Born out of necessity during the world wars, the original Jeep was hand-built in just seven weeks with a lot of hard work and the genius determination of automobile engineers.
Even as far back as World War I, the U.S. Army was urgently looking for an all-terrain reconnaissance vehicle that was fast but yet lightweight. In World War II, as the axis of powers began to score victories in Europe and Northern Africa, rapid development of this vehicle was called upon even more urgently. So urgently in fact, that the US Army put out a call to auto manufacturers requesting a running prototype in just 49 days.
The end result was the Jeep, made of a simple but strong chassis, four wheels, four wheel drive, and a rough and tough engine that was durable enough to allow a sustained low speed without overheating the engine. Because the original Jeep often had to be shipped in crates, there was also a wheelbase requirement of not more than 80 inches, but yet the vehicle had to be able to carry a payload of 600 pounds.
Willys-Overland was eventually granted the Army contract. But because the War Department required such a large number of vehicles to be manufactured in a relatively short time, Willys also allowed Ford to help with manufacturing of the vehicles using Willy’s build specifications.
During World War II, Willys and Ford filled more than 700,000 orders, with Wills-Overland supplying more than 330,000 units.
Born out of necessity, during and after the war, Jeeps were recognized and loved by soldiers and civilians alike, thanks to the “do anything” and “go anywhere” nature of the vehicle. And the rest, as they say, is history. Decades later, there is still trust and respect commanded by the Jeep brand name.
Back to the Future
Built on more than 70 years of legendary heritage, Jeep vehicles have had to adapt to the times. These days, Jeep is now a division of Chrysler (aka FCA) with a full line-up of vehicles. The company promises that all Jeeps are still able to provide owners with a sense of security to handle any journey with confidence.
The 5-seater Grand Cherokee is the flagship vehicle in Jeep’s present day line-up. Gasoline engine choices include the 3.6-litre Pentastar V6, the 5.7-litre Hemi V8, as well as a 6.4-litre V8 in hot-road SRT trim.
Although diesels have had a bad rep recently, I am still a huge fan of them. My test Grand Cherokee was fitted with FCA’s excellent 3.0-litre EcoDiesel turbocharged V6, which gives it its best-in-class fuel efficiency. This sweet mill of a turbodiesel engine produces 240 horsepower and a massive 420 lb-ft of torque, but yet delivers family car-like fuel economy. Basic specs for the 60 degree six-cylinder engine include common-rail direct injection, a 15.5:1 compression ratio, and downstream emissions treatment via urea.
With so much usable torque on hand at low revs, it begs the question as to who would actually want the much more fuel hungry gasoline V8.
More power and fuel economy for 2016
Other efficiency improvements include electric power steering with customizable settings, decreased tire rolling resistance, and weight reductions with revised aluminium suspension components.
All Jeep Grand Cherokees are mated to a ZF-designed eight-speed automatic transmission. A robust and durable unit, I like it quite a lot as it shifts relatively quickly and smoothly.
A fussy electronic shifter is part of the deal though, as it looks like a traditional gearshift lever but doesn’t operate as such. It can be tricky to get just the gear that you want, especially when you’re not used to it.
Still, it is a lot more intuitive to the novice driver than the electronic shifters found in the most recent Mercedes-Benz or BMW vehicles.
When fitted with the the optional two speed low range transfer case, the low crawl ratio of 44.1:1 really aids in climbing over, or through, tough obstacles.
Ride and Drive
The original Jeeps were available with bolt-on snowploughs and blowers, but these days, customers are more interested in the latest in safety and conveniences.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee was extensively updated in the 2014 model year inside and out. For 2016, all trim levels of the Grand Cherokee have been upgraded for an even more premium look while simultaneously making each trim level readily identifiable at a glance.
Standard on Overland and Summit trim levels are Bi-Xenon HID headlamps that are outlined with signature LED running lamps. All Grand Cherokee include front and rear LED lighting for a uniquely Jeep signature, day or night, even from a great distance.
The optional 3.0L turbodiesel V6 found in my test vehicle was quiet, efficient, and had excellent pull for passing manoeuvres in day-to-day driving.
Combined with the optional Quadra-Lift air suspension system in Aero mode (lowered 0.6 inches from the Normal Ride Height), I consistently saw impressively low highway fuel consumption figures of around 8.5 to 9L/100 kms.
Quadra-Lift features five height settings for optimum ride performance, and is able to add up to 3.8 inches of vehicle lift using the driver controlled four-corner air springs. I was impressed with Grand Cherokee’s air-cushioned, premium feeling ride that one would associate more with a European luxury sedan.
Perhaps the only downside is that while there are two off-road modes that can provide a maximum of 10.4 inches of ground clearance and up to 20 inches of water fording depth, there is no selectable sport suspension mode to firm up the ride on tarmac, where the Grand Cherokee is likely to spend most of its life.
While Aero mode does to lower the vehicle’s centre of gravity by a further 0.6 inches from the 8.2 inch normal ride height, the Grand Cherokee’s suspension tuning feels a bit soft and cushy for spirited driving on windy roads.
For 2016, the Grand Cherokee continues to be available with four available 4×4 systems. My Overland model was kitted out with Jeep’s most sophisticated system, Quadra-Drive II, with a 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio and an electronic limited-slip rear differential. Quadra-Drive II is also able to anticipate low traction and adjust in order to proactively limited or eliminates slip.
The award-winning interior of the Grand Cherokee is clearly one of the most well-crafted cabins in the segment. For 2016, Chrysler’s excellent UConnect system carries on.
The big 8.4-inch touchscreen is paired up with traditional knobs and buttons, making it much easier to use than many other similar infotainment systems on the market. Controls for radio and climate are found below the screen and have easily identifiable knobs and buttons.
For 2016, Jeep has also added Apple iPhone integration and Siri Eyes Free functionality. Using the voice button on the steering wheel, drivers can speak natural language voice commands to send text messages, play music, access turn-by-turn directions, and much more.
Overland models have several premium touches such as standard Nappa leather seats, a stitched leather dash, and available open-pore wood.
There is a distinct touch of modern luxury that is highlighted especially well at night, thanks to the ambient lighting through the cabin. Even the rear footwells and rear door pockets are softly illuminated.
For added passenger comfort, Jeep’s rear seats recline by 12 degrees. There is also a 12 degree forward angle for more cargo space, therefore allowing 24 degrees of total variation with the rear seatback.
Cargo volume behind the second row measures 36.3 cu ft. With the rear seats folded, there is a sizable 68.3 cu.ft of cargo capacity available.
To keep the spare tire clean during off-road manoeuvres, the compartment is housed under the rear cargo floor. It also includes removable dual storage bins for housing muddy gear or other items.
While the 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee may be a country mile apart in technical sophistication from its Willys-Overland great grandfather, it still carries on the great heritage of Jeep’s off-road capability.
With a comfortable interior, modern day on-road manners, sophisticated styling, and improved performance for today’s Jeep lovers, it’s no surprise that the Grand Cherokee is one of the most awarded SUVs in history.
If you’re looking for a 5 passenger SUV that can do it all, including going off-road further than the typical crossover SUV can manage (i.e. Toyota Highlander or Honda Pilot), be sure to add this Jeep on your shopping list!