Everybody’s going electric these days, it seems. Or at least, electrified. The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe is Jeep’s latest entry in the electrified-vehicle space (sorry for that bit of marketing speak, I must need more coffee), following, of course, the Wrangler 4xe.
Getting electrified might be good for the ‘ole CAFE standards – but is it worth the price premium? Will electrification change a vehicle’s character – and if so, for the better or for worse?
To find out, I headed deep to the heart of Texas last month.
(Full disclosure: Jeep flew me to Austin, Texas, and housed and fed me for two nights, so that I could drive the Grand Cherokee 4xe. I was offered a hat that I did not take. I also ate an inhuman amount of brisket.)0 seconds of 1 minute, 7 secondsVolume 0%
The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe is a plug-in hybrid promising up to 25 miles of all-electric range. Jeep also claims a 56 MPGe figure and a combined driving range of 470 miles. Off-roaders, take note – there is a Trailhawk trim available. Meaning you can boulder-bash in silence, should the battery be charged enough.
The powertrain here is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque paired to an electric starter/generator motor (44 hp, 39 lb-ft) and an integrated transmission traction motor (134 hp, 195 lb-ft). The total system output is 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque.
Here’s how it works: The motor-generator, which is connected to the crankshaft pulley via a belt, spins the engine for start-stop operation while also generating electricity for the battery pack. Meanwhile, a larger motor-generator replaces the torque converter and is mounted in the transmission. Two clutches are used to manage the power from the electric motor and the gas engine.
One clutch is mounted between the engine and the motor, and it’s open when the vehicle is in electric-only mode. This means there’s no mechanical linkage between the engine and motor when the clutch is open. Close the clutch and the torque from both the engine and electric motor move through the eight-speed automatic transmission to the wheels. Furthermore, a variable clutch mounted aft of the electric motor handles engagement with the transmission.
Jeep challenged us to see if we could make it from the event start to our first break stop on all-electric power, using a route that took us across urban and suburban sections of Austin. Somehow the vehicle I was assigned to had only 55 percent of charge to start with, so I had no chance. Still, I got further than I expected on all-EV power, crossing town in silence. I did eventually kick the Jeep into eSave mode to see if I could get a few miles of charge/EV range back, and I did, but not without some noise.
Backing up a sec: ESave is one of three driver-selectable powertrain modes. Hybrid mode obviously has the gas engine and electric motor working in tandem to give the best combo of on-road performance and fuel economy, while Electric mode, as the name implies, puts the Jeep into all-electric operation until either the battery is drained or the driver needs a boost (for passing, let’s say) from the gas engine. ESave puts the priority on the engine but uses regeneration to claw back a little EV range. Jeep folks on site told me the amount of regeneration tended to be better when the vehicle was in Sport mode.
Hybrid mode is also the default mode that the Jeep switches into when the battery is drained of charge.
On-road, this all made for a driving experience that was basically the same as in the gas-only GC, with the only noticeable change being the noise level from the powertrain. In EV mode, one could enjoy the silence (music references!), but the eSave mode triggered a noise response that bordered on annoying – though it must be said that I initially had the radio off for testing purposes. Crank the excellent available McIntosh stereo and you can solve most of the problem.
Most of the problem, that is – not only is eSave noisy but the switching back and forth between the engine and motor isn’t always smooth, especially at lower speeds. This lack of decorum tended to fade at higher speeds in hybrid mode.
The Jeep was a bit better behaved, in terms of noise, in hybrid mode, which is where most drivers will likely spend most of their time.
Otherwise, the experience is pretty standard Grand Cherokee. A comfortable on-road ride that never gets soft and handling that’s a bit better than one would expect from this type of vehicle though marred by body roll. Acceleration doesn’t seem to suffer much from the switch to the plug-in hybrid setup – you won’t blow the doors off of anyone, but you’ll have the punch you need for most passing and merging situations.
Outside of the noise issues presented by the powertrain, the cabin is mostly quiet, though some wind noise along the A-pillars intruded on the long highway slog from the off-road location back to Austin. To be fair, it was an unusually windy day during my test.
Inside, the cabin remains a nice place to be, with the aforementioned audio system being a highlight. The Uconnect 5 infotainment system generally works seamlessly, and once you’re familiar with the digital gauges, they’re easy to use, in addition to being pleasing to the eye. Most materials here feel right for the price, and the seats are all-day comfortable. Kudos to Jeep for integrating the infotainment screen into the dash/center stack instead of tacking it on.
It should be of little shock that the Trailhawk 4xe is just as capable off-road as an ICE Grand Cherokee, with the added benefit of wheelin’ in silence. Jeep put us on a fairly gnarly course, and the Trailhawks got around just fine.
When in four-wheel drive, all four wheels feed regenerative energy back to the powertrain. New for this year is a front-axle disconnect that effectively puts the vehicle in two-wheel drive when 4WD isn’t needed, thus reducing driveline drag. As before, Jeep gives the Grand Cherokee drive modes that can be selected to best match the terrain you’re traversing. Sway-bar disconnect is available, and water fording capability is up to 24 inches.
Trailhawks get the Quadra-Drive II 4WD system with a rear electronic limited-slip differential, two-speed transfer case, and 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio. The Grand Cherokee can tow up to 6,000 pounds.
Like with the gas version, I find myself charmed by the Grand Cherokee – right up until I look at the window sticker. I tested a gas Summit Reserve a few weeks before I headed to Texas, and I found myself getting more and more smitten until I saw the price tag and nearly fainted. The situation isn’t better with the 4xe – Jeep folks told us the price premium, depending on trim and features, was about $10K or $11K.
Yeesh. Look at this pricing sheet, for example. The list reads like this: base, $57,700; Trailhawk, $62,485; Overland, $65,760; Summit, $69,820; and Summit Reserve, $74,300. Those prices don’t include the $1,795 destination fee.
The Overland I drove back to the hotel from the off-road, for example, cost $75,430.
Yes, I know, the Grand Cherokee is feature-laden, no matter which powertrain you pick. Available features include wireless cell-phone charging, the McIntosh stereo, a passenger-side infotainment screen, massaging power front seat, Nappa leather, four-zone climate control, head-up display, off-road camera, an in-gauge map display, Uconnect 5 infotainment, satellite radio, navigation, Bluetooth, rear-seat DVD entertainment, Amazon Fire compatibility, LED fog lamps, LED head- and taillights, a power liftgate, heated front seats, heated and cooled front seats, heated second-row seats, heated steering wheel, air-suspension, 20-inch wheels, and 21-inch wheels.
Available advanced driver-aid systems include blind-spot monitoring, drowsy driver detection, full-speed collision warning with active braking and pedestrian/cyclist detection, intersection collision assist, night-vision camera with pedestrian and animal detection, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, rain brake support, rear cross-path detection, traffic-sign recognition, and trailer-sway control.
So, yeah, you get a lot, but the cash outlay here is a bit heart-stopping. It’s one thing to splurge on a luxury internal-combustion SUV, but another to pay a hefty premium for the ability to get up to 25 miles of EV range, as well as the overall 470 miles of driving range. While also getting a vehicle that suffers from occasional harsh operation from the powertrain.
Occasional harshness (good band name, btw) aside, the plug-in hybrid setup doesn’t hurt the Grand Cherokee much. But I’m not sure it’s enough of an improvement to justify the cost.
Electrification doesn’t much change this vehicle’s character, save for some smoothness issues. But it does change the price. Even with incentives (the Jeep is eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit), the premium is dear – and, aside from a small subset of buyers, it might not be worth it.
Someday, perhaps someday soon, Jeep will deliver a Grand Cherokee 4xe that offers more reason to pay a premium while also having a smoother operation. Until then, give me the gas.