In my opinion, the Jeep Cherokee is a true original; it is the platform that brought the concept of a rugged 4×4 family hauler to the mainstream – the original SUV. Although the original Cherokee was introduced in 1974, it wasn’t until the mid-1980s when competitors noticed that the Cherokee had really taken off with families and had begun to displace sedans and station wagons from suburban driveways. By the time competitors were able to get their responses onto dealer lots in the early 1990’s the Cherokee had already been claimed King. As competition began to heat up, Jeep released the Grand Cherokee in 1992, a larger more luxurious version of the Cherokee, keeping the nameplate a step ahead of competitors for years to come.
A lot of time has passed since my last ride in a Cherokee, so when given the chance to spend a week with the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit, the flagship from the nameplate that started it all, I was eager to see if it was still relevant. In an age where the lines between SUVs, crossovers and cars are becoming increasingly blurred, has the Grand Cherokee managed to stay true to its rugged roots while still offering everything families are asking for?
Well, even with just a quick glance it’s clear to me that designers at Jeep have nailed one aspect of the Grand Cherokee – the looks. My fully loaded Deep Cherry Red tester, the Summit, looked perfect sitting in my driveway. Its aggressive front end dripping in chrome gives it a very masculine personality, but not in an offensive way. It’s almost like this truck comes in saying “I will protect you”. The bright red paint and 20” polished wheels do grab a lot of attention, but this truck looks so good you can’t help but want the attention. Beyond the looks, the overall fit and finish of the exterior is excellent and really shows that Jeep can still play with even the more upscale brands now fighting for sales in the mid-size luxury SUV market. The paintwork, chrome and panel fit are near flawless – I can’t remember the last time I said that about a Chrysler product?
The impressive sense of quality doesn’t stop on the outside; the interior of my Grand Cherokee was finished in a luxurious dark brown, and with the exception of a couple low rent plastic bits on the console the interior feels extremely plush and upscale. A faux suede headliner, huge panoramic roof, incredibly soft leather seats and real wood accents, even on the heated steering wheel, contribute to making the Jeep feel very refined. The soft blue lighting used to accent the interior at night was described by one passenger as “angel like” and I really do think that’s the best way it describe it – it’s just right. By foregoing the third row seat bandwagon that a few mid-size SUVs have jumped on recently the Grand Cherokee provides a huge and beautifully trimmed trunk space, and with the pull of a lever the split rear seats flip down completely flat offering a very impressive amount of usable cargo space.
At an as-tested price of over $62,000 I expected my tester to come pretty well-equipped, but a couple features did catch me by surprise. In such a beautiful and luxurious truck I wasn’t thinking much about off-roading, but to my pleasant surprise the Summit comes with the very cool Quadra-Lift™ air suspension system which allows the driver to select between three different ride heights ranging from “aero” to “off-road”. The Selec-Terrain™ system is also interesting; by selecting the type of terrain you’re on the Jeep’s AWD system will adjust to provide optimal traction. I only wish my week with the Grand Cherokee had been in the winter so I could really put some of this equipment to the test. Looking beyond the off-road capabilities, I found the updated UConnect system very well laid out and a pleasure to use with very little lag. The one feature that’s missing from the Grand Cherokee is a rear entertainment system, in such a family orientated vehicle I can’t help but feel that it should at least be available.
While a 5.7L V8 is available in the Summit, my tester came with the Pentastar 3.6L V6. I’d previously heard great things about this engine and it did a decent job of living up to my expectations. The 290 horsepower is more than enough to haul the heavy SUV around, but the Grand Cherokee won’t be winning any drag races. However, the real benefit of the V6 is the fuel economy; in my typical mixed rush hour commute to work I averaged a healthy 11.5L/100km, and on jaunt out on the open highway with the Jeep hunkered down in “aero” mode I saw about 8.5L/100km.
One aspect of the driving experience that I didn’t quite like was the 8-speed automatic. While high speed gear changes are seamless, low speed shifts out of 1st gear aren’t as smooth. The steering also felt a little numb, but truthfully it didn’t bother me at all and I took to enjoying the nice light steering feel. As expected, the Grand Cherokee rides wonderfully. It’s silent and solid whether you’re driving down the highway or rough city streets. In fact, it’s noticeably smoother over sharp bumps than the Acura MDX Elite I spent some time with a couple weeks ago.
At the end of my week with the Grand Cherokee it was clear that it had come a long way from my parents’ old beater. Even more importantly, it still has that special something about it that in my opinion, gives it just a little bit of an edge over many of the other premium SUVs on the market. The competition is certainly stiff; but for a family looking for the quintessential SUV and all the rugged capability and luxury that goes along with it, the Grand Cherokee is still the king.
2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit Gallery