Jeep Grand Cherokee is the flagship of the brand and for many years was the quintessential SUV. Today, the 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee seats a family of five, drives well on road or off and sports classic good looks.
There have been few changes for 2015 following a major refresh for 2014 that included exterior and interior upgrades, an 8-speed automatic transmission, and the addition of a diesel engine.
New for 2015: A new Summit California Edition appearance package is available, along with an optional Argentina Tan leather interior. Active Noise Cancellation is standard on 2015 Grand Cherokee Summit models. Engine output for the 2015 Grand Cherokee SRT has increased to 475 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque; and there’s a new special-edition Red Vapor version. The other 2015 Grand Cherokee models carry over unchanged from 2014. The last time Grand Cherokee was completely redesigned was for the 2011 model year.
Rear-wheel drive comes standard on most models. Rear-wheel-drive versions account for a small fraction of sales, and we think they miss the point, but of course they do get better fuel economy than the four-wheel-drive versions.
Four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are available, depending on whether the driver needs outstanding capability for rugged terrain or wintry weather, respectively. Four-wheel drive, low-range gearing, and a full-size spare tire, all required for genuine off-road activities, are available and there is a choice of suspensions.
Four engines are available. Chrysler’s 3.6-liter V6 engine is standard and more than sufficient for anything but heavy towing. EPA estimates for the 3.6-liter V6 with 4WD are 17/24 mpg City/Highway.
A 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is available, useful for towing with 360 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. A Grand Cherokee with the 5.7-liter V8 and four-wheel drive is EPA-rated at 14/20 mpg.
Diesel power is available. With 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, the EcoDiesel engine delivers effortless power for towing or traversing rugged terrian. The EPA estimates for the diesel with four-wheel drive are 21/28 mpg City/Highway. EPA estimates for diesels tend to the pessimistic side, counter to ratings for gasoline and hybrid vehicles, which can be optimistic.
In its current form, Grand Cherokee displays a cleaner, more integrated look than in the past. You can trace some development of the Grand Cherokee back far enough that it paralleled the Mercedes-Benz M-Class, but with the latest electronics it will feel familiar to drivers of other Chrysler products. (The diesel engine hails from VM, part of Chrysler’s Fiat link). If there’s a safety feature you want that isn’t standard, you can often get it as an option.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee competes against a spectrum of vehicles including four-wheel-drives such as the Land Rover LR4, Mercedes-Benz G-Class, Toyota 4Runner and Land Cruiser. Rivals also include compact-to-mid-size crossovers and niche models, and to a lesser extent, the big Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition. If you want seven-passenger seating, the closest choice is the Dodge Durango.
SRT is a standalone brand within Chrysler, but we include the Grand Cherokee SRT here because it is essentially a faster Jeep Grand Cherokee for on-road use and it can be purchased at any Jeep dealership. This steroidal performance wagon competes against the Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5M and X6M, Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG, and perhaps the Audi SQ5 or Cadillac CTS-V wagon. It’s the fastest, most expensive, thirstiest Grand Cherokee, and the last one you want to use in the same sentence with off-road. It isn’t a rational choice, but we don’t believe choosing a car must be rational. We have irrational vehicles in our own garages and we love them.
The basic body panels on the Grand Cherokee didn’t change for the 2014 facelift, but body-color trim around the wheels and revised door sills cleaned up the profile view. Front lighting, wheel sizes and styles, and body-end sections vary among the Jeep models.
The shape of the Jeep Grand Cherokee shows you can build a capable-looking utility vehicle without resorting to excessive fender flaring or plastic ramp bumpers. The clearances required for off-highway travel (front, rear and underneath) are good. Note that some of the critical off-highway dimensions Jeep claims are with the front air dam removed, a few-minute job to be undertaken before you hit the nastier terrain.
The front end utilizes two headlight and two foglight designs, with premium models getting LED running lights and turn-following bi-xenon headlamps. With the black plastic trim on the inside edge, we first thought Jeep might have pulled them off the Chrysler 300, but they’re unique to the Grand Cherokee.
Jeep’s trademark grille is seven slots cut into a panel rather than a single grille, with black slats on most models. However, the Summit model’s grille is lined with chrome mesh to mimic Bentley and every other pretender. There’s plenty of chrome on upper trim levels, while the entry model’s simpler appearance looks more appropriate for Jeep’s mission statement. Some have dark tow hooks, the Overland gets chrome, and the Summit has none.
Everything below the glass on an SRT looks at least a little bit different from that of the other Grand Cherokee models. Side sills are more aggressive and fenders filled better by 10-inch-wide forged alloy wheels (and those filled with big brakes). The lights have darkened housings, the front running lights are strips in the bumper, and the chin spoiler is more prominent. A bulging hood has dual air outlets to release heat, and you’ll see the hot air wafting out while sitting at a traffic light. At the back, a larger hatch spoiler and big black chrome exhaust barrels back up the SRT badge.
The interior has arguably become the most important part of a Grand Cherokee. It’s become first and foremost a wagon or sedan replacement, with off-road adventure a secondary concern. That is a wee conundrum, since the best 4WD equipment comes only with the posh heated leather upholstery, but that’s the market.
Ahead of the driver is a dog-bone shaped instrument panel with conventional rev-counter on one side and fuel level/coolant temperature on the other. Between is a 7-inch configurable display for speed and a host of lesser data. The sole drawback to a digital representation of an analog speedometer is minor needle ratcheting, like a quartz watch’s second hand only faster, as it rises and falls. Virtually everything in this display is controlled by steering-wheel switches, or redundant from the central infotainment screen.
The 8-speed’s shifter is like an inverted putter-head on the left of the console. It requires a more delicate touch than the old gated unit, and the lighted icons are not easy to see in daylight. So, it’s better to look at the dashboard display.
To choose amongst the forward gears, there are shift paddles: little levers atop the horizontal spokes on the steering wheel. This isn’t a new concept, but it’s joined by audio controls on the back sides of the same spokes. So more than once, we changed volume or station when we really wanted a gear change.
The LED lighting in the cabin works well, to erase the yellow harshness of the old days. An optional giant dual-pane panoramic sunroof opens wide to the sky. If installed, you can see the stars, perhaps better than you can see out the windows or through the rearview mirror. The generous windshield pillars, sloped backlight and rear headrests pinch the space for visibility.
The location and operation of things on the center stack, such as the electronic switchbank and HVAC controls, is all good. Chrysler’s Uconnect systems, big touch-screen and voice control work quite well. As a bonus, you can engage seat and steering wheel heaters before “OK”-ing the distracted-driver warnings.
An SRT comes with most luxuries and features standard (may as well get the 19-speaker sound system because it weighs less than the standard stereo). However, it gets unique, thick-bolster front seats, a really hefty steering wheel (oar-thick on the bottom half), different graphics and finishes, and the displays offer more information catered to the enthusiast driver.
Cargo space is rated at 36 cubic feet with rear seats up and 68 with them folded; add a bit more for longer items over the fold-flat front seat. That’s about par for the midsize SUV class, but it’s also within a cubic foot of a Ford Escape and smaller than a Honda CR-V, demonstrating that mid-size SUVs don’t necessarily have more room than compact SUVs.
There’s an abundance of storage pockets and bins, including two bins under the cargo floor surrounding the spare tire. That spare may be a temporary-use model or full-size, but you won’t have to lie in the snow or mud to get it out.
The 8-speed automatic transmission works well. More gears make it easier for the engines to work at the most efficient speeds and improve acceleration performance. At a mild pace, calls for downshifts are quicker and less jarring, and at cruising speeds it just lopes along. Gear changes are quick and seamless; most drivers won’t realize how often it shifts.
A short trail course demonstrated that the current Grand Cherokee will go where any previous Grand Cherokee would, unless it can’t squeeze between the trees or boulders. Few owners will do this in a $50,000 bling-mobile and fewer yet will remove the front air dam to do this. But if you pop for Quadra-Drive II and the air suspension, fewer than a dozen other utilities on the market will likely be able to cover the same ground.
Driving off-highway is easier with the current Grand Cherokee than with any previous version, thanks to a 44-percent better crawl ratio (axle ratio x low-range ratio x first-gear ratio), because of the 8-speed that enthusiasts will appreciate. Also helpful, on V8 models, is Hill Ascent that controls climbing speed just as Hill Descent controls downhill progress. With its massive low-rpm torque, the diesel doesn’t need anything more than a steady, light throttle foot to climb.
An important point to note is that the air suspension and low-range four-wheel drive are not available on the base all-wheel-drive model; plan on spending a lot more for that level of trail ability. The all-wheel-drive system on base models is meant for mild off-road use and inclement weather; low-range gearing is available as an option on Laredo E, but standard on the diesel and V8.
Selec-Terrain electronically coordinates powertrain, braking and suspension systems, including throttle control, transmission shifts, transfer case, traction control, and electronic stability control. What this means is that anyone following a spotter’s steering instructions can drive a Jeep Grand Cherokee over extremely rugged off-road courses. The computers will do it all.
The SRT uses a 391 cubic-inch V8 like that in the Challenger 392 and other rear-drive SRT sedans. With 475 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, a crisp-shifting automatic, full-time all-wheel drive and foot-wide sticky tires, it moves swiftly. Jeep didn’t claim any big improvement in 0-60 time, but even without a timer, you can tell those extra gears made it quicker. Acceleration lifts the bow and braking brings nosedive, both tradeoffs for the solid roll control to keep the big, 5200-pound box stable. Don’t even think of driving it off-road.
Virtually every component that affects performance, be it bodywork, cabin pieces, electronic or mechanical, is addressed by SRT, resulting in a package that isn’t overpowered, underbraked or unable to use its power. On the contrary, the SRT likes to be pitched into a turn where it takes a set and you simply stand on the gas and let the all-wheel drive sort out the traction; the dynamics are impressive at this price. Like BMW’s X5M, Mercedes’s ML63 AMG and the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, the Grand Cherokee SRT proves a utility vehicle can make good time on the pavement.
The Grand Cherokee gets adaptive dampers from Bilstein. That means a choice of Touring comfort, which is fine even for unknown winding road, and Sport, in which things are buttoned up tighter.
Of course, the SRT carries penalties typical of super-sport utility vehicles. Gas mileage is usually closer to the EPA city rating of 13 mpg, and the tires, easily used up making a heavy truck work like a sports car, run around $475 each.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee boasts a capable chassis, comfortable interior that’s utility useful or fashion friendly, and some of the most efficient powertrains in its class. It offers the off-road capability that mid-size SUVs should deliver, along with substantial towing capability. The SRT puts the Germans on notice that there are super-ute alternatives, and this one costs $20,000 to $40,000 less. A Laredo E Off-Road is the most Jeep and the one we want most.
G.R. Whale filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drives of all versions of the Grand Cherokee near Austin, Texas.