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SUV Review: 2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee

The 2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit ticks all the boxes for drivers in the market for a comfy urban SUV with some serious off-roading bona fides. – Andrew McCredie / Postmedia News
The 2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit ticks all the boxes for drivers in the market for a comfy urban SUV with some serious off-roading bona fides. – Andrew McCredie

ANDREW MCCREDIE

If the Grand Cherokee lineup were the Spice Girls, this vehicle would be Posh Spice. The upmarket Summit trim is one of seven available for 2020, two more than there are ‘Girls,’ and rounds out a model line that includes some other Spice-parallels (Baby Spice would be the base Laredo trim; Sporty Spicy the SRT; and while there is no Scary Spice, the ridiculous, 707-horsepower Trackhawk is that and more).

Like the girl-power pumping quartet, the Grand Cherokee has marched to its own drummer. When it debuted as the larger sibling to the Cherokee nearly three decades ago, it utilized a monocoque, or unibody, construction, unlike the SUV competition of the early ’80s that featured body-on-frame designs. Unibody design dominates the utility market today, as it is safer, more fuel efficient and easier to design and build. And with their lower centre of gravity, unibody SUVs handle better and provide a smoother ride. Translation: they tick that SUV Holy Grail box: they drive like a car. And for a vehicle like the Summit, which comes with the promise of refined luxury with a rugged streak, that’s just the ticket.

After a week in the Laguna leather driver’s bucket seat, I can confirm that this Grand Cherokee ticks all the boxes if you’re in the market for a comfy urban SUV with some serious off-roading bona fides. Of course, it’s highly unlikely you’ll come across a Summit on, well, a summit, as that kind of excursion is more the domain of the Overland (Muddy Spice?), or, of course, Jeep stablemate Wrangler models. That’s not to say this Summit couldn’t reach those lofty, logging-road accessible peaks. Like all Grand Cherokees, its 4x4 underpinnings are very real, from Quadra-Drive II with a rear Electronic Limited Slip Differential, Selec-Speed Control with hill-ascent and hill-descent control and the Selec-Terrain traction management system. That latter feature is controlled with a centre console dial offering up five drive modes: snow, sand, auto, mud and rock. Four adjacent buttons control hill descent, 4WD low gearing and the Quadra-Lift air suspension system. One last unique point about the vehicle’s off-road personality is that hill descent control works in a reverse gear.

With its lower centre of gravity, the Summit handles better and offers a smoother ride.— Andrew McCredie
With its lower centre of gravity, the Summit handles better and offers a smoother ride.— Andrew McCredie

 

That all said, it’s not really the good ol’ boy utility that will attract would-be buyers to this vehicle: it’s the cabin’s creature comforts, the somewhat elegant exterior (for an SUV, anyway), and its drive-ability.

There’s more than enough power, thanks to the 295-horsepower 3.6-litre V6 engine, and its 260 lbs.-ft torque provides a tow rating of 6,200 pounds (2812 kg). Certainly not as robust as the best-in-class 7,200 pounds (3266 kg) the available 5.7-litre V8 boasts, but for most applications more than up to the towing task. That power is transferred to the four wheels through a precise and smooth TorqueFlite eight-speed transmission, a very impressive gearbox that gives the SUV quick acceleration, but more importantly, a luxury car-like level of ride quality. The air suspension system certainly contributes to that sedan-sense of handling, particularly at the lowest setting. As does the slippery shape of the Grand Cherokee.

Having driven a number of luxury crossovers and sport-utes in the past few months, I was relieved to discover a good old gearshift in the centre console. You know, a proper one with a tactile feel of clicking into the selected gear, topped off with a nice leather knob. Competitors have abandoned these tried-and-true shifters in favour of push-buttons, shift by steering wheel stalk or odd little shifters that require you to check the digital readout to see if the gear you want is actually engaged.

The 2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit’s interior boasts creature comforts.– Andrew McCredie
The 2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit’s interior boasts creature comforts.– Andrew McCredie

 

Where the Summit really distinguishes itself from the other Grand Cherokee trim levels is in the cabin, with a sense of refinement and style that really ups the value-for-money quotient here. The dash design is clean and flows nicely from door to door, and the dominant 8.4-inch touchscreen is not just intuitive to use, but easy to read in any lighting conditions, something that can’t be said for some of the competition. I also like the old-school climate controls located under the screen, redundant in a sense as you can also control the climate via the Uconnect screen, but for me a more preferable way to adjust temperature and the fan, particularly when on the fly.

My already very well-appointed Summit had three add-on options packages. I loved the so-called Signature leather-wrapped interior package and the 20-inch wheels that came with the Premium Plus appearance package, but wasn’t a big fan of the exterior platinum chrome accents that are part of that latter package. And in this day and age of everyone having their own screen – be it phone or tablet – and their own catered tastes, the Rear DVD entertainment centre seemed a waste of money. And a Blu-ray player?

Where some of the competition betters the Grand Cherokee is in the storage department, as its lower profile does compromise rear cargo space. Rear seat room, however, is very good both from a leg and head perspective. Fuel economy is decent. The number that does stand out is the base price of just over $70K, which brings some of the performance CUVs/SUVs from German luxury brands into the conversation.

Rear seat room in the Grand Cherokee Summit is very good, both from a leg and head perspective. – Andrew McCredie
Rear seat room in the Grand Cherokee Summit is very good, both from a leg and head perspective. – Andrew McCredie

 

Finally, what’s somewhat remarkable about the 2020 Grand Cherokee, and serves as testament to the forward thinking of the design and engineering teams responsible for it, is that 2020 models are nine years into their fourth generation. True, there have been exterior and interior tweaks, and the addition of those aforementioned trims, but at its core is the same design DNA as that original one way back in 1983.

If success is measured through the test of time, the Grand Cherokee is a winner.

 

Copyright PostMedia Network, 2020

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