MOAB, Utah – “Don’t get cocky, kid.” Those were Han Solo’s words when rookie Luke Skywalker celebrated shooting down his first Imperial warship in “Star Wars,” and they could have been Jeep boss Jim Morrison’s when he recently accused SUV automakers of adding a skid plate here, a Torsen- differential there, and claim to be serious off-roaders.
Implied: “Nice try for a newbie, but don’t celebrate. The Death Star is still out there.”
The Death Star has just arrived.
I recently drove a 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk up a 30% grade of loose sand and shifting rock and over boulders that would stop almost any conceivable competitor dead, and around terrifying mountain slopes that challenged my nerve and the Grand Cherokee’s on-road performance.
Don’t be cocky, kids. Other brands may give their SUVs carefully researched outdoor names, throwback boxy looks and commercials that show them juxtaposed with off-road vehicles, but the Grand Cherokee is the OG, and it’s still the vehicle to beat.
More space and functions, lighter weight
The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee is in production now. Sales will begin later this year. It’s a five-seat midsize SUV that competes with vehicles like the Ford Edge and Explorer, the Nissan Murano and Pathfinder, and the Toyota Venza and Highlander. These SUVs have a mix of two or three rows of seats and carry five to seven people. Mid-size SUVs cover both groups of buyers. Five-seaters like the Grand Cherokee account for around 40% of sales in the extremely popular segment. The rest goes to more family-oriented three-row models. Jeep added the three-row Grand Cherokee L to enter that market earlier this year.
It shares its architecture, basic technology and many features with the 2022 Grand Cherokee. The L is a Jeep, so it prioritizes off-road capability, but the five-seat Grand Cherokee is more capable, largely because its shorter length allows it to squeeze around boulders and through hatches too tight for the L.
The 2022 Grand Cherokee is 193.5 inches long — 3.4 inches longer than the outgoing model, but 10.5 inches shorter than the three-row Grand Cherokee L.
The Grand Cherokee’s wheelbase increased by 2 inches from the outgoing model. These changes, along with clever design and engineering, increase interior room by 6 cubic feet. More notably, larger rear door openings improve entry. Narrower A- and C-pillars improve visibility significantly.
A new electrical architecture enables new and upcoming functions.
An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard, as is rear-wheel drive. Three all-wheel drive systems with increasing capacity are available. The most capable model is the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk, available only with 4WD.
A 293-horsepower 3.6L V6 is standard. A 357-hp 5.7L Hemi V8 is available. A plug-in hybrid with a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and electric motor developing 375 hp will go on sale in 2022. It will be called the Grand Cherokee 4xe.
I drove the V6 and V8 Grand Cherokees on a variety of roads and a challenging off-road course in the canyon areas around Moab, Utah.
Despite its larger size and new features, a 2022 Grand Cherokee weighs about 250 pounds less than a comparable 2021 model, an extraordinary achievement.
“The electronics went up in weight. The body and everything else went down,” chief engineer David Partlow told me.
I drove a pair of V6-powered 4WD Grand Cherokee Overlands on a variety of roads and a challenging off-road course.
The Grand Cherokee is exceptionally quiet and smooth on paved surfaces. The steering is direct, with good feel in the middle. The air suspension cushioned bumps and held the SUV steady on a long mountain road with many 15-mph switchbacks.
Passenger space is good, with plenty of storage in the door pockets and center console. The seats are comfortable.
A thoughtful combination of a 10.25-inch touchscreen and knobs/switches for the frequently used climate and audio functions makes it easy to use the Grand Cherokee’s many functions.
The optional 950-watt McIntosh sound system delivered outstanding sound. Speakers with illuminated “McIntosh” labels in the audio specialist’s signature blue lighting complemented the interior design, which featured open-pore wood, genuine metal and soft leather.
The cargo area, with its large opening and dimensions, has plenty of room for shopping, luggage, even golf bags loaded across – a Grand Cherokee first.
The optional rear-seat entertainment system included a pair of screens that can stream content independently and are compatible with home service from Amazon Fire TV. A cleverly disguised touch screen in front of the front passenger – invisible from the driver’s seat – provides rear entertainment control, can add navigation route stops and more.
I drove a top of the line 5.7L V8 powered 4×4 Grand Cherokee Summit Reserve briefly. The Hemi V8 provides plenty of power, a satisfying exhaust note, and the ability to tow 7,200 pounds.
The vast majority of Grand Cherokee owners choose the V6, and I can understand why. It has plenty of power for everyday driving and delivers an extra 5 mpg that saves money in combined city and highway driving.
Safety and driver assistance features
— Full speed collision warning with active braking and pedestrian/cyclist detection.
— Rear cross traffic detection
-Adaptive cruise control
—Lane departure warning and assist
—Rear parking sensors and automatic braking
—Electric parking brake
— Intersection Collision Assist
— Traffic sign recognition
—Parallel and perpendicular parking access
—360-degree surround view Mastery of terrain, even electrically
The Grand Cherokee offers three all-wheel drive systems: Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive II. I drove a Trailhawk, the most off-road-capable model, equipped with the Quadra-Drive II on a course that included steep uphills, loose descents and potentially shoulder-breaking rock climbing.
It came through with flying colors, thanks to features that include a disconnecting sway bar to leave a wheel hanging in the air, active gearboxes for direct torque front and rear, and an electronic locking rear differential that can send full torque to the right or left wheel.
Jeep knows full well that most owners will never take a $60,000 Grand Cherokee Trailhawk over a course like the one I took. A handful will, however, and the brand’s credibility and reputation rest on their success.
Finally, a plug-in hybrid Grand Cherokee 4xe has completed the robust Rubicon line exclusively with electric power. Not on a single charge, I’m sure.
Jeep hopes the 4xe will have an EPA-estimated electric range of 25 miles in normal driving when it goes on sale.
Off-road driving uses a lot more power, so I expect Jeep engineers brought a portable generator in a support vehicle. Not quite the eco-friendly behavior that plug-in hybrid owners will engage in, but Jeep needs to show that its transition to electric power is consistent with the brand’s historical prowess.
To behave otherwise would be a cocky mistake.