The Car Connection Jeep Grand Cherokee Overview
The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a rugged mid-size SUV that comfortably seats five while trekking up a mountainside, climbing a snowy pass, or even blitzing a local racetrack.
With the Grand Cherokee, Jeep has a mainstream SUV that can take on all challengers with ample interior technology and luxury. The Grand Cherokee can run the range from off-roader to track athlete in high-performance versions—even a drag-strip warrior in the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk edition.
The Grand Cherokee takes on the Ford Explorer and Toyota 4Runner as well as some Euro 'utes like the BMW X5 and the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class.
MORE: Read our 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee review
The new Grand Cherokee
Things changed when the 2011 Grand Cherokee was introduced in 2010. Thanks to the earlier DaimlerChrysler tie-up, the new Grand Cherokee shared a basic architecture with the Mercedes M- (now GLE) and GL-Class (now GLS) SUVs. It's more sophisticated as a result, with smoother on-road dynamics, an available air suspension, and great steering, while still retaining the off-road capability that made the Grand Cherokee what it was in the beginning. Although Daimler and Chrysler are no longer an item, this prime example of their shared expertise continues on anyway.
As before, the current Grand Cherokee is as extreme as you want it to be—with the top Quadra Drive II system sophisticated enough for either negotiating slippery rocks and mud or mindfully gripping with the correct wheel in your snow-drift-buried driveway. And even better, Jeep has also introduced a Range Rover-like Selec-Terrain system that simplifies getting through the tough stuff, with an Auto mode plus separate ones for sand/mud, snow, and rock.
With its modern and more refined 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, in addition to returning Hemi V-8s, the fourth-generation Grand Cherokee is also a bit more fuel efficient in its base form.
The SRT8 model returned for 2012 with a 465-hp, 6.4-liter Hemi. It has become much more comfortable and luxurious compared to the original, hard-edged SRT8, which has opened up its appeal but lost some of the rawness, for better and worse. It's now simply known as the Grand Cherokee SRT.
The Grand Cherokee has always been ahead of its time with respect to features. Back in its first generation, the Grand Cherokee offered features like steering-wheel audio controls, plush leather upholstery, heated seats, and keyless entry. The newest models can be had with extensive entertainment and information extras like Uconnect Web (to turn the vehicle into a wireless hotspot).
In 2013, a rugged Trailhawk version of the Grand Cherokee joined the lineup. The Grand Cherokee Trailhawk included off-road-specific hardware such as 18-inch off-road tires; an air suspension; off-road-tuned traction control; its own badging and black and red accents; and black suede and leather seats.
The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee made its debut at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show, bringing a significant refresh to the lineup. A new 8-speed automatic transmission is now standard throughout the lineup. New for the model year was a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 that achieved an excellent 30 mpg on the highway. Towing capacities were boosted and now range up to 7,400 pounds for the diesel. SRT models (no longer SRT8) gained a new Launch Control feature, as well as a Track Mode that sends 70 percent of torque by default to the rear wheels for high-performance driving.
All models in the 2014 Grand Cherokee lineup received a new shorter grille, slimmer taillights, and new LED rear lamps that mimic the shape of the headlamps. New active-safety features included forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, and a new 19-speaker, 825-watt Harman/Kardon surround-sound audio system highlighted a set of revised infotainment features.
Changes for 2015 included an output bump to 475 hp for the Grand Cherokee SRT, an Argentine Tan leather option for the Summit, a new monochrome California Edition exterior package, and acoustic glass. Both the Summit and SRT got active noise cancellation that plays through the stereo.
For 2017, a new version of the Trailhawk model joined the lineup. It gets 18-inch off-road tires; red tow hooks; Quadra-Drive II; an electronic limited-slip differential; an air suspension with more suspension travel; Selec-Speed Control; skid plates; and a black leather interior. The base Grand Cherokees also added a standard rearview camera and parking sensors for 2017.
The big news for 2018 was the addition of a model that truly shows Grand Cherokee's breadth: the pavement-oriented Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. With the supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 it makes 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque, it can sprint from 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds and reach a top speed of 180 mph.
For 2019, Jeep upgraded the infotainment system in top models of the Grand Cherokee and added blind-spot monitors to all models. In 2020 Jeep made some active safety features more widely available.
Jeep Grand Cherokee history
The Grand Cherokee is one of the vehicles that spawned the SUV gold rush in the 1990s. It and the Ford Explorer drew a generation of drivers out of sedans and into big, tall wagons, for better or worse. It's still one of the best sellers in that group today, and though a handful of other SUVs combine toughness with a luxurious ambiance, almost none of them do it at the Grand Cherokee's price point.
Through the years, the Jeep Grand Cherokee has been a very off-road-capable luxury sport-utility vehicle, offering rather chunky, rugged styling, along with enough family-friendly practicality inside.
The first-generation Grand Cherokee wasn't an exceptional on-road performer by any measure, but it moved just fine with the long-running and torquey 4.0-liter inline-6 (of AMC origins). The 5.2-liter or 5.9-liter V-8 engines were definitely the choice for those who towed, and the 5.9 Limited felt like an all-out muscle truck. During some of this time, the most luxurious versions of the Grand Cherokee were badged Grand Wagoneer, and included a specially trimmed, leather-lined cabin and a wood-paneled-look exterior.
The second-generation Grand Cherokee arrived with a rounded version of the original's styling that was still distinctive and recognizable. The interior trimmings were more luxurious, and mechanical updates included a new 4-speed automatic transmission and a hydraulically actuated four-wheel-drive system; rear-wheel drive and a more basic four-wheel-drive system remained on offer as well. The engine menu stayed put, although V-8 models saw increased output.
The Grand Cherokee was again substantially redesigned for 2005. This time, Jeep threw out the old inline-6, replacing it with an also-dated 3.7-liter V-6, but all-new 5.7-liter and 6.1-liter HEMI V-8 engines joined the range. While the V-8s brought brisk acceleration and plenty of muscle for towing, this generation was widely panned by critics as being a step back in what mattered to much of the Grand Cherokee's buyer base; most notably, it felt a bit tighter, seating-wise, than the previous generation.
For a short time, Jeep also offered a 3.0-liter turbodiesel version of the third-gen Grand Cherokee; it performed well and was quite fuel-efficient, but emissions regulations and slow sales forced an early demise.
Beginning with the 2006 Grand Cherokee SRT8, Jeep showed that it could appeal to go-fast, on-road enthusiasts, too. The performance model packed a 420-hp, 6.1-liter HEMI, a sport-tuned suspension, and a host of upgrades, and this model could not only do modest off-roading, but also get to Autobahn speeds and reach 60 mph in well under five seconds.
In all of its existence through the '90s and '00s, the Grand Cherokee was lacking several things that were increasingly required by suburban families: More precise, carlike handling; a better on-road ride; and top-notch safety. Over the past decade, its rugged image and Rubicon capability were no longer enough; its sloppy steering and choppy-yet-boundy ride were, in fact, deal-breakers to many, and families moved over to other luxury-brand SUVs that didn't cost much more.