Two engines, a single transmission choice, three four-wheel-drive options, and conventional or air shocks all knit together to give the new Grand Cherokee the best road manners of any Jeep, on par with the Pilot and other leading on-road warriors—all while keeping its trailblazing bona fides.
The two engines are a new 3.6-liter V-6 and a returning 5.7-liter V-8. The 290-hp V-6 is Chrysler’s first new six-cylinder in more than a decade, and it catches up on all fronts with flex-fuel capability, variable valve timing, and much improved fuel economy from prior sixes. It’s a bit boomy in the Cherokee, especially when you’re pressing it hard to enter the freeway, but it’s powerful enough—even with a quick-changing five-speed automatic that really could use one or two more gears—to relegate the 360-hp V-8 to the horse-country set who need extreme towing capacity. The V-8 (a HEMI in all but name) feels and pulls better, but not by that much. Fuel economy checks in at 16/23 mpg for the rear-drive V-6 Grand Cherokee; 16/22 mpg for the four-wheel-drive V-6 model; and 13/19 mpg for the V-8 versions.
The Mercedes contribution to the Grand Cherokee’s upbringing is mostly invisible—it’s in the unibody architecture bolted and welded together to make the new Jeep roomier and far more structurally stiff than before, and it’s in the conventional or electronic air suspension fitted to make it handle better than ever. The suspension is independent all around (the prior generation had a live-beam rear axle), and it works with the stout new body to bring the Cherokee’s road manners into the crossover realm. No more boundy ride or vague steering—this Jeep will handle highways about as well as a Pilot, if not with the carlike ride motions of a Ford Flex. With the Limited and Overland editions, there’s an available Quadra-Lift air suspension that can raise the Cherokee from 4.1 inches to 10.7 inches off the ground—great for off-roading, and even more settled on-road.
For the times you want to explore new territory, the Grand Cherokee can be ordered with one of three four-wheel-drive systems. The basic Quadra-Trac I is a standard locking differential in the middle, with power split 50:50 front to rear. Quadra-Trac II can split torque variably from front to rear, as traction disappears at either end; Quadra-Drive II adds on an electronic limited slip differential across the rear axle so that the Grand Cherokee can respond even more intelligently to slipping and sliding. You’d want the most extreme choice for the most extreme duties, but our favorite is the plain base setup—it’s lightweight, simpler, and more than enough traction control for casual drivers.
On top of all this, Jeep grafts a Selec-Terrain system to the torque-splitting systems. Selec-Terrain lets you choose one of five traction-control modes according to driving conditions: Auto, Sand/Mud, Sport, Snow, and Rock. In concept it’s a lot like the system in the Land Rover lineup; in practice, the Jeep version requires you to intervene more with the gas and brake. It’s useful stuff—if you don’t already know to take it slow and steady when conditions aren’t perfect.
Lastly, with the rear-drive V-8 Grand Cherokee, Jeep claims a 7,400-pound towing capacity.