2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Review

Liz Kim | May 15, 2019

Introduction

Crossover SUVs are so commonplace that you might be wondering if there are any truly capable off-roading SUVs left – aside from the Jeep Wrangler and Toyota 4Runner, of course. The answer is yes, and one of the most popular ones is called the 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee.

A more civilized boulder basher than either the Wrangler or the 4Runner, the Grand Cherokee comes in a multitude of configurations to meet the needs of a widely divergent populace. Even though the Grand Cherokee hasn’t been redesigned since the current generation was introduced in 2011, it remains one of the most best-selling SUVs in America. That makes it an important vehicle, so I spent a week driving a couple of examples to reacquaint myself with its talents.

2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited X photo
2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited X

I spent the bulk of my time evaluating a Grand Cherokee Limited X equipped with 4-wheel drive, the Advanced Active Safety Group, and a sound system upgrade. The price came to $49,880, including the $1,495 destination charge. I also had a 48-hour window to live with the track-tuned Trackhawk variant, which was decked out to the tune of $99,865.

What Owners Say

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, it is helpful to understand who buys this midsize SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

Compared to the midsize SUV segment, slightly more Grand Cherokee owners are men. J.D. Power data says 59% of the Jeep’s owners are men, vs. 57% for all midsize SUVs. The Grand Cherokee’s owners are slightly younger (53 years vs. 55 years) and are more affluent in terms of median annual household income ($125,708 vs. $116,411).

Grand Cherokee owners are more likely to agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (76% vs. 58% for the segment). They are also less likely to agree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (28% vs. 36%), and are more likely to agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (84% vs. 71%).

People who buy the Grand Cherokee are less concerned about reliability, high maintenance costs, fuel economy, and environmental friendliness. Only 54% of the Jeep’s owners strongly agree that a first consideration in choosing a new vehicle is reliability (vs. 64%); 53% strongly agree that they avoid vehicles that they think will have high maintenance costs (vs. 63%); 44% agree that fuel economy is a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle (vs. 54%); and 45% agree that they’re willing to pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (vs. 53%).

Buyers say their favorite things about the Grand Cherokee are (in descending order) the exterior styling, driving dynamics and interior design (in a tie), engine/transmission and seats (in a tie).

Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the Grand Cherokee are (in descending order) the storage and space, and the visibility and safety (in a tie); the infotainment system; the climate control system; and the fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says

In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own perceptions about how the Grand Cherokee measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2018 APEAL Study.

Exterior

Jeeps are instantly recognizable for their 7-bar grille, so you’ll have to excuse the company for not exploring design possibilities too far beyond that. The Grand Cherokee is instantly recognizable as both a Jeep and, thanks to unavoidable packaging requirement, an SUV.

Still, and in spite of its age, the Grand Cherokee manages to look fresh and sporty, with a wide stance, bold character lines, and assertive angles. This is a vehicle that doesn’t need to look sleek or sculptured; its unapologetically boxy and utilitarian appearance suits its ethos just fine.

Interior

Both test vehicles came with a black-on-black interior color scheme, which tends to make the cabin feel small and appear uninteresting. Don’t worry. Jeep offers a variety of appealing colors that you might prefer instead.

When it comes to quality of the materials, the dashboard and door panels of the Limited X were a mixed bag. Hard, brittle plastics stood in stark contrast next to nicer, soft touch materials. In the Trackhawk, equipped with premium leather throughout the cabin, the Grand Cherokee looked, felt, and smelled rich enough to help justify the asking price.

Seats

Thanks to power adjustment and seat heaters, it is easy to find a good, comfortable position in the Grand Cherokee’s front seats. The back seat cushions were heated, too, and Jeep provides rear passengers with air conditioning vents. My kids had no complaints about riding back there, and even teenagers will be happy thanks to rear USB charging ports and a 115-volt household-style power outlet.

Climate Control System

While the Grand Cherokee’s climate system worked admirably to cool down the cabin, the temperature controls are two buttons located in a cluster, and you have to take your eyes off the road to find them. Knobs work better for tactile ease.

Infotainment System

Both test vehicles had a new-for-2019 upgraded 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment system. With a flush glass surface, it looks more modern and upscale. Plus, the graphics are improved, the system loads fast and responds quicker to input, and most functions are easy to access.

Separate volume and tuning knobs are always appreciated, and the latest voice recognition system works well to find nearby points of interest and to program destinations. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone projection is standard, and is always welcome.

Storage and Space

Jeep might promote the Grand Cherokee as a midsize SUV, but open the rear hatch and you might be a bit disappointed.

With the rear seats in use, there’s 36.3 cu.-ft. of cargo space. Fold the 60/40-split rear seat and you’ve got 68.3 cu.-ft. of space. These numbers are underwhelming for a midsize SUV. In both test vehicles, temporary spare tires occupied the underfloor storage area. You can upgrade to a full-size spare tire, which is useful for accident-prone boulder bashers.

Inside the cabin, the center console and glove box are on the small side by modern standards, and there isn’t much in the way of useful storage otherwise. Given that a Grand Cherokee is built for adventuring, it seems as though improvement is necessary.

Visibility and Safety

A good, unimpeded view over the hood greets the driver from the pilot’s position, although the Grand Cherokee’s windshield pillars are a bit chunky. A standard reversing camera helps when backing this Jeep out of a driveway or down a trail.

My Limited X test vehicle had the optional Advanced Active Safety Group package, which included adaptive cruise control with full-stop capability, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and lane departure warning. It also had a parallel and perpendicular parking assist system, which are helpful mostly in low-traffic areas where people aren’t waiting for the semi-autonomous technology to do its thing.

Should a collision prove unavoidable, you might want to consider that a Grand Cherokee isn’t one of the safest SUVs you can buy. The federal government doesn’t rate the Grand Cherokee, but notes that 2-wheel-drive models are more susceptible to rolling over in an accident. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives this Jeep a "Marginal" rating for driver protection in the small-overlap frontal-offset test, and a “Poor” rating for front passenger protection.

Engine/Transmission

My Limited X test vehicle came with the Grand Cherokee’s standard 295-horsepower, 3.6-liter V6, and not once did I miss the additional pull of a V8.

The V6 can tow up to 6,200 pounds and emits a satisfyingly guttural growl when the right pedal is pushed. Accompanying the sound, strong acceleration is available across the rev range, and the mountains in our corner of Southern California didn’t tax the engine. An 8-speed transmission sent power to the wheels with an appropriate amount of quickness and surety.

The Trackhawk version of the Grand Cherokee has a 707-horsrepower, supercharged 6.2-liter V8, which was the very definition of a rip-roaring good time. It didn’t curry any favors with our neighbors, though, as even the gentlest of nudges of the right pedal while pulling out of our neighborhood resulted in a howl from the exhaust that couldn’t be ignored.

Fuel Economy

With the standard V6 engine and 4-wheel drive, the EPA says to expect 21 mpg (18 city/25 highway) in combined driving from a Jeep Grand Cherokee. On my driving loop, the SUV yielded 18.3 mpg, a disappointing shortfall.

As might be expected, the Trackhawk performed even worse, at 13.1 mpg. But that’s better than the EPA rating of 13 mpg in combined driving (11 city/17 highway).

Fuel economy comes in dead last when it comes to Grand Cherokee owners’ favorite features, and it’s no wonder why.

Driving Dynamics

The Jeep Grand Cherokee exists is to take to you places where car-based vehicles dare not tread, but without beating you up in exchange for such capabilities.

My Limited X test vehicle had Jeep’s more robust Quadra-Drive II 4WD system, equipping the Grand Cherokee with a proper 2-speed transfer case. Included with Quadra-Drive, Selec-Terrain control gives you added traction depending on what kind of surface you’re traveling upon, such as sand, snow or rocks, changing engine and transmission response appropriately. Quadra-Drive will also send every last bit of engine power to a single wheel if that’s the only one with traction.

Honestly, like many Grand Cherokee owners, I did not tread on dirt with the Limited X. And I definitely did not go mud bogging in the Trackhawk. Instead, I used these SUVs like y’all do: kid hauling, mall crawling, and commuting in the ‘burbs.

On city streets, the Limited X exhibited a nice, soft, pillowy ride quality, absorbing all manner of road imperfections. That cushy ride was a detriment on the curvy section of my test loop, though, as the Jeep wallowed and wafted through sets of curves. Its slow steering rack, which is helpful while coaxing the Jeep down a rock-strewn trail, doesn’t really make you want to tackle the next knot in the road with any enthusiasm. And the brakes, while effective, could be better calibrated.

The Trackhawk, with its more aggressively tuned suspension, gets rid of the wallow altogether, delivering a firm, stiff ride. Still, with its ponderous weight and top-heavy nature, I couldn’t quite overcome the mental hurdle of tossing it into a corner with as much speed as I might a Challenger Hellcat, so I didn’t drive in the canyons with as much enthusiasm as a performance SUV warrants. There might have been some giggle- and whiplash-inducing supra-legal acceleration runs on straightaways, though.

Final Impressions

Let’s be honest. The vast majority of folks who think they need an SUV are perfectly well served by a crossover vehicle. They’re more agile handling and more efficient while supplying all-wheel drive and plenty of interior room.

But for those who regularly face treacherous weather and boulder-strewn paths, the 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee offers serious capability in a refined package that will make you thankful for its sheer competence.

Just don’t expect much in the way of fuel efficiency. Or protection in certain types of crashes.

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