Since it first bowed for the 1993 model year, Jeep’s Grand Cherokee has consistently elevated the SUV segment.
Engine: 3.0-liter diesel with 240 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel Economy: Four-wheel-drive Grand Cherokees equipped with the EcoDiesel engine should return 21 miles per gallon city and 28 highway
Pricing: As tested pricing was around $59,000
Upscale interiors, powerful drivetrains and legendary capability are but a few of the elements that have allowed this rugged utility stand above its rivals for more than two decades. Continuing this tradition of excellence, the 2016 version is better than ever, with new efficiency-enhancing features and an extra helping of technology.
Pick a Powertrain
Right out of the gate, models equipped with Chrysler’s entry-level 3.6-liter gasoline V6 or the optional 5.7-liter Hemi V8 gain electrically assisted power steering, lower rolling-resistance tires and minor weight reductions. These changes are aimed at improving fuel economy. Additionally, six-cylinder models are equipped with stop-start technology to further cut consumption.
Speaking of the award-winning Pentastar V6, it’s been thoroughly redesigned for the new model year. Upgrades to its variable valve-timing and exhaust-gas recirculation systems improve efficiency, as does the addition of variable valve lift, which also boosts performance. Models equipped with this engine are endowed with a 290 horse-stable.
For drivers that want more, an available 5.7-liter Hemi V8 delivers 360 horses and 390-lb-ft of torque. Beyond this, two other engines are offered, a diesel as well as a fire-breathing 6.2-liter SRT V8. Maximizing performance while simultaneously minimizing consumption, an eight-speed automatic transmission is standard across the board.
As in years past, this premium utility offers four different four-wheel-drive systems, from Quadra-Trac I, which features a single-speed transfer case and full-time traction to Quadra-Drive II that delivers best-in-class grip thanks, in part, to its electronically controlled limited-slip differential. There’s something for every kind of motorist or budget; Jeep even builds two-wheel-drive versions of the Grand Cherokee for customers that care more about style than substance.
When it comes to towing, two-wheel-drive Jeep Grand Cherokees with the diesel engine are rated to drag up to 7,400 pounds. Opt for four-corner traction and that total drops by a paltry 200 pounds. Models with the gasoline V6 can only manage 6,200 pounds, which is still pretty impressive.
Reaching the Summit
As its name suggests, the Summit model serves as the pinnacle of the standard Grand Cherokee range; only their ultra-high-performance SRT variant is more expensive.
Base price for a Summit-trim Grand Cherokee is about $53,000, including $995 in destination fees. If you want an EcoDiesel engine under the hood, which is what our test model was equipped with, plan on opening your wallet a little wider. The addition of this powerplant ups the sticker by five grand, which brought the price of our tester to just about $59,000 along with the addition of a few other options.
What do you get for that substantial outlay of cash? Other than jeopardizing your retirement and ruining any college savings accounts you’d started for your children, you’re treated to a power liftgate, dual-pane sunroof and 20-inch rims as well as a full-size spare tire. Summit-level Grand Cherokees also feature the company’s Quadra-Drive II four-wheel-drive system.
Beyond all this, owners are treated to adaptive bi-xenon high-intensity discharge headlamps, a wood-trimmed steering wheel, premium Natura-Plus leather seating surfaces with heated and ventilated buckets and even open-pore wood trim. Ensuring you can rock out to your favorite tunes, a 19-speaker 825-watt Harmon Kardon sound system is also included at no additional charge.
Summit-level Grand Cherokees are graced with one of the nicest interiors in the segment. Richly grained plastics, a cut-and-sewn leather dashboard top plus beautiful, full-color display screens on the center stack and instrument cluster make this vehicle feel worthy of its ambitious price.
It’s also commodious. Back-seat passengers have plenty of space to stretch out and there’s ample room for cargo. Fold the second row flat and you’ve got just shy of 70 cubic feet to play with.
With a compression-ignition engine nestled between its front fenders this version of the Grand Cherokee is endowed with tremendous low-end grunt. Boot the right-most pedal and hang on as the EcoDiesel take a deep breath and then shoves you like a steroid-pumping professional wrestler.
All of its 420 lb-ft of torque are available at just 2,000 RPM, meaning full fury is accessible just north of idle. Maximum power clocks in at an unassuming 240 horses but trust me, that’s more than enough for everyday driving. This stampede is served up at slightly higher revs, 3,600 on the clock.
Further multiplying its tremendous twist is a well-mannered eight-speed automatic transmission. This cutting-edge gearbox also helps improve fuel economy, allowing four-wheel-drive variants of the Grand Cherokee to hit 28 miles per gallons on the highway. Around town it should return 21 MPG.
Now, if you’re keeping track, this vehicle’s fuel tank is just shy of 25 gallons, which means in four-wheel-drive trim it offers a bladder-bursting theoretical maximum highway range of more than 680 miles. Plan on getting a stadium buddy or skipping that trash can-sized Slurpee you were planning on getting.
Downsides to the EcoDiesel are minor. A little drivetrain choppiness can be felt at idle and its vigor tapers off noticeably as vehicle velocity increases, but these complaints are almost irrelevant next to the performance and fuel economy benefits it offers.
Driven on a track the Grand Cherokee, not surprisingly, feels completely out of its element. This off-road-focused SUV rolls quite a bit while negotiating corners at speed, all the while transmitting a sensation of squishiness to the driver. Like an octogenarian thumbing through the latest edition Reader’s Digest it doesn’t like to be rushed.
If you’re in a hot-blooded hurry Jeep will happily sell you a track-focused SRT version of this truck. Its 6.4-liter Hemi V8 provides 475 reasons to mash the accelerator every chance you get.
The EcoDiesel’s uninspired on-circuit performance is hardly a shocker; with a heavyweight iron cylinder block mounted behind its seven-slot grille this version strains the scales at nearly 5,400 pounds. Tires that are knobbier than a retired machine-shop worker’s knuckles don’t help with on-asphalt grip.
But put this truck on a trail and reduce its velocity to about three miles an hour and everything starts to click. About the only vehicle on the market today that can take you as far off the beaten path in comparable luxury is something from Range Rover, and they’re nearly twice as expensive.
The latest Jeep Grand Cherokee continues a proud tradition of excellence in the premium SUV segment. For 2016 it’s better than ever, with more technology, features and luxury than ever before. But this utility vehicle’s new compression-ignition engine is the real winner. It gives customers great drivability and even better performance. If you can afford the extra $5,000 it adds to the price tag you should seriously consider it.
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