By Scott Newman, carsales.com.au
The new age of electrification is redefining some of the most iconic automotive brands, including America’s off-road specialist Jeep.
You only have to look at the Grand Cherokee range to see how rapidly the car industry is evolving. In its previous generation, the hero of the range was the Trackhawk variant, a supercar on stilts powered by a bonkers 6.2-litre supercharged V8 that produced 522kW and guzzled petrol like Jim Belushi on a bender.
Now, less than a decade later, the flag bearer for the all-new, fifth-generation Grand Cherokee range is a frugal plug-in hybrid with a fuel-sipping 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder supported by an electric motor and battery pack.
Oh, how times have changed!
But Jeep claims the 2023 Grand Cherokee Summit Reserve 4xe (to give it the full name) is more capable and versatile than ever.
But does that mean it’s the one to buy? Let’s find out.
The Grand Cherokee 4xe plug-in hybrid is exclusively reserved for the top-spec Summit Reserve model grade, which makes it the most expensive variant at $129,950 plus on-road costs. That equates to a $31,450 premium over the five-seat Overland and costs $10,500 more than the standard seven-seat Summit Reserve L with a conventional V6 engine.
It also positions it against some heavy hitters available with a plug-in powertrain, such as the Range Rover Velar (from $131,475), the Volvo XC90 Recharge (from $125,990), the BMW X5 xDrive 50e (from $149,900) and the recently-released Mazda CX-90 Azami Takumi (from $100,935).
Possibly the 4xe’s main competition, however, in both price and positioning, is the forthcoming Land Rover Defender PHEV, which starts from $126,275 plus ORCs.
The 2023 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe is packed to the gunnels with equipment, including 16-way adjustable quilted front seats (with massage), heated and ventilated front and rear seats, quad-zone climate control, a panoramic sunroof, 21-inch wheels and auto LED headlights.
Not everything is included, however, with white paint the only one of the seven colours not to attract a $1750 surcharge.
An optional $5500 Advanced Technology Group also groups together a head-up display, wireless phone charging, night vision and a front passenger display. The latter two you could quite easily go without, but charging extra for the former is a little rough at the price point.
Jeep offers a five-year/100,000km warranty, though the battery is covered for eight years/160,000km, and servicing will cost you $399 a pop for the first five visits, required every 12 months or 12,000km.
Each time you complete a scheduled service at an authorised dealer, Jeep will extend your free roadside assistance for another 12 months for the life of the vehicle.
One of the highlights of the new-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee is the quality and design of its cabin, especially in the range-topping Summit Reserve model grade.
It is a massive step-up from the previous model, and offers a genuine sense of luxury thanks to its mixture of quilted leather trim, real wood panels, real metal for the knobs and switches, all the toys.. and there’s acres of space, too.
It makes for a great family hauler as there’s acres of room in the second row and a super-sized boot as well, so there should be few issues fitting in all the gear on a holiday.
Unfortunately, while there are noticeable improvements, the interior still falls short of established luxury car rivals with plenty of hard, scratchy plastic panels, uneven gaps in the wood panelling and some bits feel flimsy and cheap.
As mentioned earlier, this is a car that goes up against the likes of the Range Rover Velar, Volvo XC90 and BMW X5 and it doesn’t stack up.
If you want to drive a mobile cineplex, then opt for the Advanced Technology pack in the Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe as it comes with five (yep, five) digital screens.
The primary one is a 10.1-inch infotainment display in the centre of the dash with wireless smartphone mirroring, digital radio, voice control and embedded sat-nav. It plays through a 19-speaker McIntosh stereo.
Next up is the 10.25-inch digital instrument display which can give you all the information you could possibly want and more… though navigating through the various menus and finding the info you’re after will take a bit of practice.
Then there’s the head-up display, though it isn’t immediately obvious how to turn it on, as well as the digital rear-view mirror, which uses a camera feed in case the regular mirror is obstructed by luggage or the rear passengers, and the front passenger display, which allows them to run the navigation or audio or even watch video via HDMI input.
The 4xe features Jeep Uconnect services which, like most of these connected service systems, enables you to control various vehicle functions via your mobile phone or smart watch, as well as finding its location, sending navigation instructions and more.
Star of the show
The 4xe model has excellent safety credentials and is the only five-seat Jeep Grand Cherokee to score a five-star ANCAP rating.
Occupants are protected by eight airbags and the 4xe features a comprehensive suite of active safety systems including active cruise, autonomous emergency braking, lane assist and speed assist, as well as a 360-degree camera and automated parking assistance.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe is the brand’s first plug-in hybrid SUV and, as such, it replaces the ageing 3.6-litre V6 in the regular models with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that, alone, produces healthy outputs of 200kW and 400Nm.
However, it also features a 100kW/265Nm electric motor with a 17.3kWh battery pack that boosts the maximum combined outputs to 280kW and 637Nm.
All four wheels are driven through Jeep’s Quadra-Trac II system and the gearbox is an eight-speed automatic.
Fuel for thought
Jeep claims the battery pack provides up to 52km of electric-only driving range in the 2023 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe.
Claimed fuel consumption is a fictional 3.2L/100km, a number that’s a quirk of the testing procedure rather than a realistic figure, which we’ll come to later.
While the Grand Cherokee 4xe doesn’t pretend to be a muscle car replacement for the Trackhawk, it does resolve one of the biggest shortcomings in the regular models thanks to its significant increase in torque.
The 4xe’s petrol four alone is an improvement thanks to its much stronger low- and mid-range grunt, and when the electric motor chimes in this 2.6-tonne SUV can accelerate quite briskly.
All in all, the combined powertrain delivers effortless performance but, while it is both more powerful and fuel-efficient than the V6, the efficiency gains are not as significant as the official number suggests.
The press launch route covered around 200km of primarily country back roads with a smattering of urban, freeway and twisty sections thrown in, which resulted in a displayed fuel consumption of 11.7L/100km.
Given almost 70km of those were completed with electric power – starting with a full battery as well as energy regenerated during the drive – the engine is working very hard when it is active, to the tune of almost 18L/100km.
In its defence, a plug-in hybrid will do its best work in an urban environment, completing the school run and commute on electric power alone and with plenty of opportunity for regenerating power under braking or sitting in traffic with the engine off.
However, it also illustrates that over long distances when the battery assistance quickly runs out the Grand Cherokee 4xe is going to drink fuel – and a lot of it. And that’s without putting a caravan or boat on the back.
That aside, the 4xe retains the Grand Cherokee’s generally pleasant road manners.
By the standards of off-road-capable SUVs, it handles and steers well. And while the 4xe floats over most bumps nicely, there’s a brittle, unsettled edge to the ride on poorer surfaces which is presumably down to the larger 21-inch rims.
Off the beaten track
Like every Jeep model, even one designed primarily for the urban jungle, the Grand Cherokee 4xe carries all the off-roading hallmarks the brand is renowned for.
The obvious question to ask is who will go bush-bashing in a $130,000-plus SUV on 21-inch wheels? Jeep’s response is that 90 per cent of its buyers like to know they can, even if they don’t.
That might sound slightly strange but it’s a valid point. Just as Porsche and Ferrari and McLaren owners pay vast sums of money for massive power and racetrack prowess they may never use, Jeep says its customers are happy to have the knowledge that the car can climb mountains even if it never goes further off-road than the local footy oval.
As such, the 4xe has Jeep’s Quadra-Trac II system with low range and a locked centre diff, as well as air suspension to provide up to 276mm of ground clearance, which significantly improves approach, departure and breakover angles.
The off-road route provided on the launch wasn’t in the least bit taxing, though completing it on electricity alone was novel. And for all its smarts and multiple drive modes, the 4xe is only going to go as far as its road-spec tyres allow it.
Maximum towing capacity in the 2023 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe has decreased slightly from the V6’s 2813kg to 2722kg.
In both cases, that is significantly lower than the 3500kg its predecessor was capable of, which will limit its popularity among caravaners. But perhaps a bigger issue is the 4xe’s 3110kg gross vehicle mass (GVM) and 5442kg gross combined mass (GCM).
Let’s say you need to tow 2700kg. If you subtract that and the 4xe’s 2536kg mass from the GCM you’re left with just 206kg for passengers and luggage. Less, in fact, as that 2536kg figure is a tare weight, not kerb. Realistically, 2500kg is going to be your maximum.
The other issue is that of fuel consumption. While this is somewhat theoretical as we didn’t have a chance to tow at the launch, our unladen experience suggests the battery assistance is going to run out extremely quickly, giving the 2.0-litre turbo four a hell of a job to do.
Should I buy a Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe?
It’s difficult to pin down exactly what the 2023 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe is good at.
The brand is right in that no other vehicle currently offers the same combination of hybrid efficiency, towing capability and off-road prowess – at least until the Land Rover Defender PHEV arrives. But that’s a very narrow window to look through.
As a suburban family runabout (and used properly with regular charging), the hybrid drivetrain offers tangible performance and efficiency benefits. But when towing or on the open road, it seems there’s little improvement in terms of fuel economy over the V6, though the turbo engine’s torque will certainly make life easier.
That said, a diesel Defender will tow far more with greater ease and less fuel.
Similarly, if you have your heart set on an efficient premium SUV, then its rivals are better to drive, have better quality interiors, are more comfortable and come with similar or better performance and efficiency. And seven seats, in a couple of cases.
On paper, plug-in hybrid technology expands the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s skillset but in reality it seems to pose more questions than it answers.
2023 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe at a glance:
Editor’s Rating: 6.8/10
$129,950 (plus on-road costs)
2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol-electric
Five-star (ANCAP 2022)
Disclaimer: Images supplied by Stellantis Australia.
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