With the Grand Cherokee you do get one of the very few SUVs on the market today that is truly capable off-road.
On its release in 1993, the Jeep Grand Cherokee was an immediate hit in the emerging SUV craze. The Grand Cherokee and its closest rival at the time, the Ford Explorer, were what nearly every middle class family wanted and quickly became the status symbols of the era. Even as competition increased, the Grand Cherokee remained popular thanks to its prominent Jeep heritage, handsome looks, and that fact that it always felt a bit more luxurious than its competitors.
The SUV craze came and went, but the Grand Cherokee persevered, sticking to its original formula and always selling fairly strong. Now, as SUVs and CUVs are once again enjoying mass popularity, the Grand Cherokee is celebrating its 25th birthday. To reflect on where they’ve been, Jeep is offering a unique Sterling anniversary package on the Grand Cherokee this year. It’s a nice homage to the past, and a great value package as well. We were sent a 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited Sterling for a week.
The current generation of the Grand Cherokee has been one of the best looking vehicles in the FCA stable for a while in my opinion. It’s the right mix of aggression and conservatism that gives it a look that feels just as at home on old farm roads as it does in the downtown core. It looks big, powerful and athletic; yet gentle with its smooth and flowing curves. The Sterling package adds a bunch of tasteful bright-work to the exterior including some great looking 20” Heritage style wheels, aluminum tow hooks, a big “25th Anniversary” badge, body-coloured cladding and platinum chrome trim on the front and rear fasciae. Our tester came finished in Walnut Brown Metallic, a nice change from the standard black, white and silvers; and the soft brown compliments the platinum accents quite well.
The interior of the Grand Cherokee is also well done with lots of space for everyone, or anything that you might want to haul. The Sterling trim comes with a leather-wrapped instrument panel and center console not found on the standard Limited trim, which lends a more premium feel to the space and ties in nicely with the leather wrapped wheel and shift knob. The Sterling gets the larger 8.4” UConnect infotainment screen and the “Real Metal” trim kit inside as well. Those touches aside, the interior is generally well put together and finished with lots of black soft touch plastics. Fitment is good and the Grand Cherokee’s interior feels like it’s built to withstand years of hard use. The Limited comes with leather faced heated seats, and opting for the Sterling upgrades those seats to the Heritage style seats with perforated inserts. The seats are comfortable, but the leather has a bit of a plastic-like feeling that I wasn’t expecting; you need to upgrade to the Nappa leather.
FCA has the ergonomics down right in their SUVs, and the Grand Cherokee is no exception. The layout is not only pleasant to look at, but it’s easy to understand and operate everything. The familiar audio controls mounted on the back of the steering wheel are a nice touch, and UConnect is still one of the better infotainment systems on the market. I’d still appreciate real buttons for the heated seats and steering wheel instead of having to go through the touchscreen, but the screen is quick and responsive. Lots of storage up front in the door pockets, glovebox and center console, so it’s forgivable that the center armrest storage is significantly reduced in order to house a DVD/BluRay player for the optional ($2,150) rear entertainment system.
Speaking of which, the rear screens flip up from the back of the front seats on well integrated mounts. They’re not intrusive when not being used, and the inputs are all conveniently located on the side of the seats themselves; but only include standard AV2 and HDMI2 connections. The Grand Cherokee, despite its size, does not offer a third row, so the second row has plenty of room, and the split bench folds flat to make way for plenty of bulky cargo. The other advantage of the simple two row setup is that you do get a huge cargo area even with the second row in place. In my mind, this is the ideal configuration for a family that only has to haul two kids.
The standard engine in the Grand Cherokee is the popular 3.6L Pentastar V6 you can find in just about every larger FCA product. It’s been around long enough that any bugs are worked out and it’s a solid, reliable and reasonably efficient engine; exactly what you might want in a family hauler. It is however, not a whole lot of fun, but the good news is that you can opt for the 360 horsepower 5.7L HEMI V8, the larger 474 horsepower 6.4L HEMI V8 in the SRT (reviewed here) or the full out supercharged 707 horsepower 6.2L in the Trackhawk version.
This tester makes do with the 295 horsepower and its 260 lb-ft. of torque at 4,000RPM. The Pentastar is adequate, especially in the city, but it runs out of breath quickly when passing on the highway. In its defence, it is smooth and quiet, and doesn’t feel out of place in this luxury SUV. The Pentastar is paired with the eight-speed automatic, which has benefited from a number of tweaks over the years and is now a pretty slick operator that serves its purpose well while keeping the rpms down to manage fuel economy.
Testing the Grand Cherokee back to back with a Lexus RX 350, the Grand Cherokee does feel decidedly more rugged on the road. While the Grand Cherokee is nearly as quiet as the Lexus, its ride is choppier and harsher, and the steering is heavier with more feedback. While the Lexus aims to be as relaxing as possible to drive, the Grand Cherokee couples it’s comfort with its off-road prowess, and it’s more engaging steering and rougher ride are the result. Don’t get me wrong here though; the Grand Cherokee is still generally a very smooth riding SUV, it laughs in the face of the nastiest city potholes, and easily melts away highway miles; just not at the same level as the Lexus.
That said, with the Grand Cherokee you do get one of the very few SUVs on the market today that is truly capable off-road, with its advanced 4×4 systems that will keep you moving through the tough stuff. The Grand Cherokee also stands out in its towing ability. Even the V6 is rated to tow 6,200lbs, and it only goes up from there. All Grand Cherokee’s also get the benefit of a trailer sway control system to help keep your load in line.
From a fuel economy standpoint all of this capability does have some costs. After a week of commuting in the Grand Cherokee my average sat at 12.4L/100km on regular fuel. That doesn’t compare favorably to the 11.5L/100kms I averaged in the RX 350 the week before, which also has a V6 of similar displacement and output.
When it comes to price the Grand Cherokee actually undercuts the majority of its premium SUV competitors. Starting at a very aggressive $39,895 for the stripped down Laredo, the price of entry jumps to $48,195 for a Limited like our tester, and with a total of eight different trims, including the luxurious Summit at $62,045 and the insane Trackhawk at $110,845, there really is a Grand Cherokee for every purpose and budget. As tested, our Limited got the $3,995 Sterling package which comes with all the exterior and interior trim upgrades noted, plus a nine speaker sound system, navigation, power sunroof, active noise cancellation, and a short list of other nice conveniences.
This model also got the $2,150 rear entertainment system, $825 towing package, $1,495 safety package, and the $1,995 Sterling luxury package which adds exterior LED lighting upgrades, bi-xenon headlamps and a bigger dual pane sunroof. All of this brings our as tested price to $63,600. At that price it might be worth looking to see if a Summit or Overland trim might be more appealing over the Limited with the Sterling package, but it’s likely to come down to personal preference and what you’re able to cut a deal on.
If it’s strictly commuting that’s the gauge, the more car-like SUV/CUVs like the RX 350 that compete with the Grand Cherokee have a bit of an edge when it comes to on-road manner and fuel economy. That said, if you’re intention is to use your SUV like it was meant to be used; a true family adventure vehicle, then the Grand Cherokee still reigns supreme, 25 years later.