By KEVIN WEAKS
Crossover SUVs are so common these days that you might be wondering if any of them are actually capable of going off-road. The answer is yes, and one of the most popular is the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
A more civilized boulder basher than the Jeep Wrangler, the Grand Cherokee comes in a dozen different configurations to appeal to soccer moms, mountain men or insane speed demons. Unlike most of its crossover competitors, which attract customers who will never go off road but may be looking for something a little sporty and a lot stylish, the Grand Cherokee exists to take to you places where car-based vehicles dare not tread – but without beating you up in the process.
Even though the Grand Cherokee hasn’t been redesigned since the current generation was introduced in 2011, it remains one of the best-selling SUVs in America with 242,969 sold in 2019.
Not surprisingly, slightly more Grand Cherokee owners are men. J.D. Power data says 59 percent of the Jeep’s owners are men, vs. 57 percent for all midsize SUVs. The Grand Cherokee’s owners are slightly younger (53 years vs. 55 years) and are more affluent in terms of median annual household income ($125,708 vs. $116,411). J.D. Power doesn’t say whether Grand Cherokee buyers prefer Old Spice over Paco Rabanne. But rugged sells.
Fortunately, for all the Grand Cherokee’s “Trail Rated” capabilities off road, it still manages to offer a firm but comfortable ride and luxurious accommodations inside, particularly in its higher-end trim levels.
Originally used as military vehicles, Jeeps date back to the 1940s and the beginning of World War II. While Willys-Overland produced the first vehicles to be called Jeeps, it wasn’t until June 13, 1950, when Willys was able to trademark the official “Jeep” name. Shortly after, in 1953, Henry J. Kaiser bought the company for $60.8 million, rebranding it as Willys Motors Inc., which eventually became Kaiser Jeep Corporation in 1963.
In 1970, the company was sold to American Motors Corporation, this time for $75 million. The Jeep brand once again changed hands in 1987 when Chrysler bought out a large portion of American Motors Corporation, including the iconic Jeep brand. After Chrysler declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009, Fiat purchased all the assets from Chrysler in 2014 and merged the two companies together, resulting in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
Grand Cherokees roll out of Detroit’s Jefferson North Assembly facility, where they’ve been built since the place opened in 1991. According to a recent report by Reuters, Chrysler will revive its Mack Avenue Engine II plant in Detroit to help produce the next-generation Grand Cherokee. FCA believes it will need the space because there will be increased demand, particularly if Jeep adds a three-row variant to the Grand and a hybrid plug-in version. The last three-row Jeep in the U.S. was the Commander, which ended production in 2010.
Perhaps acceding to the notion that manly men produce offspring that need hauling, Jeep has announced a plan to create a new three-row Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer. The plan is to invest close to $1 billion for the modernization of Jeep’s Warren Truck Assembly Plant and Toledo Assembly Complex. The Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer will be all new when they eventually reach showrooms.
According to reports, the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer will be built on the full-size, body-on-frame platform of the latest Ram 1500 pickup truck, or at least an expanded Grand Cherokee car-like body. The big difference appears to be that the Wagoneer will have a lower price and not as many luxury features as the Grand Wagoneer.
Automotive prognosticator Motor Authority claims it has spied yet another three-row Jeep variation. Not to be mistaken for the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer duo, it would be a new mid-size contender to sit alongside the Grand Cherokee which will stick with two rows with its redesign, the website says.
2020 GRAND CHEROKEE
Jeep has always held to the theory that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – too much. The 2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee is largely unchanged from the 2019 iteration. It still seats four adults and has adequate cargo space for that quartet to pack enough stuff for a week away.
Most Grand Cherokee models come standard with a 3.6-liter V6 engine hooked up to an eight-speed automatic transmission. This base powertrain’s 295 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque is adequate for normal daily driving duties. Four-wheel drive is standard on Trailhawk, SRT and Trackhawk models and optional on all others, which come standard with rear-wheel drive.
The EPA rates the V6 Grand Cherokee at 18 mpg city, 26 mpg highway, and 21 mpg combined. Four-wheel-drive drops the city and highway rating by just one mpg.
A 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine is a $3,295 option starting with the Limited trim, packaged with standard four-wheel drive. It’s a bit more powerful than the V6 with 360 hp and 390 lb-ft. The EPA estimates the V8-powered Grand Cherokee will get 14 mpg city, 22 highway, and 17 combined. Buyers who tow will find the V8’s extra power useful, and it’s a unique selling point that Jeep’s most popular competitors don’t offer. Properly equipped, the Grand Cherokee can tow as much as 7,200 pounds (or 6,200 pounds for rear-wheel-drive versions).
Want more? The Grand Cherokee SRT comes equipped with a 6.4-liter V8 that spins out 475 hp and 470 lb-ft. It gets EPA ratings of 13 city and 19 highway. The truly power hungry can opt for the 2020 Grand Cherokee Trackhawk with 707 horses and 645 lb-ft from a supercharged 6.2-liter V8. The all-wheel-drive Trackhawk rockets to 60 mph in just 3.5 seconds and can hit a top speed of 180 – perfect for those who like flashing blue lights in their rearview mirror.
A DOZEN TRIM LEVELS
As far as 2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee trim levels and features are concerned, there are more choices than a Chinese menu.
Things start off with the base Laredo 4×2 started at $33,540, including an abnormally high $1,495 destination charge. Four-wheel drive is an extra $2,300. From there, the Laredo E and Upland variants of that base trim add more equipment and still cost less than $40,000. The 2020 Grand Cherokee Limited starts at $39,855, with the Limited X that we mentioned at the outset costing more than $45,000 in two-wheel-drive form.
The Trailhawk adds in all of Jeep’s off-road necessities for $44,955 and comes with four-wheel drive standard.
The Overland essentially turns the Grand Cherokee into a luxury vehicle and starts at $46,295. Want more posh? The Summit model starts at $51,995.
The powerful SRT model starts at $68,395 and again comes standard with four-wheel drive. The maxed-out 707-hp Trackhawk has a sticker price of $86,900.
All Grand Cherokees come standard with blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning. An Active Safety Group (optional on most models but standard starting at the Summit trim) includes adaptive cruise.
Jeep global president Christian Meunier says the company is all in for electric and hybrid versions of the classic SUVs by 2022. Meunier vows that all Jeep models will have an electrified variant — which could mean hybrid, plug-in hybrid or fully electric. While that sounds ambitious, it largely tracks with industry-wide trends and product timelines from competing manufacturers, both domestic and foreign, says Car and Driver.
FCA as a whole is moving towards more hybridization, and component and technology sharing will be key to making this a quick and cost-effective rollout of electric technology. “We’re bringing as many electric Jeeps as we can. Next year, we will have the [plug-in-hybrid] Renegade, Compass, and Wrangler,” Meunier said.
(Contact Kevin Weaks at email@example.com)