First Drive: The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe goes off-road in style

Electrification is the current fad in the automotive industry, with every automaker trying to infuse electrons into its lineup of vehicles to make them compatible with the next-generation mandate.

Jeep and parent brand Stellantis are no exception, spending hours making their most famous and popular trucks more fuel-efficient by adding a massive battery to their vehicles.

The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe is the second plug-in vehicle from the SUV-oriented brand and is a logical follow-up to the Wrangler 4xe. Few could deny the novelty of sneaking the butch Wrangler around town on its electric motors (not to mention catching shocked looks from Leaf and Tesla owners at the local public chargers), but the plug-in powertrain felt a little out of place and jarring at times .

However, the PHEV format suits the premium Grand Cherokee quite well. It looks handsome for an SUV and even luxury snobs will appreciate how far Jeep has gone in the cabin of the new Grand Cherokee. In addition to the elegant integration of high-tech displays and a well-planned dashboard, the Grand Cherokee feels plush in the Summit and Summit Reserve trims.

Like the gas models, there’s a range of screens on offer for passengers, including a 10.25-inch unit for the front passenger and two rear-seat entertainment systems with streaming capabilities to provide content on the go. The switch to a hybrid gas-electric powertrain doesn’t even affect passenger or cargo volume.

Luxury snobs will appreciate how far Jeep has gone in the interior of the 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe.  Sami Haj-Assaad/Postmedia News - Sami Haj-Assaad/Postmedia News
Luxury snobs will appreciate how far Jeep has gone in the interior of the 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe. Sami Haj-Assaad/Postmedia News – Sami Haj-Assaad/Postmedia News

Don’t ignore the diamond pattern stitched leather upholstery on the seats or the elegant open pore wood trim. There are tactile controls and an easy-to-get-to layout that gives the driver a flatter learning curve as he gets used to the SUV.

Sure, all of these details are available in gas-powered V6 and V8 models, but it’s important to point out how smart the new-generation Grand Cherokee feels because it explains why a smooth, quiet electric motor would be a good match here.

Gas meets electricity under the hood

Like the Wrangler 4xe, the Grand Cherokee 4xe pairs a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine to two electric motors and a 17.3 kWh battery with about 25 miles of all-electric range. Combined, the powertrain produces 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque, which greatly exceeds the output of the 5.7-liter V8 engine offered in the Grand Cherokee.

So it comes as no surprise that the Grand Cherokee 4xe feels quite confident and capable when the entire powertrain is working together. Using a series of buttons located to the left of the steering wheel, the driver can prioritize the use of the electric motor with the electric mode, preserve the battery capacity with the eSave mode or make everything work automatically in the hybrid mode.

Frankly, the hybrid model is the perfect setup. Everything works in unison and feels natural. eSave mode revs up the gas engine and keeps it running all the time, even juicing up the battery for on-the-go charging. The electric mode feels like a gimmick and is best suited for situations where speed or power is not necessary.

The switch to a hybrid gas-electric powertrain doesn't even affect the passenger or cargo volume of the 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe.  Sami Haj-Assaad/Postmedia News - Sami Haj-Assaad/Postmedia News
The switch to a hybrid gas-electric powertrain doesn’t even affect the passenger or cargo volume of the 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe. Sami Haj-Assaad/Postmedia News – Sami Haj-Assaad/Postmedia News

The highs and lows of the 4xe experience

However, the 40 kilometer pure electric range estimate seems perfect and charging the battery takes up to 14 hours on a Level 1 charger, but less than four hours on a Level 2 charger. However, the electric motor doesn’t seem up to the task of justifying the 5,300-plus-pound curb weight of the Grand Cherokee. While the electric mode tries to let the electric motor handle the driver’s demands, if you ask too much of it it will call on the gas motor for help and that’s when the 4xe experience falls apart.

For example, when climbing a hill in electric mode, you have your foot on the floor to get it going at some reasonable pace. But then the 4xe system will fire up and engage the gas engine, which will interpret the pedal position as a fairly urgent requirement. So you go from crawling silently to a jarring full-throttle slam-in-gear experience. This happens from time to time when you least expect it, so trust me when I say that leaving it in Hybrid is the perfect mode.

That’s perhaps the only problem with this electrified Grand Cherokee. While the EV-only mode is quiet and smooth, it feels limited in terms of power and the transition to internal combustion is abrupt and disconcerting. The 4xe powertrain delivers the equivalent of 4.2L/100km, which is quite good for a vehicle of this size and performance.

A durable regenerative braking system works in the electric mode to provide a one-pedal driving experience. When the battery is discharged, the turbo-four returns 10L/100km in combined driving conditions, significantly better figures than the eight-cylinder model.

The extra weight doesn't bother the 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe when going off-road.  Sami Haj-Assaad/Postmedia News - Sami Haj-Assaad/Postmedia News
The extra weight doesn’t bother the 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe when going off-road. Sami Haj-Assaad/Postmedia News – Sami Haj-Assaad/Postmedia News

Few compromises, same off-road credibility

The 4xe is at least 700 lbs heavier than gas-powered models, though that limits one aspect of the SUV. It’s rated to tow 6,000 lbs, just 200 lbs less than V6 models; and 1,200 less than V8 models. Another disadvantage of the 4xe is having a fuel tank that is 15 liters smaller than the gas-powered models.

The extra weight doesn’t bother the Jeep when going off-road. Most of these trucks are likely to see the mildest off-road conditions in the form of sand, snow and mud, but the Jeep had us climbing massive rocks; steep, ascents to heaven; and plunging downhills that had us hanging off our seat belts.

The Grand Cherokee 4xe conquered it all, but if you’re going for that much rugged action, the Trailhawk, Summit and Overland models with the Offroad package include the Quadra-drive II 4WD system that has a smart electronic limited-slip rear differential to help to conquer all kinds of terrain. These models also feature an air suspension system that helps deliver a maximum 278mm of ground clearance, which is a tad below that of the top ICE models (they top out at 287mm). Other models used Quadra-Trac, which lacks the limited slip feature.

For the most part, the extra battery and electrical components in the Jeep Grand Cherokee do little to tarnish the rugged and luxurious appeal of the nameplate. The 4xe feels fast, can easily keep up with traffic in hybrid mode and glide around silently in electric mode.

If you wanted any further indication of how high Jeep is hitting with its latest Grand Cherokee, just look at the price. The asking price for the base Grand Cherokee 4xe starts at $77,290, including a $2,095 delivery charge.

The PHEV is available in four other models, including the top-of-the-line Summit Reserve that costs $91,390, including destination. While few other SUVs offer this combination of capability, efficiency and luxury, that price tag means it’s for die-hard Jeep fans or luxury shoppers looking away from established players.

The 4xe powertrain needs a bit more refinement, but Jeep is finally expanding its portfolio of electrified vehicles, and hopefully as it spreads to more models, prices will approach mainstream levels.

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