Jeep likes to claim that the Grand Cherokee, which launched in 1992, was the “first premium 4x4”. There might be some folks at Gaydon that have something to say about that but there’s no doubting that the Grand Cherokee was ahead of the curve when it came to blending off- and on-road abilities, comfort and luxuries.
Since that first model, three subsequent generations have refined the idea of a go-anywhere vehicle with all the creature comforts that discerning buyers want. Now, in 2023, the fifth generation is here to take that concept further and bring the Grand Cherokee into the electrified age with a hybrid powertrain.
True to its roots, the new Grand Cherokee looks and feels absolutely massive. If the recently tested Avenger feels like a European car for European roads and sensibilities, the Grand Cherokee is very much an American car - unapologetically big and aggressive. It is boxy, tall and broad, with a prominent forward-leaning take on the famous seven-segment grille, massive squared off arches and a rear design that emphasises its breadth, which is all too obvious on smaller country roads.
The up side to its enormous footprint is ridiculous levels of room for passengers. Even the very tallest passengers will have plenty of legroom behind an average-sized driver and those up front are spoiled for space at 1.96cm wide (without the mirrors), there’s no shortage of shoulder room either. Only the very tall will feel their headroom cramped by the full-length opening sunroof.
Rather boldly, Jeep claims the Grand Cherokee sets a “new standard of luxury in this segment of SUV. That’s quite a claim in a segment that also includes the Range Rover Sport, Audi Q7, BMW X5/X7 and Mercedes-Benz GLE. And it’s not one the Cherokee can back up. Interior materials look good at first glance, with the Summit spec’s open-pore walnut and double-diamond stitched leather giving an air of class. But they lack the depth of quality of a Range Rover or Audi, the trim is thin and hollow and the leather feels robust rather than luxury. Elements like the switches are solid, nicely damped and good quality but don’t scream £70k car.
This generation is the first Grand Cherokee that will be sold only as a plug-in hybrid in Europe. A 2.0-litre petrol engine works with two electric motors to offer 375bhp/470lb ft and all-wheel-drive. In some conditions drive to the front axle will be automatically disengaged to improve economy, which is quoted at up to 109mpg thanks to the way PHEVs are tested. Fully charged,the plug-in hybrid’s battery will offer up to 31 miles of EV driving, with various drive modes to make the most of the electric help or save charge for later use.
In action, the drivetrain is a slightly mixed bag. Under gentle throttle and at a steady cruise everything is smooth, refined and well soundproofed but when you ask it to get a shift on the whole hybrid setup takes a moment to figure out what it’s doing and then the four-cylinder engine makes itself pretty evident. It’s not helped by an occasional jerky transmission, especially under heavy acceleration or deceleration.
While the power delivery isn’t always the smoothest, the Grand Cherokee’s ride is impeccable and the adaptive air suspension keeps passengers well isolated from lumps and bumps on the road yet also keeps the massive body remarkably flat on twisting terrain. Predictably, the steering is accurate but utterly without feedback or feel - hardly a major worry in a 2.7-tonne SUV that’s designed for easy long-distance cruise.
While the adaptive air is clearly a benefit on the road, it also helps when things get more challenging, which is where the Grand Cherokee pulls ahead of (almost) all its rivals. Jeep started out making go-anywhere off-roaders and even today’s models are true to those roots.
On a proper axle-twisting off-road course that left us staring at the sky on its steepest inclines, the Grand Cherokee pressed on with barely a shrug. The Wrangler Rubicon 4Xe perhaps made it feel easier but everywhere that iconic 4x4 went, the Cherokee was able to follow.
Entry and departure angles are 35.7 and 30 degrees respectively, and maximum ground clearance is 275mm - all virtually identical to the Range Rover Sport - the Jeep’s only true rival off-road. It’s only on wading depth that the Jeep fails to compete - ceding almost 30cm to the Range Rover’s 90cm.
For those really brave enough to take at £70k+ car mud-plugging, the Trailhawk trim level brings the most off-road focused spec, with all-terrain tyres, an electronic rear diff, detachable anti-roll bars, skid plates and even a low-glare bonnet decal.
Beneath that, the range starts at £69,915 for the Limited spec aimed at business buyers while the Overland (£75,915) is a halfway house between the rugged Trailhawk and comfort-focused Summit Reserve (£85,615). The Summit Reserve (set to be the best seller in the UK) gets 21-inch alloys, walnut trim, Palermo leather massage seats, heated and cooled seats front and rear, four-zone climate control and a 19-speaker sound system from McIntosh (nope, we’ve never heard of them either). It also features a 10.25-inch touchscreen directly in front of the passenger - a segment first. The screen lets the passenger control media and navigation and if they’re feeling particularly antisocial they can project video to it from a phone via HDMI and use bluetooth headphones to ignore everyone else.
The Grand Cherokee has always been a niche product in the UK, where the lure of a German or British badge seems hard to resist. This latest model still struggles to compete with those prestigious brands on overall quality or badge cachet but for buyers who want a slice of modern Americana it’s a big, brash and capable machine with heaps of space and equipment.
Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit Reserve
- Price: £85,615
- Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol, two electric motors
- Power: 375bhp
- Torque: 470lb ft
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive with low-range
- Top speed:
- 0-62mph: 6.3 seconds
- Economy: 109mpg
- CO2 emissions: 61g/km
Rivals: Range Rover Sport, Audi Q7, BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Genesis GV80