Car Review: Pricey Jeep plug-in hybrid debuts

Nov. 20—It was inevitable. Jeep has joined the ranks of the plug-in hybrid craze with its new Grand Cherokee 4xe. The Overland trim level we tested looks like any other Grand Cherokee save for a pair of blue tow hooks and a few badges here and there.

Nothing wrong with similarity. Jeep has a loyal following and this mid-sized SUV has been tweaked and re-sized nearly four inches longer and half that taller. Its traditional high-waisted body squares off at corners for a conservative look.

The 4xe is available in five trim levels — Limited, Trailhawk, Overland, Summit and Summit Reserve with prices ranging from the mid $50,000s to near $80,000. Our gussied-up tester based at $65,760 and rang up another $10,000 in pricey options including a luxury tech group, advanced driving assist features, front passenger interactive display and rear seat video.

One cool feature is an available cloaked passenger side 10.1-inch touchscreen with Amazon Fire TV as well as Xbox and PlayStation connectivity. Another 10.1-inch touchscreen houses the traditional cabin controls including navigation, climate, entertainment and setups and a third larger customizable digital screen projects engine vitals. Rear seat passengers are not left out of the fun either with front seat back-mounted screens for more entertainment options.

Interior treatment is grandiose with Nappa leather seating, wood trim panels, 12-way power massaging seats up front and wireless Apple CarPlay, not Android Auto. There's lots of switch gear around the center console; however, we found it is not well marked.

The 4xe (think they could come up with a better name?) is powered with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with two electric motors. One is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission while the second motor acts as a starter.

The 17.3-kilowatt battery pack combines to produce 375 horsepower and 470-pound feet of torque, more than the company's Hemi V8. With instant power, the 4xe outguns the big V8 by reaching 60 miles per hour nearly a second quicker at just under six ticks. With the plug-in fully charged, the 4xe can go nearly 24 miles on pure battery power before switching to hybrid mode where it gets 23 mpg combined, less than some rivals.

We've evaluated lots of hybrids and while the Grand Cherokee version has a lot going for it, the 4xe has quirky noises, grinding at times with a loud engine groan switching between battery and gasoline modes under power.

Aside from that, the 4xe delivers a compliant ride with little body roll. Brakes and steering maneuvers are precise and visibility all around is clear, unusual for such a large SUV.

The Overland has excellent curb appeal and with standard 20-inch machined wheels and all-season paws, this SUV is easy on the eyes. Add in Jeep's off-road dependability and you have a winning combination.

On the flip side, you pay a lot of coin for this newbie and you may want to shop around for worthy competitors including the Land Rover Defender, VW Atlas Cross Sport or luxury SUVs' BMW X5, Kia Telluride or Nissan Pathfinder.

Contact independent automotive columnist Len Ingrassia at