2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee’s capability and tech put SUV wannabes in their place

MOAB, Utah – “Don’t get cocky, kid.” Those were Han Solo’s words when newbie Luke Skywalker celebrated shooting down his first Imperial warship in “Star Wars,” and they could have been Jeep executive Jim Morrison’s when he recently chided automakers for SUVs that add a skid plate here, a Torsen differential there, and claim to be serious off-roaders.

Implicitly: “Nice try for a beginner, but don’t celebrate. The Death Star is still out there.”

The Death Star just arrived.

I recently drove the a 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk up a 30% incline of loose sand and shifting rock and over boulders that would stop nearly every would-be competitor dead, and around intimidating mountain switchbacks that challenged my nerve and the Grand Cherokee’s on-road performance.

Don’t get cocky, kids. Other brands can give their SUVs painstakingly researched outdoorsy names, throwback boxy looks and commercials showing them adjacent to all-terrain vehicles, but the Grand Cherokee is the OG, and it remains the vehicle to beat.

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More room and features, lighter weight

The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee is in production now. Sales begin later this year. It’s a five-seat midsize SUV that competes with vehicles like the Ford Edge and Explorer, Nissan Murano and Pathfinder and Toyota Venza and Highlander. Those SUVs have a mix of two or three rows of seats and carry five to seven people. Midsize SUVs cover both groups of buyers. Five-seaters like the Grand Cherokee account for about 40% of sales in the extremely popular segment. The rest go to more family-oriented three-row models. Jeep added the three-row Grand Cherokee L to get into that market earlier this year.

2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee

It shares its architecture, basic engineering and many features with the 2022 Grand Cherokee. The L’s a Jeep, so it prioritizes off-road ability, but the five-seat Grand Cherokee is more capable, largely because its shorter length allows it to squeeze around boulders and through gaps 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 ins shorter than the three-row Grand Cherokee L.

The Grand Cherokee’s wheelbase increased 2 inches from the outgoing model. Those changes, along with clever design and engineering, increase interior room 6 cubic feet. More noteworthy, bigger rear door openings improve entry. Narrower A- and C-pillars improve visibility notably.

A new electrical architecture enables new and upcoming features.

An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard, as is rear-wheel drive. Three four-wheel-drive systems with rising levels of capability 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 2.0L turbocharged engine and electric motor that develop 375 hp will go on sale in 2022. It’ll be called the Grand Cherokee 4xe.

I drove V6 and V8 Grand Cherokees on a variety of roads and a challenging off-road course in the canyon lands around Moab, Utah.

Despite its greater size and new features, a 2022 Grand Cherokee weights about 250 pounds less than a comparable 2021 model, an extraordinary accomplishment.

“The electronics went up in weight. The body and everything else went down,” chief engineer David Partlow told me.

2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee

2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee models

Grand Cherokee Laredo

$37,390 (4x2 V6)

$39,390 (4x4 V6)

Grand Cherokee Altitude

$41,945 (4x2 V6)

$43,945 (4x4 V6)

Grand Cherokee Limited

$43,710 (4x2 V6)

$45,710 (4x4 V6)

Grand Cherokee Trailhawk

$51,275 (4x4 V6)

$54,570 (4x4 V8)

Grand Cherokee Overland

$53,305 (4x2 V6)

$55,305 (4x4 V6)

$58,600 (4x4 V8)

Grand Cherokee Summit

$57,365 (4x2 V6)

$59,365 (4x4 V6)

$62,660 (4x4 V8)

Grand Cherokee Summit Reserve

$63,365 (4x4 V6)

$66,660 (4x4 V8)

Prices do not include destination charge ($1,795).

The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee's front-facing camera comes in handy off road.

Driving impressions

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 on-center feel. The air suspension cushioned bumps and held the SUV steady on a long mountain road with numerous 15-mph switchbacks.

The plug-in hybrid version of the 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee should go on sale in Q1, 2022.

Passenger space is good, with plenty of storage in door pockets and the center console. The seats are comfortable.

A thoughtful combination of a 10.25-inch touch screen and dials/switches for the frequently used climate and audio functions makes it easy to use the Grand Cherokee’s many features.

The optional 950-watt McIntosh audio system delivered outstanding sound. Speakers with lighted “McIntosh” labels in the audio specialist’s signature blue-gauge lighting complemented interior design that featured open-pore wood, real metal and soft leather.

The cargo compartment, with its big opening and dimensions, has plenty of room for shopping, luggage, even golf bags loaded crosswise — a Grand Cherokee first.

The optional rear-seat entertainment system featured 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 — allows control of rear entertainment, can add stops tonavigation routes and more.

I drove a top of the line 5.7L V8-powered 4x4 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 select the V6, and I can understand why. It’s got plenty of power for everyday driving, and delivers a money-saving extra 5 mpg in combined city and highway driving.

2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Safety and driver assistance features

  • Full-speed collision warning with active braking and pedestrian/cyclist detection.

  • Rear cross traffic detection

  • Blind spot alert

  • Adaptive cruise control

  • Lane departure warning and assist

  • Brake assist

  • Rear parking sensors and automatic braking

  • Electric parking brake

  • Night vision camera

  • Intersection collision assist

  • Traffic sign recognition

  • Parallel and perpendicular parking asset

  • 360-degree surround view

2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Off-road mastery, even electrically

The Grand Cherokee offers three four-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 Quadra-Drive II on a course that included steep inclines, loose scree and potentially axle breaking rock climbing.

It came through with flying colors, thanks to features that include a disconnecting sway bar for leaving one wheel dangling in the air, active transfer cases to 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 surmounted. A handful will, though, and the brand’s credibility and reputation rest on their success.

To the end, a plug-in hybrid Grand Cherokee 4xe has completed the rugged Rubicon trail exclusively under electric power. Not on a single charge, I’m sure. Jeep hopes the 4xe will have an EPA-estimated 25 mile electric range in normal driving when it goes on sale.

Off-roading consumes much more power, so I expect Jeep engineers brought a portable generator in a support vehicle. Not at all the environmentally beneficent behavior the plug-in hybrid’s owners will engage in, but Jeep needs to demonstrate that its transition to electric power is consistent with the brand’s historic capability.

Behaving otherwise would be a cocky mistake.

2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee at a glance

Rear- or four-wheel drive five passenger midsize SUV

Base price: $37,380 (excluding $1,795 destination charge)

On sale late 2021

Primary model tested:

2022 Grand Cherokee Overland 3.6L 4x4

Price as tested: $63,275; $65,070 including destination.

Engine: 3.6L V6 with cylinder deactivation

Output: 293 hp @ 6,400 rpm; 260 pound-feet of torque @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Estimated EPA fuel economy rating: 19 mpg city/26 highway/22 combined. Regular gasoline

EPA estimated annual fuel cost: $3,850 (at current prices)

Wheelbase: 116.7 inches

Length: 193.5

Width: 77.5 (mirrors folded)

Height: 70.9 (with air suspension)

Curb weight: 4,721 pounds

Passenger volume: 107.0 cubic feet

Cargo space behind rear seat: 37.7

Towing capacity: 6,250 pounds

Assembled in Detroit, Michigan

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee easily outpaces SUV wannabes