squarely into the middle of the fast-growing SUV marketplace where it continues to this day.
With over 7 million units of the nameplate sold globally, Jeep has introduced a new, fifth-generation Grand Cherokee that hopes to improve upon the refinement and technology of the previous version without losing any of its impressive off-road capability. They didn't let us drive the new Grand Cherokee through a glass window on our press drive, but we did test its capability off-road.
The Grand Cherokee is entirely new. But before we get into specifics, it's important to mention that for this article we're talking about the two-row Grand Cherokee and not the longer, three-row Grand Cherokee L, which is covered in a separate review.
Even though it's shorter than its bigger brother, the Grand Cherokee's wheelbase is 2 inches longer than the previous model and 3.4 inches longer overall. The extra length translates into much-needed additional legroom for rear passengers, as well as more cargo capacity — 6 extra cubic feet of storage, to be exact.
The new chassis also allows for hybridization. Jeep will offer the 4xe powertrain — which pairs a turbocharged four-cylinder to a plug-in hybrid component — in the Grand Cherokee beginning early next year. All told, even with the larger chassis and increased structural rigidity, the new Grand Cherokee weighs roughly 250 pounds less than the previous generation.
Though the Grand Cherokee has lost some of its muscular styling, it's gained a more modern look. Standard LED headlights flank the traditional, and now wider, seven-bar grille, which conceals the sensors for the adaptive cruise control system. Active grille shutters open and close automatically to aid efficiency and cooling. Out back, horizontal wraparound LED taillights echo the new wider front and minimal styling down the sides.
Inside, the Grand Cherokee sees its most important and impressive improvements. Jeep wanted tech to be at the forefront of this new model. Facing the driver is a standard 10.25-inch digital instrument panel, while the new Uconnect 5 operating system runs through either an 8.4- or 10.1-inch infotainment touchscreen. Further display options include a 10-inch head-up display and a 10.25-inch interactive display for the front seat passengers, as well as optional rear seat entertainment screens. Wireless smartphone connectivity is standard.
The tech improvements are only part of the interior renaissance. The look and feel of the Grand Cherokee's interior benefit from higher-quality materials and more modern design. Even the entry-level Laredo looks more upscale than you'd expect, while the top trim Summit Reserve looks the part of a luxury off-road SUV.
Three powertrains will be available for the Grand Cherokee, but we only had the chance to sample the standard 3.6-liter V6 engine across several trim levels. This motor makes 293 horsepower and 260 lb-ft and is, for the most part, adequate. The V6-powered Grand Cherokee never feels underpowered but it never really seems to have the urge you might want when overtaking on a two-lane highway. The optional 5.7-liter V8 (357 hp, 390 lb-ft) would definitely alleviate any power anxiety and will allow you to tow an impressive 7,200 pounds. For comparison, the V6 is rated to pull 6,200 pounds.
We're most curious about the upcoming 4xe powertrain. Similar to the system in the Wrangler 4xe, this plug-in hybrid uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and an electric motor. The two power sources combine to produce 375 horsepower and a whopping 470 lb-ft. Jeep claims the 17.3-kWh battery pack is capable of delivering 25 miles of EV-only range, giving the Grand Cherokee the ability to complete the challenging Rubicon Trail using only electric propulsion. The 4xe has a slightly lower tow rating than the V6, at 6,000 pounds, and will go on sale in early 2022.
On the road, the new Grand Cherokee feels solid, with excellent rigidity across a variety of surfaces. Both the steel springs and optional semi-adaptive air suspension produce a firm ride that lends a sense of stability and control. The steering is nicely weighted, and even if there's not much road feel, the Grand Cherokee is easy to guide through twists and turns. Visibility is excellent and the cabin is well insulated. Road and wind noise is surprisingly low — even with the addition of the Trailhawk's all-terrain tires.
All of that on-road comfort disguises the Grand Cherokee's impressive off-road prowess. A total of three four-wheel-drive systems are available (it can also be had in strictly rear-wheel drive). The Laredo and Limited's Quadra-Trac I is the standard 4WD system, while the Overland's Quadra-Trac II adds a two-speed transfer case. Quadra-Drive II is standard on the Trailhawk and Summit and optional on the Overland. It adds an electronic limited-slip differential at the rear axle. Our time off-road was spent in a Trailhawk and we made full use of the Quadra-Drive II's impressive capabilities. Sporting a two-speed transfer case with low range, the Trailhawk also gets a segment-first electrically disconnecting front sway bar. This allows for excellent suspension articulation when off-roading, ensuring maximum traction and maneuverability.
Terrain management software tailors the Grand Cherokee's off-road hardware to overcome challenging conditions, while the air suspension can lift the Jeep, giving it 11.3 inches of ground clearance on the Trailhawk. And if you're wondering, the new Grand Cherokee has a wading depth of 24 inches. Those hoping for mechanical limited-slip differentials in the new Grand Cherokee might be disappointed to learn that it uses electronic ones, but we didn't have any complaints during our time traversing some fairly rugged terrain. Special mention should go to the Jeep's Selec-Speed Control, which manages your speed in 0.6-mph increments, allowing you to precisely tailor your progress while off-roading.
The 2022 Grand Cherokee represents a big step forward for one of Jeep's core models. Impressive levels of luxury, tech and on-road refinement mask truly impressive off-road capability and make the Grand Cherokee a modern and compelling midsize two-row SUV. With the addition of its 4xe plug-in hybrid powertrain early next year, the versatility of the Grand Cherokee will be tough to match.