When I brought up the BMW X5’s suspension during a conversation with a top Jeep engineer (who asked to remain anonymous), his eyes switched to hi-beams.
“I told the team, ‘We don’t stop working until the Grand Cherokee handles better than the BMW,’” he said. A drive in the all-new 2022 Grand Cherokee – this is its fifth generation – and it seems Jeep nailed it. The fifth-generation Grand Cherokee matches (and often bests) the X5’s handling on-road while continuing to offer access to off-grid, off-road adventure and an under-the-radar cool the Germans can’t touch.
No, it doesn’t match the X5M for ultimate road dominance. That thing wears tires the size of Bavarian beer halls.
The spankin’-new Grand Cherokee has been glimpsed before, but this was the first opportunity to drive the SUV untethered to minders. The big news here is that Jeep offers this GC with a three-row variant, expanding the appeal of a vehicle that already dominates its segment. Jeep has sold nearly two-million Grand Cherokees in America since the first-generation “ZJ” bowed in 1993, according to Jeep, and with this move to include three rows, Stellantis anticipates a rosy, profitable future.
But three rows ain’t squat if the new Grand Cherokee can’t deliver owners to backcountry, steakhouse or backcountry steakhouse in comfort and style. This new design maintains that promise for 2022 Grand Cherokee buyers. The look is iterative and cautious (you can’t blame Jeep, given how well the GC sells). It’s also handsome within the GC heritage. More than once on the drive through the ravishing red canyons of Moab, Utah, where Highway 128 traces the wide and muddy Colorado, I waved at a Grand Cherokee driver that I thought was on the press junket. But time after time, there was the confused face of a fourth-gen Grand Cherokee owner flying by.
Not much initially appears new on the Grand Cherokee. But new and improved it is. Jeep strived to maximize outward visibility, adjusting the width of the vehicle’s vertical pillars and lowering its beltline, among other changes (“As an industry we overachieved with the high belt lines and we’re correcting now,” one Stellantis operative explained).
That results in an interior seating position that’s upright and commanding. Adventurers will appreciate that it’s easier to visually position the beast amid off-road obstacles like boulders, tree limbs, rabid pumas, elephants, hyenas, rhinoceroses and free-range chocolate labrador puppies. Commuters will find the GC’s rear passenger-side blind spot has shrunk in traffic making it easier to avoid road hazards, drunken pedestrians, Impalas, Mustangs, Thunderbirds and urban-savvy chocolate labrador puppies.
First up in this GC buffet is the high-end Summit Reserve trim, equipped with the optional 5.7-liter Hemi V8 (the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 is standard) paired to the Stellantis-made under ZF-license “Torqueflite 8” eight-speed automatic. The Summit Reserve’s 21-inch wheels and aesthetic elegance suggest a penchant for road duties, and along the smooth winding highways of Moab, the Summit Reserve’s body control was excellent. The V-8 thurmmed along with plenty of signature Stellantis Corporate Burble (that BRR BRR BRR BRR you get with a Challenger V-8?), with the whole SUV wafting on a cloud of easy torque.
Thanks to its unibody construction, the GC doesn’t suffer the trucklike Wrangler qualities often associated with the ride of a Jeep. That huge moment of inertia that leads to heaving body roll is absent, unlike the lengthy Gladiator and Wrangler Utes. Instead of waiting that half second for the body to take a set against the chassis, the Jeep simply leans in a tad, then the excellent dampers kick in, keeping the GC’s body nearly flat and remarkably controlled through sweepers and low-speed hairpins alike.
The GC’s stiff brake pedal calibration, which leads with a good amount of bite in the first two inches of pedal travel, lends confidence too. Sports car buyers would want linear braking application across the pedal travel, but Grand Cherokee owners will appreciate the immediacy and stiffness; It allows control of the balance of the truck’s balance with minimal effort. It all suits the imperturbable, easygoing competence and confidence of the Grand Cherokee.
And yet this SUV can hustle. At one point in the drive, the route jinked at a right angle to the river bank and shot up a nearby hillside. The endpoint was an overlook which sat miles and hundreds of feet above. Getting there meant climbing roads that had cracked over and filled with tar. Cattle guards crossed the road every few miles. But mostly, the road snaked up the hillside so steep there might have been a chairlift running up alongside it.
As easily as it dispatched the slower, smoother road by the Colorado river, the Grand Cherokee took these tight bends with ease. That meant risking 60 through the many 25 mph hairpins to figure where the Grand Cherokee might get upset. The Jeep's front tires didn't squeal and only the smell of smoking brake pads and gooey tires was cause to slow down.
Halfway up the hill, there was an overlanding rig that needed passing. The V-8 spooled up power quickly and seamless gear changes allowed it to feed in like an opened flood gate. The overlander was soon a spec in the GC’s side mirrors.Who’s hunting switchbacks in a GC for thrills? Almost no one. But there’s such ability here. That’s reassuring, because inevitably there will be a time in every GC’s service life where it will be heading up to a ski hill or down a gnarled grade with 100’ drop to one side. Timidity is not an option then.
In fact, the whole experience feels silken. The GC’s steering rack doesn’t bother with much road feel, but it’s well-weighted and overall calibration is reassuring and precise. No more than 10 or 15 degrees of steering angle was needed on the trip through Moab, even through the tighter corners. Yet, it doesn’t require much effort to keep steering on center. Some combination of masterful calibration and a masterful job by Jeep PR picking smooth roads through spectacularly distracting scenery, surely helped hone this perception.
Then there’s the Grand Cherokee’s most hardcore off-road variant, the Trailhawk. In factory trim, this thing’s off-road prowess is mind-boggling. With professional help guiding the vehicle up what must’ve been a ten-story ascent along a rocky single track at the fringe of Moab’s city limits, it was utterly sure-footed. But at the end of the day it was a group of (mostly) off-road novices in a factory rig, scrambling up tight tracks that’d cause a mountain goat to double over with fatigue. More than once, the GC crowned across a boulder and almighty thunk when the suspension compressed boomed out. No matter how many times that happened, the Jeep kept going. Damage? Can-opener’d bodywork? Filet of tire? Cracked suspension? Nope. There were only a couple dusty marks that wiped off easily on a shirt sleeve. This is a tough rig.
While flat-out impressive, there’s a narrower use case for the Trailhawk. Though it’s reassuring that a vehicle this capable shares a huge chunk of its DNA with more road-focused GCs there is compromise in daily duty chores. That in mind, it’s not a disqualifying discomfort. On Moab’s city surface roads, there was some penalty in refinement with the Trailhawk’s knobby off-road tires. Plenty of owners with off-road aspirations and realistic trade-off expectations will daily this rig. Even if the truck’s off-road remit only casually overlaps with actual needs.
On the road, six-cylinder GCs ride and drive mostly the same as the V-8 cars, maybe with a touch more roll. Likely because the six-cylinder Grand Cherokee in “Overland” trim rides on more sidewall with its 18-inch wheels and 265/60-section tires.
The torque and engine response is muted with the six-cylinder, but many V-6 GC pilots will be content with the better gas mileage. Obviously, if there’s a boat to be tugged, the V-8 is preferable. Actually, if fuel mileage isn’t a concern, the V-8 is always the killer app here. Gets the 21-inch wheels too, if style matters and squishing over dry creek beds doesn’t.
The six-cylinder’s competence inspires curiosity about the forthcoming Grand Cherokee hybrid, called the 4xe powertrain, which will downsize to a 2.0-liter turbocharged mill paired to two electric motors. That could be the Goldilocks combo: better torque response from the motors than even the V-8 can offer, paired with the efficiency rewards from a hybrid system. Plus the Grand Cherokee’s new platform, which underpins every trim level, was designed with the hybrid in mind, so you’ll sacrifice no cargo or comfort to accommodate the powertrain.
The GC’s drivetrain options all have their advantages and their availability means excellent opportunity to tailor the vehicle to a buyer’s preference. The six-cylinder Grand Cherokees receive the same refined, straightforward interior treatment as the V-8 models. And the 4xe will be available on the Limited, Trailhawk, Overland, Summit, and Summit Reserve trim levels. The hybrid and V-6 options aren’t cut-rate penalty boxes.
The GC's interior feels intelligently considered, with physical switches for the important stuff, and less important functions left to large digital buttons on the main center display. While the interior doesn’t scream “premium luxury” in the way an Audi Q5 or Volvo XC60 does, Jeep has placed the Grand Cherokee in a valley between its domestic competitors and lux-obsessed SUVs from the Continent.
Because Jeep weren’t swinging for the cutting-edge take on luxury like you’d find in a Model Y, or even the screen-centric ideas we see in Stellantis’s own RAM pickups. There’s a far more restrained take on luxury appointments in the Grand Cherokee, which will suit the clientele. The materials throughout look and feel quite nice. There are strips of open-pore wood laid in streaks across the interior (for some trims), and plenty of glass and leather throughout.
Another nice touch: all the driver’s aid on/off switches are physical buttons. The lane departure warning, traction control, hazards, parking sensor, steering assist, and screen-off buttons are laid in a row above the top above the console’s main screen. So many cars hide those options behind fifteen layers of digital menus or down below the steering wheel, out of sight.
Elsewhere, the Summit Reserve's copper contrasting stitching (available in other trims) isn’t exciting, but there’s plenty of it – on the steering wheel, across the top of the dash, under the “blade” element that runs the width of the dash, on the door panels, and all over the seats.
The seats feel great, with wide shoulders and decent support. This isn’t an interior to make you feel especially coddled or luxuriant, but it’s high quality and thoughtful. It’s also whispered innuendo quiet at interstate speeds (a true marker of luxury), which counts far more than components that only add visual flair.
Whichever trim, spring for the fancy sound system put together by McIntosh (19 speakers, a 10-inch sub, 950 watts, and a 17-channel amp). The system sounds equally well calibrated for Sirius XM or the hi-fi files on a smartphone. On Concrete Blonde’s “Joey”, the system revealed harder drum hits and a more driving bassline than expected, punching out the tune in a lively, heavy way. Johnette Napolitano’s crooning vocals dripped with just as much heartbreak as I’ve heard from the track on my own home hi-fi system. Paired with an interior this quiet, there’s plenty of sound space in the Grand Cherokee’s interior to really revel in what McIntosh achieved here.
The new Jeep Grand Cherokee will start at $37,390 for rear-drive models and $39,390 for 4x4s. On those lower trims (there will be five total, from Laredo to Limited, Trailhawk, Overland, and Summit), that’s absolutely fantastic value. What else is this capable at that price? Maybe the increasingly archaic 4Runner, but that Toyota interior treats its occupants with far less respect. None of the Grand Cherokee’s domestic competitors feel as luxurious and well-considered.
Even up through my personal preferred trim (Overland, 4x4, and of course that V-8), you’ve got a $61,000 SUV that will get you anywhere in absolute style and comfort. For many Americans, the Grand Cherokee is absolutely the kind of statement piece they're trying to drive from the office to the ski hill, some wondrous and perfect mix of modesty, absolute competence, and a quiet grandeur.
Complaints? Nothing major. Taller drivers won’t be able to get the HUD display low enough to view it without obstruction. Also there’s… well… there isn’t one in my driveway right now, and that’s a complaint.
The only member of staff to flip a grain truck on its roof, Kyle Kinard is R&T's senior editor and resident malcontent. He lives near Seattle and enjoys the rain. His column, Kinardi Line, runs when it runs.