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Reviews

2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Driving Impressions



The 8-speed automatic transmission works well. More gears make it easier for the engines to work at the most efficient speeds and improve acceleration performance. At a mild pace, calls for downshifts are quicker and less jarring, and at cruising speeds it just lopes along. Gear changes are quick and seamless; most drivers won’t realize how often it shifts.

The 3.6-liter V6 is a fully competitive engine. It favors revs and horsepower over torque, which is not ideal for heavy rolling stock but not an issue with eight forward gears. Unless you plan on towing, the 3.6-liter gets the job done. Remember, semi-trucks were making do with 290 horsepower and lots of gears when Jeep was discovering round fenders. EPA estimates for the 3.6-liter V6 with 4WD are 17/24 mpg City/Highway.

The 5.7-liter V8 adds a muscular exhaust note, 70 horsepower, and 130 pound-feet of torque. Top tow rating is 7400 pounds, roughly a ton more than we’d put behind something this size, and EPA mileage is 14/22 mpg (14/20 mpg with 4WD).

The diesel is the way to have fuel economy and towing grunt when needed; you’d need a spreadsheet (with fun-to-drive, towing performance, highway range and other objective columns) to find the payoff point for the $4,500 option. This modern clean diesel delivers 240 horsepower but 420 pound-feet of torque, more than 2000 rpm lower on the tachometer than the gas engines. At 75 mph in top gear it is at near peak torque and just goes, whereas the others would need a drop (or 3) in gear. The diesel is hardly noisier than some gasoline engines, doesn’t smoke, and gets the Jeep moving briskly with ease. The EPA estimates 22/30 mpg City/Highway (21/28 mpg with 4WD) for the diesel.

Though heavy, the Grand Cherokee chassis is quite rigid, a key benefit to its feel of overall quality. When you combine a rigid chassis with a well-executed independent suspension, the result is a vehicle that feels much like the German triumvirate it competes with. Three tons of people and car are not ideal for swift directional changes, but the Jeep goes where you point it, soaks up bumps big and small, and delivers a comfortable, worry-free drive.

Apart from the SRT, our favorite Grand Cherokee to drive on paved roads was a 2WD Laredo with E pack and some options. It’s more than 800 pounds lighter than the tubbiest Grand Cherokee, with a lower percentage of weight on the front end, and its 18-inch tires are more compliant.

Worth noting: Every high-end example we saw on 20-inch wheels wore Goodyear Fortera tires, while every lower-trim Grand Cherokee on 18-inch wheels had longer-wearing, higher-rated, more-expensive Michelin Latitude tires. We also find that many people buy a 4WD for the snow, but none of these are snow/winter tires. A set of proper winter tires on a 2WD Grand Cherokee will stop and turn better, and often climb as well, in snow and ice than a 4WD on its standard tires. Of course, the optimum winter setup would be a Grand Cherokee 4WD with snow tires. That would be a very good wintry weather setup, indeed.

A short trail course demonstrated that the current Grand Cherokee will go where any previous Grand Cherokee would, unless it can’t squeeze between the trees or boulders. Few owners will do this in a $50,000 bling-mobile and fewer yet will remove the front air dam to do this. But if you pop for Quadra-Drive II and the air suspension, fewer than a dozen other utilities on the market will likely be able to cover the same ground.

Driving off-highway is easier with the current Grand Cherokee than with any previous version, thanks to a 44-percent better crawl ratio (axle ratio x low-range ratio x first-gear ratio), because of the 8-speed that enthusiasts will appreciate. Also helpful, on V8 models, is Hill Ascent that controls climbing speed just as Hill Descent controls downhill progress. With its massive low-rpm torque, the diesel doesn’t need anything more than a steady, light throttle foot to climb.

An important point to note is that the air suspension and low-range four-wheel drive are not available on the base all-wheel-drive model; plan on spending a lot more for that level of trail ability. The all-wheel-drive system on base models is meant for mild off-road use and inclement weather; low-range gearing is available as an option on Laredo E, but standard on the diesel and V8.

Selec-Terrain electronically coordinates powertrain, braking and suspension systems, including throttle control, transmission shifts, transfer case, traction control, and electronic stability control. What this means is that anyone following a spotter’s steering instructions can drive a Jeep Grand Cherokee over extremely rugged off-road courses. The computers will do it all.

The SRT uses a 391 cubic-inch V8 like that in the Challenger 392 and other rear-drive SRT sedans. With 475 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, a crisp-shifting automatic, full-time all-wheel drive and foot-wide sticky tires, it moves swiftly. Jeep didn’t claim any big improvement in 0-60 time, but even without a timer, you can tell those extra gears made it quicker. Acceleration lifts the bow and braking brings nosedive, both tradeoffs for the solid roll control to keep the big, 5200-pound box stable. Don’t even think of driving it off-road.

Virtually every component that affects performance, be it bodywork, cabin pieces, electronic or mechanical, is addressed by SRT, resulting in a package that isn’t overpowered, underbraked or unable to use its power. On the contrary, the SRT likes to be pitched into a turn where it takes a set and you simply stand on the gas and let the all-wheel drive sort out the traction; the dynamics are impressive at this price. Like BMW’s X5M, Mercedes’s ML63 AMG and the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, the Grand Cherokee SRT proves a utility vehicle can make good time on the pavement.

The Grand Cherokee gets adaptive dampers from Bilstein. That means a choice of Touring comfort, which is fine even for unknown winding road, and Sport, in which things are buttoned up tighter.

Of course, the SRT carries penalties typical of super-sport utility vehicles. Gas mileage is usually closer to the EPA city rating of 13 mpg, and the tires, easily used up making a heavy truck work like a sports car, run around $475 each.

* The advertised price does not include sales tax, vehicle registration fees, other fees required by law, finance charges and any documentation charges.

* Images, prices, and options shown, including vehicle color, trim, options, pricing and other specifications are subject to availability, incentive offerings, current pricing and credit worthiness.

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