2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee Review

Liz Kim | Feb 14, 2020

Introduction

In a world full of crossovers that look like boulder-bashing, rough-and-tumble SUVs, but which bear little of the off-roading and towing capabilities that a real sports/utility vehicle boasts, it’s good to know that the 2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee stays true to its original Trail Rated mission.

Now, a decade following its last complete redesign, the Grand Cherokee has few changes in store for 2020, aside from minor equipment changes and some new special editions. Fans of the EcoDiesel engine option, dropped during the 2019 model run, will be disappointed that it does not return.

You can get a basic rear-wheel-drive Grand Cherokee Laredo for just over $33,000, but Jeep offers a total of 13 different iterations from which to choose, including the screaming 707-horsepower Trackhawk that will set you back almost $90,000.

2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited X front view in slate blue

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Grand Cherokee Limited equipped with the Limited X package, four-wheel drive, extra-cost paint, an upgraded sound system, a panoramic sunroof, and a ProTech II package of driving assistance systems. The price came to $52,525, including the $1,495 destination charge.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 Grand Cherokee, it is helpful to understand who buys this midsize SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

Based on J.D. Power data there isn’t much of a gender difference between Grand Cherokee owners and all midsize SUV owners. For the entire segment, 44% of owners are women. For the Grand Cherokee, 43% are.

Grand Cherokee owners, however, are younger, with a median age of 52 years (vs. 56 years) driven primarily by more buyers who are Generation X and Y. Owners of this Jeep are also more affluent, with a median annual household income of $128,198 (vs. $116,933).

Buying from a domestic company is important to Grand Cherokee owners, with 78% reporting to J.D. Power that they prefer to do so (vs. 56% for the segment). Jeep owners are also prepared to spend more on fuel and maintenance. Just 58% strongly agree that they avoid vehicles that they think will have high maintenance costs (vs. 65%), while 48% agree that fuel economy is a first consideration when choosing a vehicle (vs. 56%).

Grand Cherokee owners are also less concerned about dependability, with 54% strongly agreeing that a first consideration when choosing a vehicle is reliability (vs. 67%). Furthermore, only 45% of Grand Cherokee owners agree that they would pay extra for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (vs. 52%).

Just 29% of Grand Cherokee owners agree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (vs. 37%), while 82% of them agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (vs. 69%). They are also more likely to strongly agree that they like a vehicle offering responsive handling and powerful acceleration (57% vs. 44%).

Owners say their favorite things about the Grand Cherokee are (in descending order) the exterior styling, interior design, driving dynamics, engine/transmission, and seats. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Grand Cherokee are (in descending order) the visibility and safety, infotainment system, storage and space, climate controls, and by a wide margin, fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says…

In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own perceptions about how the 2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.

Exterior

Getting a Jeep means that you’re getting a 7-slot grille. No substitutions. Good thing that it’s an icon that has aged well, and in this case is applied to the simultaneously handsome and instantly recognizable Grand Cherokee. And while this SUV isn’t a svelte or sexy vehicle, its purposeful stance and boxy shape give a good idea of its mission.

My Slate Blue Pearl test vehicle had Limited X trim, which adds numerous styling tweaks to give it a unique look. Highlights include 20-inch wheels, revised front and rear bumpers, a sport hood design, and more. Gilding the lily, I’d say, but it did lend an air of mystery to the Grand Cherokee.

Interior

Black-on-black interiors lack the vivid contrast of cabins with lighter color schemes. As a result, my test vehicle’s environment seemed smaller and duller than I expected for the price. At least the optional panoramic sunroof did a great job of bringing the outdoors in.

Leather seats are standard with Limited X trim, complementing the soft touch materials on the dashboard but also forcing the hard plastic panels to stand out in stark relief. This doesn’t appear to bother Grand Cherokee owners, though, who rate interior design as their second favorite thing about the SUV.

Seats

Thanks to a wide range of adjustments and heated cushions, the Grand Cherokee test vehicle offered plenty of comfort for the driver and front passenger.

Unfortunately, with the Limited X trim level, ventilated seats are unavailable. Also, the controls for the heated seats are irritatingly integrated into the infotainment system display screen, so I used them less frequently than I otherwise might have.

Rear passengers were happy with their accommodations. The back seat cushion supplies plenty of thigh support, and there is enough shoulder space and legroom to accommodate two adults or three kids. In the Limited X, rear air conditioning vents and USB outlets further keep satisfaction levels high.

Climate Control System

Jeep locates the climate controls on the same panel as the primary audio controls and miscellaneous driving system controls. As a result, there is a whole mess of buttons and knobs within a small space, which means that you have to hunt for the temperature adjustment buttons, taking your eyes off of the road for too long a period of time.

As far as climate control effectiveness is concerned, a cold Southern California storm showed that the Jeep’s heating and defogging systems work rapidly and effectively. And the Pro Tech II package’s rain-sensing wipers came in quite handy.

Infotainment System

Jeep’s Uconnect infotainment system is a model of user friendliness, with modern graphics and intuitive layout and operation. Better yet, the 8.4-inch touchscreen is receptive to input, though with the Grand Cherokee’s sometimes bouncy ride, it’s easy to mistakenly activate features.

Dashboard knobs or handy buttons on the back of the steering wheel spokes control volume and tuning, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration is always a welcome addition to any vehicle.

Storage and Space

While the Grand Cherokee is considered a midsize SUV, its cargo area is sized more like a compact SUV. Behind the rear seats, you’ll find 36.3 cu.-ft. of volume. Fold them down, and you’ve got 68.3 cu.-ft. to work with.

You should be advised that the cargo area is curiously barren of thoughtful features that make life easier, such as rear seatback releases or storage bins of any kind. I did, however, like the power tailgate closing button, which is located low on the left side panel where it’s easy to use while heading to the driver’s door.

In the cabin, the glove box and center console storage bin are also on the small side. However, there is a covered tray located forward of the shifter, sizable door panel bins, and handy plastic grocery sack hooks on the front seatbacks.

Visibility and Safety

The Grand Cherokee’s windshield pillars are thick, requiring you to peer around them to gauge opposing traffic as you turn right. But the view over the hood is great, and when loaded up with safety systems it is easy to see out and maneuver this Jeep.

My test vehicle had the Pro Tech II option package that included parallel and perpendicular parking assist, adaptive cruise control with full stop capability, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning with lane keeping assist.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awards the 2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4WD an overall rating of 5 stars for crash safety, while the 2WD model receives a 4-star assessment due to its 3-star rollover resistance rating.

Meanwhile, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) deems the Grand Cherokee’s protection level "Marginal" in the small-overlap frontal-impact test for the driver’s side, and “Poor” for the front passenger’s side.

Engine/Transmission

Motivating the Grand Cherokee Limited X, a 3.6-liter V6 engine makes 295-horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. This tried-and-true engine delivers a satisfying exhaust note and has no trouble moving the 4,576-lb. Grand Cherokee. Nevertheless, compared to the V8 engines available in other trim levels, the V6 is somewhat uninspiring.

Towing capacity with this V6 engine is an impressive 6,200 lbs. when the Grand Cherokee is properly equipped. If that doesn’t meet your needs, you’ll need to pony up with one of the V8s, which bump the towing limit to 7,200 lbs. I’ve always felt that the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is better suited to the Grand Cherokee’s personality, anyway.

Transferring power to the Jeep’s optional 4WD system, the eight-speed automatic transmission makes swift work of gear changes, and holds a lower gear when appropriate in order to make the most of the V6 engine’s might.

Fuel Economy

The EPA says that you should average 21 mpg (18 city/25 highway) in the Grand Cherokee Limited X with 4WD. I got 19.4 mpg on my test loop, which isn’t bad. But Grand Cherokee owners decisively cite fuel economy as their least favorite aspect of ownership, and it’s not too hard to see why. After all, the V8s are even thirstier than the standard V6.

Driving Dynamics

Drive a Grand Cherokee on the daily, and its truck-tough underpinnings shrug off America’s crumbling infrastructure.

In terms of ride, this Jeep wafts and wobbles its way down the road, a performance punctuated by bouts of pummeling stiffness. As tested, the Grand Cherokee is anything but smooth, and its suspension tuning doesn’t do it any favors on curvy roads, either, where the test vehicle’s 20-inch wheels and tires couldn’t make up for shortcomings.

I didn’t have the occasion to take this test vehicle off-road, but forays on unpaved paths with previous Grand Cherokees assured me of the Quadra-Trac II 4WD system’s talents. This is one of several 4WD systems offered for the Grand Cherokee, and its ability to send 100% of engine power to the front or rear axle as conditions merit is helpful. The Selec-Terrain off-road traction control system further addresses conditions at the surface, adjusting powertrain response accordingly.

Long brake pedal travel takes some getting used to, but pedal feel is otherwise firm. As is common with vehicles designed for serious off-roading, the steering is heavy and slow, but direct. Overall, the Grand Cherokee feels and drives like the trucks of yore, and for the nostalgic among us, this Jeep’s driving dynamics increase their affection for its old-school charms.

Final Impressions

A decade is an eternity in the automotive business, and the Grand Cherokee is overdue for a redesign. Despite this status, the wide array of powertrains and trim levels, its brawny exterior styling, and its capability off of the pavement still makes it a popular choice.

But for those who can’t abide by its poor showing in crash tests, or its busy and bumpy ride quality, the abundance of published spy photos of the next-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee suggests that we will see an all-new, redesigned version of this SUV for the 2021 model year.

It’s about time.

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