With four powertrains, a choice between rear-wheel drive and various four-wheel-drive systems, and the hardware to keep its performance refined and top-notch, on- or off-road, the 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee simply doesn't disappoint in performance—and it offers a wide enough range of combinations to appeal to almost every need.
It's somewhat of a Swiss army knife, going against competitors like the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, even the prosaic Subaru Outback, by being many different things at once, whether that's a frugal diesel cruiser, an inexpensive family SUV, or a luxurious performance sport wagon.
At the base level, the Grand Cherokee is powered by a 3.6-liter V-6. It already had flex-fuel capability and variable valve timing, and while it doesn't have direct injection, for 2016 it gets a new two-step valve lift system, an upgraded variable valve timing system, and a new exhaust gas recirculation system. We're not yet sure how, if at all, that will affect its useful power and drivability, but it does make 5 more horsepower than before, to 295 horsepower. As it has been, the so-called Pentastar V-6 offers strong responsiveness right in the middle of the rev band, as well as enough low-rpm torque to handle delicate yet demanding off-road situations. In the Grand Cherokee, this engine sounds a bit tamer and more refined than in some of the other models, like the Chrysler 200.
With the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, the Grand Cherokee has the feel of a Dodge Charger muscle sedan, in some respects—with the V-8 offering a great-sounding engine note. As much as we like this engine's character, it's not all that much of an improvement in everyday driving to make it worth the penalty in miles per gallon. It's worth noting that for 2016, all Hemi-powered Grand Cherokees are all-wheel drive only—even the SRT8.
The other (and costliest) engine for the regular Grand Cherokee lineup is the 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 supplied by VM Motori. With 240 hp and 420 pound-feet of torque, it doesn't feel as overtly punchy as the V-8, or maybe not even as quick for passing as the V-6, but it has the very strong low- and mid-range torque required for easy towing and unbelievable tractability off-road.
It's also the only one in its class—without a luxury badge—to offer a diesel, and it's a cost-effective alternative to the diesels from Germany.
Maximum towing is rated at 6,200 pounds with the V-6, while the Hemi V-8 or the diesel raise that to (potentially) 7,400 pounds.
No matter which engine you choose from, you get an excellent 8-speed automatic, paired with paddle-shift controls. The paddles are more like short nubs, sticking up above audio buttons mounted on the back of the steering wheel.
Most Grand Cherokees come standard with rear-wheel drive, although there are plenty of options for those who want some or all of the off-road ability that Jeep is famous for. It can be ordered with one of three all- or four-wheel-drive systems. The basic Quadra-Trac I has a locking differential in the middle, with power split 50/50 front to rear, but no low range. Quadra-Trac II can split torque variably from front to rear, as traction disappears at either end, up to 100 percent in theory. 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 the base setup is lightweight, simple, and more than enough traction control for crossover-SUV drivers.
The Grand Cherokee is one of the few vehicles that can be fitted with hardcore off-road talent. Jeep grafts a Selec-Terrain system to both of the Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive II systems. A terrain selection knob lets you choose one of five traction modes according to driving conditions: Auto, Sand, Mud, Snow, and Rock. (The former Sport mode is selected on the shift lever.) It’s useful stuff—if you don’t already know to take it slow and steady when conditions aren’t perfect.
Some versions of the Grand Cherokee earn the Trail Rated designation—those with Selec-Terrain plus and an off-road package—and we've seen how they earn it, scrambling up 200-foot, 55-degree inclines with a Selec-Speed system that puts a steady amount of force into the drivetrain, and controls it in 1-kph increments. It's brainless off-roading, all granted by smart electronic controls.
The Grand Cherokee is one of the best handling, best steering SUVs in its class. Road manners are smooth and crossover-like, without the boundy ride and the slow steering responses of the past. With the Limited, Overland, and Summit editions, there’s an available Quadra-Lift air suspension that can raise the Grand Cherokee from 6.4 inches to 11.3 inches off the ground through five modes—great for off-roading, and even more settled on-road. The air suspension can also lower the Jeep all the way for entry and exit, as well as when loading, and it drops the car down on the highway to improve aerodynamics and fuel economy.
If you need the Grand Cherokee for its space, but you'd rather be out on the racetrack, you should take a look at the Grand Cherokee SRT. At a much lower price, it competes with models from Porsche, BMW M, and Mercedes-Benz. Its 6.4-liter V-8 rips shunts 470 hp to all four wheels on a variable basis through an 8-speed paddle-shifted automatic. Chrysler claims a thrilling 0-60 mph time of 4.8 seconds, and includes launch control so owners can see those numbers, repeatably, on the SRT's Performance Pages screen. That isn't the only impressive number: the quarter-mile's pegged in the mid-13s, top speed hits 160 mph, and 60-0 mph braking cuts things short in just 116 feet. It's true performance art, and extravagant in ways you might never associate with the Jeep name.