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Originator of the SUV launches new PHEV-only Land Rover rival

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Jeep takes a curiously small portion of the British SUV market, given that it’s the world’s biggest 4x4 company.

Selling only a few thousand cars here per year, Jeep CEO Christian Meunier refers to its 0.3% share as “virtually non-existent”. However, it’s seeking to change that, with the super little Jeep Avenger electric crossover being followed by another all-new Jeep, albeit a more old-school one, in the shape of this fifth-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee – a full-sized, premium off-roader.

It’s 4.91m long and 1.97m wide, so about the same size as the Land Rover Discovery. There’s an even longer, seven-seat version in the US, badged the L, but the UK won’t get that so it’s five seats only for us. The Grand Cherokee lands in the UK with only one engine option, a 2.0-litre plug-in hybrid badged 4xe.

The Grand Cherokee’s monocoque construction is derived from Alfa Romeo’s (now Stellantis’s) Giorgio platform, as used by the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Stelvio and new Maserati Grecale. Versatile things, modern car platforms: the Giulia is a small, sporting executive saloon, whereas the Grand Cherokee is a massive, air-suspended, off-road-capable SUV that can tow 2.7 tonnes and wade through 610mm of water. Bagsy not trying that in a Giulia.

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DESIGN & STYLING

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jeep grand cherokee review 2024 02 rear cornering

The Jeep Grand Cherokee is unashamed in its extreme American-ness. Complete with a flat-topped bonnet, big, chrome, seven-slot Jeep grille, and slimmer headlights for a more aggressive stance, there’s no mistaking the rather appealingly retro cues here. You look at it and immediately wonder what it’d look like with Wagoneer-style wood panelling.

This is a good thing, to our eyes. Lots of cars are getting more derivative and boring-looking, and the Jeep avoids that fate by being bold, brash and confidently American. As it should be, given Jeep’s history, and the brazen looks are a chief reason why you might opt for the big Jeep over its many and varied rivals.

It is big, though – 2149mm wide with mirrors – and you can’t help but feel that it’s pushing the boundaries of what’s comfortable on some UK roads.

Plus, it’s annoying that the charge port is on the car's passenger-side wing. Charging socket placement is a divisive argument and, in truth, it depends on how you routinely charge as to what’s best. But the front wing placement does mean that you’ll probably have to drive nose first into perpendicular charging spaces or your driveway, which is generally less convenient and not as easy as just reversing in to use a charge port that’s at the back of the car.

INTERIOR

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The Jeep Grand Cherokee is pretty decent inside – less overtly rugged than the Land Rover Defender, less sleek than the Discovery or Range Rover but plusher than the Toyota Land Cruiser. We're big fans of the caramel leather an pale wood of the photo car, but unfortunately that option has already been deleted from the UK options list.

It looks better than it feels, though, because once you start poking around, there’s a lot of gloss black plastic in places where it’s likely to gather fingerprints, and you don’t have to engage in any deliberate destructive testing to discover some very flimsy fittings.

Apart from the Jeep Wrangler I tested on the same event, I can't remember the last new car to have a smoker's pack as standard. The Grand Cherokee wouldn't look entirely out of place in a vintage Marlboro advert.

There is a touchscreen with the Uconnect 5 software that's also used by other ex-Fiat-Chrysler brands within Stellantis, such as Maseratis and the Fiat 500 Electric. It’s pretty straightforward by the standards of some rivals, but that also makes it easy to use and you still have all the features you want, including wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

There are, gratifyingly, plenty of physical buttons as well: above the screen for vehicle functions, below it for the heating and ventilation, on the centre console for the driving and terrain response modes and on the front and back of the steering wheel for various other things.

There’s ample space for storage as well, with a thick armrest and some deep cubbies. It’s less polished than many European SUVs but, given how so many of their controls have migrated to a touchscreen, more functional and no less appealing to live with. 

On the higher trims, the front passenger gets a touchscreen on the dashboard too, from which they can select audio or watch the off-roading camera feeds. Neat touch.

The driving position is easy to adjust and get a comfortable, laid-back, armchair-style stance thanks to the standard 16-way electrically adjustable seats, although there are some ergonomic quirks like the tiny gear paddles.

This cabin is spacious, with generously sized seats front and rear and plenty of head and leg room in the second row. The 533-litre boot has a good floor space so it’ll be great for a couple of dogs or loads of paraphernalia, but it is a touch shallower than you might expect. We’ll forgive Jeep for this, however, as part of the reason for this is an actual spare wheel. Hallelujah.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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The plug-in hybrid powertrain in the Grand Cherokee consists of a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine making 270bhp and 295lb ft, two electric motors and a 17.3kWh (15.0kWh usable) battery pack.

The main motor is a 134bhp, 195lb ft unit mounted within the eight-speed automatic gearbox, between the clutch plates and the gears. This is what drives the car when you select EV mode and allows gearchanges and swapping into the low set of ratios just as if you were driving on petrol.

Then there’s a 48V integrated starter-generator on the front of the engine, making 39bhp and 44lb ft. It's  available to boost low-end torque but primarily to start and stop the petrol engine and charge the battery when the car is stationary and in gear.

With a full battery, performance is strong. With total outputs of 375bhp and 470lb ft and the main electric motor pitching in from rest, the 0-62mph time is just 6.3sec. Sometimes, though, the motor and petrol engine take a moment to decide who’s doing what, so the latter will spin up audibly, and sometimes on back roads it’s preferable – and not unsatisfying – to take control of the gears yourself. If you do go for a full-on burst of acceleration, you can expect fairly coarse engine noise too.

However, even with a quarter charge in the battery, performance is degraded noticeably. The coarse four-cylinder becomes a constant presence, revving high and often, returning only average performance and MPG figures in the low 20s. The gearbox becomes quite clunky too.

Off-road notes

The Grand Cherokee’s off-road credentials are pretty impressive, as you’d expect. On all versions except the entry-level Limited, there’s air suspension as standard with five different height settings and up to 275mm of ground clearance. Its maximum approach angle is 28.2deg, breakover angle 20.9deg and departure angle 30deg – similar to the Discovery.

Jeep has a trail rating for its cars: the three-door Wrangler scores the maximum 10, the Grand Cherokee six or seven, depending on the variant. It’s also a reasonable tow car, with a maximum braked trailer load of 2.2 tonnes (2.3 tonnes for a drawbar trailer), but the Range Rover Sport PHEV and Mercedes GLE PHEV will both tow usefully more.

Off road, it’s terrific. The lovely thing is that you can stick it in EV mode and do all your driving that way. Because the motor is on the gearbox side of the clutch, it pulls off incredibly smoothly and without hesitation, plus with all of its available torque from rest.

And as with most proper 4x4s, you will probably run out of bravery – especially at this price – before it runs out of ability. We had it on a side slope showing more than 30deg, and if there wasn’t a Jeep bod on standby telling me that was fine, we'd have convinced ourselves it was going to tip over. In other words, a winter shoot or the average horse yard treacherousness are things that the Grand Cherokee will cope with just fine. 

RIDE & HANDLING

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The way the Grand Cherokee drives isn’t dissimilar to its interior: it’s less sophisticated than the best of the European alternatives, but somehow that doesn’t necessarily matter all that much. It’s honest. The ride is relatively pliant and isolated and there’s certainly a lot more engine noise absorption than in the Wrangler 4xe (which isn’t terribly hard to achieve) even if this isn’t the refined experience offered by a Range Rover Sport.

The steering is smooth, particularly off road or at low speeds, but there's an unpleasant feeling of stiction at low speeds and there’s some springiness to it at higher road speeds. 

Likewise body control, meaning the Grand Cherokee goes without the slickness, ease and enjoyment that you get from a Land Rover, but there’s a straightforwardness to it that isn’t without appeal, and it’s at least competitive with the Land Cruiser.

As with the powertrain that’s at its best in unhurried progress, the ride and handling of the Jeep feel satisfying and rather likeable in everyday progress but there’s little of the composure and appetite for a decent corner that you’ll enjoy in the best European rivals.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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The Grand Cherokee's main problem is that its plug-in hybrid powertrain feels like it's a generation behind the best ones being launched at the moment, such as in the BMW X5 xDrive50e, Range Rover Sport P460e, Mercedes GLE400e and Skoda Kodiaq.

It makes do with a battery with 15.0kWh of usable capacity, chargeable at rates of up to 7.2kW. That's already quite a bit smaller than those rivals'. Add to that an electric drive system that isn't particularly efficient and you get an official electric range of just 30-31 miles. That sort of electric range firstly isn't very useful when you consider that you'll likely get less in the real world, but it also results in comparatively high company car tax.

Well it would do if the Jeep emitted little enough CO2 on the WLTP cycle for it to qualify for special treatment. You see, PHEVs qualify for extra-low EV-range-based BIK bands only if they're rated for less than 50g/km of CO2, but the Grand Cherokee's petrol engine is so inefficient that it can't even manage that, stranding at 60g/km.

There are four trims available in the Jeep Grand Cherokee: Limited, Trailhawk, Overland and top-spec Summit Reserve. All are fairly well equipped, but we'd avoid the first two. Limited is stuck with coil springs and leatherette upholstery and Trailhawk is very most off-road oriented, so gets 18in alloys instead of the 20s on most other trims, plus an electronic limited-slip rear differential. All that specialised kit might make a bit of sense on a Wrangler, but having seen what a Summit Reserve can do off-road, it's hard to imagine when any of it would come into play on a luxury SUV.

Overland steps up with a sunroof, head-up display, upgraded sound system and various style tweaks, while Summit Overland gets a contrast roof, 21in alloy wheels, full leather with climate control in the back and front, a night vision camera, a screen for the front passenger and walnut trim for the full retro Americana feel.

Equipment is good, then, but it’s nowhere near enough to make up for the comparatively high company car costs and the punchy list prices. They start at £69,915 and top out at £85,615 for the Summit Reserve.

VERDICT

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The Jeep Grand Cherokee is big, fast (potentially) and well equipped, and has a lot of performance and ability off road and largely on it.

Ultimately, it’s a very easy car to like. If you throw caution to the wind and buy one just because you love the retro styling and big, brash, joyously American feel to it, we’d all applaud you. It’s a really cool car, and one that feels refreshingly individual in what can feel like a very samey class of big, plush SUVs.

But that very subjective ‘want one’ factor is the only reason to buy it. There are plenty of rivals that go further on electric power, or have more large-SUV-appropriate powertrains, seat more people and have better perceived interior quality, lower company car costs and better on-road handling. Charming it is, but recommendable it’s not.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes.