The 2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee is almost a decade old, and yet it’s currently the best-selling midsize SUV on the market: 242,969 sold last year, 200,000-plus most for much of the past two decades. The current body design has been around since 2011, there are 13 trim lines (model variants), multiple drivetrains, and varying levels of driver assistance technology.
Both despite its age and because of it – when the factory builds the same car year after year, reliability tends to improve – the Grand Cherokee has good fit and finish, a nicely controlled ride, a very nice interior on most trims, comfortable seats, and a solid infotainment system. Other than standard blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert, driver-assist features are optional. The two rows of seats are both roomy, but no third-row seat is offered.
If one owner says their Grand Cherokee does fine off-road but the interior looks just okay and the center stack display is small, a second owner says it’s pretty luxe and the display is nice, and a third says the cockpit looks great and did you know it goes 0-60 in 3.5 seconds, that’s because, with those trim lines, there’s one that costs $33,000, a couple that run around $50,000-$60,000, and one that runs $88,000 with a 707-hp engine. (No, that’s not a typo.) You decide how much off-road capability, acceleration, and rear-seat entertainment you want, and you pay accordingly.
On the Road
I test drove the Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit. It is the premier Grand Cherokee for people who don’t feel the need to have a strong Dodge Viper flavor to their SUV, in which case there’s the performance-oriented Grand Cherokee V8 SRT and the high-performance Trackhawk. My test car totaled $62,775 with a four-wheel-drive system – not just all-wheel-drive – that added $3,000, a V8 engine that added $3,795, an eight-speed automatic, telematics, onboard Wi-Fi, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, an AC socket and plenty of USB jacks, and a $1,995 rear entertainment system. At this point, you’re pushing into Audi-BMW-Mercedes territory.
My time in the Grand Cherokee Summit included a late-winter run into the New York State Adirondacks area around Lake Placid. A detour through hilly, rutted dirt roads covered with about eight inches of snow proved no problem at all.
The ride up and back into the northwoods, on interstate highways, was pleasurable, with a comfortable driving position, decent audio, and very little road noise. The Grand Cherokee Summit is plenty comfortable for four adults and a weekend’s worth of luggage. Even with cupholders front and back and bins in the doors, in-cabin storage for little items was lacking.
Good Navi, but Audio Could Be Better
The UConnect 4 infotainment system on my car was quite easy to use. But note that not all Grand Cherokees get UConnect 4 and 8-inch center stack screens. For years, Chrysler-Dodge-Ram products have had very good navigation and infotainment. It doesn’t hurt that when you press the NAV button, the screen asks you, “Where to?” The only people who don’t get that are grade-school teachers looking for a verb and a complete sentence.
This was the first Harman Kardon premium audio system I’ve driven that wasn’t breathtaking. It had 19 speakers and the issue – to me – was the woofer in the driver’s kick panel area. It was so heavily boosted that with the volume up and listening to my workout playlist (you know: the songs you’re too embarrassed to share), the sound pressure made my pant legs flap. So much so it felt like a Rockford Fosgate system, a brand happy to be known for heavy – sorry, deep – bass. It was much improved by turning the bass setting below the midpoint.
Not Enough Driver Assists
The advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) are not all state-of-the-art and too many are extra-cost. Nothing wrong with blind-spot detection (standard) or lane keep assist (included on some trim lines). The optional ParkSense backup system auto-stops the car if you get too close to a stopped object. That’s all good. Adaptive cruise control goes down to zero but you have to manually resume forward travel, and if you’re stopped more than three seconds, ACC disengages.
Forward collision warning, a technology that requires a low-cost front-facing camera, is optional. Of the 18 midsize, two-row SUVs on the market, the only non-Jeep product lacking FCW is the revived Chevrolet Blazer, which, despite its heritage, is not a hard-core off-roader. Automatic emergency braking for highway and for city situations are also optional, and pedestrian AEB is not offered.
My Grand Cherokee Summit 4X4 was rated at 14 mpg city, 22 mpg highway, and 17 mpg overall. I averaged 20 mpg in a week of primarily highway driving.
So Many Models to Choose From
The 2020 Grand Cherokee comes in a dazzling array of trim lines, or model variants. Currently, there are 13. These prices include $1,495 shipping.
Laredo, $33,735 rear drive / $35,735 four-wheel drive
Laredo E, $35,390 / $37,390
Upland, $37,685 / $39,685
Altitude, $39,830 / $41,830
North Edition, $40,285 4WD standard
Limited, $41,545 / $43,545
Limited X, $46,640 / $48,640
Trailhawk $46,645 4WD standard
Overland, $47,985 / $50,985
High Altitude, $50,730 / $53,730
Summit, $54,085 / $57,085
SRT, $70,085 4WD standard
Trackhawk, $88,590 4WD standard
It’s hard to describe each model other than to note the Laredo E is a nicer Laredo, not a hybrid; North Edition and Trailhawk target wintry off-roading and off-roading; and SRT and Trackhawk are high-performance SUVs that also go off-road and tow boats.
Should You Buy?
The Grand Cherokee is the best of the seven Jeep models you can buy in terms of modern-day amenities and reliability without sacrificing heavy snow / off-road driving. It’s also the best-selling, with 26 percent of Jeep’s 923,2981 2019 sales. By our count, there are nearly 25 midsize, mainstream-price SUVs, and almost as many premium midsize SUVs. The top sellers, mainstream or premium, are:
|Jeep Grand Cherokee||242,969||+8%|
(Note: The big falloff for the Ford Explorer came in the wake of quality-control problems while getting the sixth-generation Explorer and the sibling Lincoln Aviator into production at Ford’s Chicago assembly plant.)
The Jeep Cherokee is not an entry edition of the Grand Cherokee but a separate model eight inches shorter than Grand Cherokee’s 190 inches, with a base four-cylinder engine and not quite as refined.
The Grand Cherokee is your best choice among midsize SUVs if you want an one that goes off-road, not just negotiate a lightly plowed gravel road near the ski slope, and does it with a reasonable amount of passenger comfort. As a bonus, some Grand Cherokees can tow up to 7,200 pounds; the rest tow at least 3,500 pounds. If you have little kids (two), the dual rear entertainment system may be worth the healthy price. The V6 engines are good and the V8s are better but gas mileage suffers.
The mainstream trim lines fare well against the Chevrolet Blazer and Ford Edge. The roomier, longer, three-row Ford Explorer is also a competitor for those who value towing capacity. The Toyota 4Runner is very good off-road but not as smooth otherwise. If you want a competent all-around vehicle, look also at the Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, and Hyundai Santa Fe. The Dodge Durango is a cousin to the Grand Cherokee, is longer, and has three rows of seats, but isn’t as skilled off-roading.
The Grand Cherokee upper trim lines compete nicely against premium brands. But it’s hard to match the NVH and highway manners of say, a BMW X5, when you go into battle in a design released the same year Ke$ha debuted We R Who We R.
Other top midsize SUVs don’t map to Grand Cherokee’s off-roader ethic. The Lexus RX is all-around excellent but is not what you want going off-road or hauling a trailer. The Mazda CX-9 is the sportiest and most fun to drive, but without the cargo capacity.
Jeep’s other sales advantage is that Grand Cherokee buyers are predisposed toward USA vehicles. According to JD Power research, 76 percent of Grand Cherokee owners say they prefer buying from a domestic company versus 58 percent for the midsize SUV segment as a whole. That means Grand Cherokee owners may not cross-shop the sporty Korean-flagged Kia Telluride (three rows but still midsize), even it’s built in Alabama, and the similar Hyundai Palisade. The Grand Cherokee would win on off-road driving. But in other areas, Kia and Hyundai are extremely competitive, particularly NVH and driver assists.
A new Grand Cherokee should be introduced this year as a 2021 model. Given how well Jeep has done to keep the fourth-generation model competitive, the new model should be impressive.