Jeep's Grand Cherokee's always been a go-to choice for path's less traveled since its 1993 debut.
Four years ago, the mid-size Grand Cherokee received its current third-generation makeover, including adding five inches of wheelbase (distance between front and rear axle.). This, along with an added four inches in width, creates an inviting atmosphere allowing three riders to co-exist in row two with adequate head and leg room. In 2014, an eight-speed automatic transmission arrived, along with a potentially game-changing engine option: a fuel-extending, torque-pumping V-6 diesel, one of the few diesel's available from a domestic nameplate in a non-pickup body style.
Of all major auto brands, Jeep's 2014 U.S. calendar year sales jumped highest from the previous year. Sales leaped up a whopping 41 percent, going from 490,454 in 2013 to 692,348 in 2014. Grand Cherokee took top honors as Jeep's best-selling U.S. offering in 2014, totaling 183,786 units, up five percent. Globally, Jeep topped one million units in 2014, an all-time record.
Grand Cherokee's current incarnation qualifies as a multi-cultural melting pot. The chassis and many underpinnings, including a smoother-riding rear independent multi-link suspension, sport German touches. Much of Grand Cherokee's third-generation pre-design took place before Daimler-Benz jettisoned its Chrysler Group holdings into the waiting arms of private equity firm Cerberus in 2007. By 2011, Italian automaker Fiat picked up the pieces, immediately infusing much welcomed R&D and TLC into Chrysler, Jeep Dodge and newly-formed Ram trucks, in part resulting in the new Italian-inspired turbo diesel. In 2014, Chrysler Group LLC name changed to FCA US LLC (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles).
The five-door, two-row 2015 Grand Cherokee, bridges a gap between the plethora of tamer, mid-size car-based crossovers and body-on-frame sport utilities. Built upon steel uniframe underpinnings, this Gen Three Grand Cherokee's on-road manners add a touch of civility when stacked against the likes of a Land Rover. Off-roading, especially Midwest varieties, remains easily within Grand Cherokee's grasp and grip, especially when opting for several available 'trail-rated' off-road packages.
Changes remain minimal from 2014 save for a few more standard nuances found within the top trim level offering.
A goodly number of trims, engine choices and off-road technologies tempt potential buyers; lots to ponder. Five mainstream 2015 Grand Cherokee trims include: Laredo, Laredo E, Limited, Overland and top-effort Summit. All come with rear-wheel (4 x 2) or four-wheel (4 x 4) drive. Choose four-wheel drive, and three varieties await: hassle-free, Quadra-Trac I with full-time, 50-50 torque split four-wheel drive, Quadra-Trac II with two-speed transfer case and variable front-rear torque split or Quadra-Drive II, delivering torque to tires with traction during slippage.
Standard in all models is a returning 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 introduced in 2011 and delivering 290 horsepower. Optional in Limited, Overland and Summit is a naturally aspirated, dependable and well-traveled 5.7-liter V-8 cranking out 360 horses. Debuting in 2014 was the highly-anticipated 3.0-liter Eco diesel V-6 with 240 horses and 420 pound-feet of low-end torque. This same V-6 Eco diesel became optional in the light-duty Ram 1500 pickup last year.
The Pentastar V-6 continues flex-fuel capable, meaning ethanol-based E85 fuel may be used. Towing capacity is an impressive 6,200 pounds. The optional 5.7-liter V-8 boasts best-in-class towing capacity of 7,400 pounds (4 x 2) and features cylinder deactivation, saving fuel during low-demand highway stretches by utilizing half the engine cylinders. The 3.0-liter, Fiat-inspired diesel V-6 also tows up to 7,400 pounds, and is the top-fuel-ratted Grand Cherokee, reaching 30 miles per gallon highway in 4 x 2 formats. For all-wheel drive, the diesel tops at 28 mpg highway.
Standard in Limited, Overland and Summit all-wheel drive: a select-terrain traction control twist dial adjacent the transmission shifter for choosing between mud, snow, sand, rock and most-often-used Automatic. Also worth considering if off-road bound, class-exclusive air lift suspension, adding up to 3.8 inches of lift span for fording raging streams or maneuvering rocky roads.
In 2012, the high-performance Street and Racing Team (SRT) spun from a niche player within Chrysler to a stand-alone brand, not dissimilar to Ram Trucks breaking away from Dodge in 2009. The SRT brand debuted a specialty-tuned low-volume Grand Cherokee SRT8 sporting a HEMI V-8 under hood in 2012; the subject of a separate review.
Our tester, a Trail Rated Limited Grand Cherokee with gas-powered V-6 and Quadra Trac II 4 x 4 started at $38,795. With three option groups added; advanced technology ($1,995), luxury ($4,200) and off-road with skid plates, tow hooks and rear load-leveling suspension, ($1,795) the bottom line totaled $47,780 after $995 destination charge.
Inside, the instrument panel outline framing resembles a set of tight-fitting racing googles peering back. Center-bound, a multi-panel digital screen controlled from the steering wheel face's left front thumb tutorial selector. A digital speedometer readout may be maximized or minimized within this framework. The far left google resides a half-moon tachometer while the far right houses fuel and temperature gauges. Outside temperature and compass direction remain in constant display along the top rim.
Our Limited along with Laredo trims, feature horizontal wood-type trim along the dashboard and side doors splitting the two-tone colored dash. The dash's top contains more soft-touch material then bottom areas. As with many off-road intended vehicles, the parking brake remains foot operated.
Chrysler, and now many Fiat offerings come equipped with nifty secondary auto functions; toggle buttons on the steering wheel's back side where finger tops figure into the selection process. Palms of hands never leave the wheel with a natural, ergonomic maneuvering.
he eight-speed electronic shifter, between comfy capri-leatherette front buckets (Limited trim) includes a stubby, grip-able T-bar with thumb-push release button. Visible top side: illuminated gear shift indicators. To the right, blue mood lighting illuminating dual inline beverage holders. Push-button start with convenient 'run' and 'stop' wording comes standard. A dual-level storage bin (deep bin and convenient top tray) resides to the rear.
Below the optional 8.4-inch multi-function touch screen; numerous dials and buttons. Dual temperature controls operate via push plates while a large center dial monitors fan speed. Performing these tasks is also possible though the well-marked and relatively easy to configure touch screen. A smaller 5.0-inch touch screen comes standard in Laredo, Laredo E and Limited.
Jeep's familiar and iconic seven-slot grille returns flanked by thin, wrap-around headlight housing. Tail light housing shares the very narrow, wrap-around LED-highlighted theme. Trapezoidal wheel arches, another Jeep family trait combine nicely with a standard hatch spoiler. With the rear hatch open, plenty of headroom remains for those six-feet three-inches or shorter.
The lift-from-the-bottom rear power gate (standard in Limited, Overland and Summit, manual in Laredos) operates from the key fob, a ceiling button near the power sunroof or from a cargo-area left-side panel button. A spare tire stows under the cargo area's flat floor.
The fuel tank holds a generous 24.6 gallons of regular 87 octane for naturally-aspirated V-6 engines. The V-8 recommends mid-grade 89 octane unleaded, but accepts 87 octane. Grand Cherokee was slow to hand out fuel economy merit badges until theV-6 Eco diesel arrived last year.
Limited Overland and Summit trims continue offering optional dual DVD screens built into front seat backrests for second-row enjoyment. 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Price as tested: $47,780
Wheelbase: 114.8 inches
Length: 189.8 inches
Width: 76.5 inches
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6
Curb weight: 4,875 pounds
Powertrain warranty: Five-year/100,000-mile
City/Highway economy: 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway
Assembly: Detroit, Michigan