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2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee Test Drive Review
People are drawn to the Jeep Grand Cherokee because it provides the ability to go almost anywhere at almost anytime and to do almost anything.
There are three reasons to choose a Jeep Grand Cherokee over other SUVs: You need to tow a fair amount of weight, you need to go far off the pavement, or you simply like this Jeep’s styling and image. No matter the case, know that the Grand Cherokee requires compromise in order to obtain these undeniably attractive attributes.
Look and Feel
For nearly 25 years, the Grand Cherokee has been one of the best-selling SUVs in America. The funny thing about this Jeep’s success is that most people say reliability is important when they buy a new vehicle, and I’m being kind when I tell you that according to Consumer Reports, the Grand Cherokee’s track record in this respect is average at best.
So, why is this Jeep so popular? In my opinion, people are drawn to the Grand Cherokee because it provides the ability to go almost anywhere at almost anytime and to do almost anything. It is a rolling representation of freedom, an escape pod from the daily grind, an emblem of what has made America great for 240 years. And it’s built in Detroit (with 20 percent of the parts coming from Mexico).
Granted, most Grand Cherokee owners just chug along in traffic or whip around the suburbs in them, but you never know when you’re going to need this Jeep’s “Trail Rated” capability, whether for tackling a blizzard, the great outdoors, or the crappy pavement during the daily commute.
The question, then, is how does it work as a daily driver? That’s what this review will discuss, but first, it helps to understand the breadth and depth of the Grand Cherokee lineup.
Jeep sells this SUV in Laredo, Limited, Overland, Summit, and SRT model series. A 75th Anniversary Edition package is available for Laredo and Limited versions, and a new High Altitude special-edition model is based on the Overland. The SRT is made for performance on pavement and is track-ready right from the showroom floor. Think of the Grand Cherokee SRT as a bargain compared to a BMW X5M or a Mercedes-AMG GLE63.
Prices range from $30,990 for a Laredo with rear-wheel drive and no options to as much as $76,455 for the SRT with every option. My test vehicle had Overland trim, 4-wheel drive, a 19-speaker sound system, and an Advanced Technology package that installs a number of safety features. These upgrades brought the base price of $45,190 to a total window sticker of $51,180. You could save three grand and get your Grand Cherokee Overland with rear-wheel drive, though I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would do that.
People tell J.D. Power that styling is a significant factor when choosing a new vehicle, and Jeep has nailed the Grand Cherokee’s look. From the heritage design cues (7-slot grille and trapezoidal wheel arches) to its clean yet sculptured flanks, the Grand Cherokee need not attempt to convince people that it might be rugged and capable. It simply is rugged and capable.
Inside, my Grand Cherokee Overland test vehicle looked extra fancy because of its bronze exposed stitching and bronze accent trim and panels. The stitching is fine, except for what’s on the dashboard casting unwelcome reflections into the windshield, but the dashboard trim just looks tarnished instead of upscale.
Multiple engines are available for the Grand Cherokee, and all of them get a warranty demotion from 100,000 miles to 60,000 miles for 2016. My test vehicle included the standard motor, an excellent 3.6-liter V6 making 295 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. It tows up to 6,200 pounds, provides robust acceleration, and sounds good when revved. You don’t need the optional 5.7-liter V8 unless you want maximum towing capacity, which is 7,400 pounds.
Jeep says it has taken steps to improve the Grand Cherokee’s fuel economy for 2016. New features include upgraded variable valve timing, an automatic engine stop/start system, electric steering, aluminum suspension components, and low-rolling-resistance tires. Official fuel economy estimates rise from 19 mpg combined to 21, which is impressive given my test vehicle’s base curb weight of 4,984 pounds.
During a week of testing, my Grand Cherokee Overland 4WD averaged 18.7 mpg, falling short of the new EPA estimate. I did not drive with Eco mode engaged. I did not drive with Sport mode engaged. And I did not turn off the automatic engine stop/start system, which operates in a mostly unobtrusive fashion.
If you’re wondering what the optional, torque-rich 3.0-liter diesel V6 supplies in terms of fuel economy, a test I performed last year resulted in an average of 22.9 mpg, a 4.2-mpg improvement over this year’s updated V6 engine. However, that optional EcoDiesel power plant costs a whopping $4,500. Yikes.
Another change for 2016 is that the 8-speed automatic transmission gets a new shifter, one that works like every console shifter has for decades. Now you don’t need to think about what you’re doing when choosing Park or Reverse or Drive. You just do it.
As far as off-roading capability is concerned, if you know Jeeps, then you know what a Grand Cherokee can do when it is properly set up. Activating 4-wheel Low is easy, and Selec-Terrain technology allows the driver to configure power delivery for specific types of surfaces and driving situations. My test vehicle also had Jeep’s Quadra-Lift air suspension, which provides a maximum of 10.4 inches of ground clearance when placed in its highest setting.
If you don’t know Jeeps and you’re interested in the Grand Cherokee because it looks rugged and cool, rest assured that if you get 4-wheel drive and the Off-Road Adventure Group, this SUV is going to get you places you never thought you could go. Just do yourself a big favor and take a professional off-roading lesson before heading too deep into the wild.
In the urban and suburban environments where most Grand Cherokee owners spend most of their time, this Jeep’s ultimate mission forces a bit of a compromise in terms of daily driving. Jeep does its best to smooth the ride and to ensure secure handling, but there’s no escaping the truck-like dynamic here. When you drive a Grand Cherokee, the sense of heft and capability is palpable, clearly expressing that this Jeep is engineered to go places and to do things other vehicles simply can’t.
This year’s switch to electric steering has lightened effort levels but hasn’t sharpened response or eliminated a sensation of on-center disconnectedness, both necessary evils in a vehicle designed for serious off-roading. One thing you’ll love about driving a Grand Cherokee in the city, though, is the super-tight turning circle. It makes parking and U-turns really easy.
Braking is capable, but pedal feel is mostly dissatisfying. The ride quality also takes getting used to. Despite my test vehicle’s Quadra-Lift air suspension, the Grand Cherokee felt wobbly and woozy on anything but smooth pavement. If anyone in the family is susceptible to motion sickness, you might want them along for the dealership test drive to provide a final thumbs up or thumbs down.
Finally, and especially now that low-rolling-resistance tires are standard, make sure you take corners at no more than moderate speed. Unless you’ve purchased the Grand Cherokee SRT, of course.
Form and Function
Jeep does a good job of laying out the Grand Cherokee’s controls, with one exception. To access seat heating, seat ventilation, and heated-steering-wheel functions, you need to use the infotainment system’s touchscreen.
This year, Jeep supplies a partial solution for this problem. A new “Drag and Drop” function allows the Grand Cherokee’s owner to customize the main menu bar, so it is possible to make these features more accessible, but at the expense of other functions, because on-screen real estate is limited. Therefore, a superior arrangement would be for Jeep to use real buttons, mounted to the dashboard or center console, for activating the heated and ventilated front seats and the heated steering wheel.
Given that the word “grand” is included in its name, the Grand Cherokee isn’t as big as you might guess. Exterior dimensions are tidy to ensure superior maneuverability, and that means the interior is also on the small side.
Getting in, I find the front door openings to be narrow and small enough that I’ve got to watch my head. Also, my wife found it somewhat difficult to get into our test vehicle, telling me she thinks Jeep ought to install a grab handle on the right windshield pillar’s trim.
Once you’re in, the front seats are comfortable enough, but on the firm and lumpy side. You sit on them, not in them. Rear-seat space is snug for adults. The seat is low, the front seatbacks are hard plastic, and there isn’t much room for legs.
Jeep does provide a grab handle to assist rear passengers with entry and exit, and with rear air vents, dual USB ports, and a 3-prong power outlet, the Grand Cherokee Overland is ready for modern family duty. Also, the plastic grocery-bag hooks mounted to each front-seat back panel are a nice touch.
Cargo space is adequate, measuring 36.3 cubic feet behind the rear seats. That’s on par with compact crossover SUVs, which don’t need to leave room for heavy-duty off-roading hardware or a full-size spare tire beneath the cargo floor. Several full-size suitcases will fit, plus duffel bags and other gear. Parents of small children will want to note that a compact folding stroller fits lengthwise. Jeep also supplies several handy tie-down hooks along the edges of the cargo floor and the sides of the cargo area.
Fold the rear seat down, and maximum capacity measures 68.3 cubic feet, which is less than that of several compact crossover SUV models.
Jeep’s Uconnect infotainment system is easy to use, and not just because it includes a large 8.4-inch color touchscreen display in the Grand Cherokee Overland model. The graphics are large and sharp, the virtual buttons are big and easy to activate on the first try, and for 2016 the system adds Siri Eyes Free and Do Not Disturb functions.
Perhaps because I’m already familiar with Uconnect, I had no trouble pairing my iPhone 6 to the system, making and receiving calls, or streaming music through iTunes or Pandora. The system is, however, aging. For example, the navigation map requires users to repeatedly stab at the zoom buttons to adjust the map view, and it is relatively slow to respond to inputs.
Additional signs of yester-tech are evident through Jeep’s Uconnect Access service. You pay extra for this through a subscription, yet the Wi-Fi hotspot uses a slow 3G connection rather than a faster 4G LTE connection. Also, the voice texting feature is not compatible with an iPhone. Perhaps if Uconnect Access was free, these flaws could be forgiven. But it’s not, so they’re not.
Safety is important in any family vehicle, but when it comes to the 2016 Grand Cherokee, as of mid-March 2016, the federal government hasn’t rated this SUV in terms of crash protection.
That’s strange, especially since the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives this year’s model the same rating as the 2015 model and Jeep hasn’t announced any structural modifications that should impact testing data. By the way, according to the IIHS, the Grand Cherokee does not meet the criteria for a Top Safety Pick nomination. A Marginal rating in the small overlap frontal impact test disqualifies it.
My test vehicle had the optional Advanced Technology package, which installs blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, an adaptive cruise control system with a forward-collision warning system, and automatic emergency braking. This upgrade is pricey at almost two grand.
During my time with the Grand Cherokee, the automatic braking system engaged a single time. It happened during our video shoot, while making a 3-point turn on a cliff-side road. While reversing, the system apparently thought I was going to back myself right over the edge of the blacktop and into the abyss below, so it slammed the brakes for me.
I’ll say this: It was effective, even if it scared the crap out of me.
You buy a Grand Cherokee because you need an SUV that can tow a substantial amount of weight or because you’re planning to venture far off the beaten path. If you’re not planning to do either of these things, and you just like the way this Jeep looks, or you’re drawn to this SUV by its rugged image, that’s cool. I get that.
My only warning to people who choose this Jeep for superficial reasons is this: You do not buy a Grand Cherokee in order to maximize value for your dollar. Reliability predictions are unimpressive. My test vehicle missed its EPA rating by an appreciable margin. Consumer Reports consistently names the Grand Cherokee as a used vehicle to avoid. For these reasons, you might want to lease this Jeep rather than buy it.
Deals are almost always available on the Grand Cherokee. Still, even after factoring in the discounts, the price to be paid for the styling and the image is significant. As long as you’re willing to accept that, then you’re probably going to be delighted with the Grand Cherokee.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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