As one of my friends said when he slipped into the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited on our way to dinner, “This certainly doesn’t seem like a Jeep.” True enough, especially if you haven’t been in a Grand Cherokee for a few years and remember when it was chunky on the outside and spartan on the inside.
By TOM STRONGMAN
The 2013 Grand Cherokee has evolved into a contemporary utility vehicle that has the comfort of a well-equipped sedan without relinquishing the ability to do serious off-road work should that be your desire.
For decades, it was nearly impossible to mention the word Jeep without it being preceded by the word rugged. The SUV market has changed, and Jeep has changed with it. The Grand Cherokee may have rugged capabilities, but the vehicle itself has matured. There are several versions of the Grand Cherokee, some of which are specifically tailored to off-road use. On the flip side, the SRT8 is a street-centric hot rod with a 470-horsepower Hemi V-8 and a road-hugging suspension. The only off-roading you will want to do with that rascal is clipping the grass on the inside of a corner on your favorite twisty road.
Prices begin at $27,495 for a two-wheel-drive Laredo and top out at $43,595 for a four-wheel-drive Overland model.
The Grand Cherokee can be had with either a 3.6-liter V-6 or the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. Of course, the Hemi’s brute power is tons of fun, but from a practical perspective, the new Pentastar V-6 is a jewel that gets better fuel economy than the Hemi, gives up little in the way of drivability and costs less. That’s the model I drove.
The Pentastar is the first new Chrysler V-6 in a decade, and it sports 290 horsepower. It is mated to a five-speed automatic, however, that seems out of date when many competitors have six-speed automatics.
Fuel economy is rated at 16 city and 23 highway for four-wheel drive, whereas the Hemi, with four-wheel drive, is rated at 13 city and 20 highway.
Of course, the V-6 has less towing capacity: 5,000 pounds compared to the Hemi’s 7,400 pounds. That’s a fairly moot point for most buyers, however.
In keeping with Jeep’s go-anywhere approach, there are three four-wheel drive systems. One, called Quadra-Trac I, delivers full-time four-wheel drive automatically, with no low-speed transfer case. The second, called Quadra-Trac II, has a two-speed transfer case. The third system adds an electronically controlled rear limited slip. That system, called Quadra-Drive II, can transfer 100 percent of available torque to one wheel.
The test vehicle was equipped with Quadra-Track II and Selec-Terrain. A dial on the console enables the driver to select one of five different modes – Sand/mud, Sport, Auto, Snow and Rock – and the system electronically coordinates up to 12 different engine, transmission and suspension settings.
Quadra-Lift, although not on the test vehicle, is an optional air suspension that raises or lowers the vehicle’s ride height up to 4.1 inches depending on conditions. It can be controlled manually or left in automatic mode.
In normal driving, the Grand Cherokee was as quiet and smooth as many luxury sedans. The heated leather seats, navigation system, dual-zone climate control, panoramic sunroof and nine-speaker audio system added greatly to creature comforts. The ride was smooth and soft.
The back seats fold down, and the cargo space is generous, yet the Grand Cherokee is as civilized as the best SUVs on the market.
Standard safety features include anti-lock brakes, vehicle stability control and front, side and side-curtain airbags. Hill-start assist keeps the vehicle from rolling backward on steep roads, and trailer sway damping is useful for towing.
The base price of the test car was $39,595. The only option was the Uconnect 40-gigabyte hard drive with Sirius satellite traffic service. The sticker price was $41,155.
Three years or 36,000 miles, with a five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Tom Strongman’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.