The Wrangler is Jeep's iconic off-roader. It's why a Jeep brand exists in the first place. But these days, Jeep's most popular — and arguably most important — vehicle is the Grand Cherokee. With the re-advent of the Wagoneer, the Grand Cherokee can no longer claim to be the brand's flagship SUV, but it remains the volume seller, profit driver...and SUV that Stellantis will move heaven, earth and every available microchip to sell.
The all-new fifth-generation Grand Cherokee is arriving in three phases. The three-row Grand Cherokee L hit dealers last summer; now, Jeep is following up with the two-row Grand Cherokee, which will begin deliveries before the end of the year. The third phase will be the plug-in hybrid Grand Cherokee 4xe, launching early next year.
Jeep brought media members to Moab, Utah — off-roading Mecca and the brand's unofficial home away from home — to drive the new 2022 two-row Grand Cherokee. It was not because Moab was a convenient place to gather journalists — it certainly was not — but to underscore what makes the Grand Cherokee unique. The market teems with fancy midsize crossovers, and most of them pose as being adventurous. But the Grand Cherokee — when properly equipped — is the only one that can perform like a Jeep when it leaves the pavement.
And boy, can it do so.
Since first smashing through the plate glass in 1992, the Grand Cherokee has been the Jeep most buyers want and need. It has delivered solid on-road handling and comfort with a unibody platform and independent front and rear suspensions. The cabin has felt top-notch, and there's always been ample cargo space. It makes all the compromises the Wrangler doesn't — while still being a credible off-roader — and its success allows the Wrangler to remain uncompromised.
Like most midsize SUVs (there are exceptions), the Grand Cherokee is not a performance car. But it meets typical, everyday demands with a high-proficiency level. The Grand Cherokee has direct, well-weighted steering. Power delivery is smooth, most of the time. It handles corners without throwing its weight around. It was very comfortable cruising placidly around the blissfully empty two-lane highways around Moab.
The Grand Cherokee doesn't reward aggressive driving. Going full lead-foot elicits a lot of groaning from its not-particularly-gratifying engines. The transmission can get out of sorts, start holding gears too long — and not intuit when you have calmed down. This is a car you want to play it cool with and keep between the lines.
The Grand Cherokee comes with two engine options — for now. The base engine is the 290-hp 3.6-liter V6 Stellantis puts in everything from the Jeep Gladiator to the Chrysler Pacifica. You can upgrade to 357 hp and 390 lb-ft with a 5.7-liter V8. Usually, it would be obligatory for me as a car journalist to fluff my chest hair, grunt like Tim Allen and tell you to go for the V8. In reality, though, I would save some money and stick with the V6.
The only point of driving a V8 in 2021 is that it's fun and gratifying. The Grand Cherokee V8 isn't particularly dynamic; you don't get a game-changing amount of power in everyday driving, and the sound doesn't roar from the cabin. On my first leg driving a V8 Overland, I had to double-check that the car had the V8 on the spec sheet. You do get better max towing — 7,200 lbs — with the V8, but the V6 is no slouch, pulling up to 6,200 lbs. The one classic V8 feature the engine offers is crushing your fuel economy vs. the V6 by 4-5 mpg.
The V6 will be enough engine for most. And if you genuinely need an upgrade, wait for the 4xe, which should outperform the V8 at just about everything.
The fourth-generation WK2 Grand Cherokee was capable off-road. The new WL-gen Grand Cherokee — in Trailhawk trim — is an off-roader. The Grand Cherokee Trailhawk can hoist itself up to 11.3 inches of ground clearance and wade through two feet of water. And like the Wrangler Rubicon, you can disconnect the sway bar, which takes the Grand Cherokee to another level.
Jeep didn't take us on the Hell's Revenge trail, purportedly due to time constraints. But we did climb the starting portion of a reasonably gnarly mountain trail that required ample articulation, tight maneuvering, frequent spotting from a Jeep Jamboree crew and going onto three wheels on more than one occasion to overcome obstacles. The Grand Cherokee's hill ascent and descent control works impressively. That said, I eventually resorted to the pedals, as it was too hard to modulate using the shift paddles in a lead-follow situation where I was repeatedly going to full steering lock.
I won't say the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk is the Wrangler's equal. But almost no Grand Cherokee driver will push their SUV to the extremes where the distinctions between the two would be relevant.
Outstanding. Jeep aims for the Grand Cherokee interior — in Summit Reserve trim — to outdo any competitor's SUV (the goal for the Grand Wagoneer, meanwhile, is to beat any other vehicle). The Grand Cherokee nails that on every level. The design is gorgeous, with impressive craftsmanship and attention to detail. The material quality — Palermo leather and open-pore wood — is unrivaled for the price point.
On the tech front, the UConnect 5 system is quick, intuitive and customizable. It's gold-standard of proprietary infotainment systems. The Grand Cherokee does not just offer rear-seat screens; the front passenger also gets a screen that can act as a second command center for navigation and controlling the other screens.
And, oh yeah, the Grand Cherokee offers the McIntosh sound system, which may be the best premium audio experience available in an automobile.
The Grand Cherokee is not cheap, especially if you want to level up. The starting MSRP is $37,390, or $39,390 if you want a 4x4 model. That climbs all the way up to the Summit Reserve at $63,365. Jeep charges a mandatory $1,795 destination charge on top of that. Options can jack the price up even further.
The cheapest Grand Cherokee I drove was the V6 Trailhawk, which started at $51,275 and ended up costing $59,945. I also drove a V6 Summit Reserve that priced out to $67,795 and a V8 Overland that came out to $68,765.
I would guess most buyers end up with the second-tier Limited trim, which starts at $45,710 for the 4x4 version. I wouldn't be surprised if the three-row L — which Jeep says is already setting monthly sales records without the two-row — becomes the more popular version.
The three-row will be a direct competitor for vehicles like the Kia Telluride, Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander. It's hard to pinpoint a direct rival for the two-row Grand Cherokee which offers a broad range of features and capabilities. A buyer could cross-shop a Grand Cherokee with everything from a Toyota 4Runner ($37,305) to a Genesis GV80 ($49,700) or even a Land Rover Defender ($48,700).
Powertrain: 3.6-liter V6 / 5.7-liter V8; eight-speed automatic; two- or four-wheel-drive
Horsepower: 290 / 357
Torque: 257 lb-ft / 390 lb-ft
EPA Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway (14 mpg city, 22 mpg highway)
Much-needed upgrades are coming soon. Here's what you can expect.