In the rental car world, it’s not unexpected to see a nearly-new car (in terms of model year) with an amazing amount of miles. I remember renting a Hyundai Sonata a few years back that had over 65,000 miles on it before it had its first birthday. Note: That thing was ROUGH. Like one year old rental car with 65,000 miles rough… However, it’s very rare that you find a vehicle from the previous model year with very few miles. That’s what happened to me this week.
Before we get to that, let’s go ahead and remind you of the “What Car Did I Rent?” game we played yesterday. Here are your three clues:
- American Manufacturer (production on this specific vehicle is also within the US)
- Mid-size SUV (according to Wikipedia)
- Was last fully redesigned in 2010 (as a 2011 model) and was very well received by the press and consumers (won a bunch of awards and sold well). It had a slight tweak in its design for the 2014 model year and hasn’t really been touched since then. It has also been exported around the world, much like it’s namesake which brought freedom around the world during WWII…
Ok, so that was an easy one right? It’s obviously a Jeep Grand Cherokee. More specifically, this week I had a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4x4. And when I picked it up at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport rental counter, it only had 5,500 miles on it. That wouldn’t be too noteworthy if it was a 2016 model but considering it is more than a year old, I’m kind of impressed it hasn’t been beat to hell by the typical renting public… yet.
I’ve had a few of these latest Grand Cherokees and actually like them quite a bit. The one this week had the 3.6L Pentastar V6 mated to an eight speed automatic and the Quadra-Trac II two speed 4x4 system. It didn’t have the air suspension (which would then make it a Quadra-Drive II for some reason) but did have hill descent control, a few extra skid plates, and a terrain selection system. It was also pretty optioned out on the inside with the latest Uconnect with navigation, panoramic sunroof, decent sound system, automatic wipers and a bunch of other stuff. MSRP for this piece of American Steel came out to $45,605.
So, here are my thoughts:
In the Limited trim, the interior is actually a really nice place to be. It’s surely not the top of the line Summit model but for a mid-level luxury version it is actually quite nice. The seats are comfortable, the seat heating and air conditioning worked great, and the stereo bumped quite well. I personally think that Uconnect is the best American in car infotainment system currently on the market (light years ahead of Sync and a bit more intuitive and faster than GM’s MyLink or CUE). The latest version on the 8.4’’ screen in the center of the Jeep worked well, was quick, and didn’t cause me any major problems over the course of the week. It’s not perfect but i think it’s come a long way since the version I have in my 2011 Ram (oh man how I wish I could do a software upgrade). The one thing that holds it back in my book is that they don’t have buttons for the seat heaters and air conditioning. I love that they have physical knobs and buttons for the radio and climate control but I find it annoying to have to go through a touchscreen to get my butt hot or cold. I will say that some of the switchgear isn’t great and would look very out of place in the top of the line model but it’s a major step in the right direction for the post-bankruptcy (Fiat) Chrysler corporation.
I think the exterior also looks pretty good but mainly on the higher end models. I can’t stand the look of the bland-ass Laredo and it’s small steel wheels and plastic bumpers but I really appreciate the details and style of the Summit and the SRT versions. I also like how Jeep still stays true to its roots and offers the latest and greatest off-road gizmos this side of a Land Rover for reasonable money. Sure, 98.7% of the people buying these will never take it out of Auto but I do like how Jeep continues to give us that option.
My Grand Cherokee had the lowest level engine available - the venerable 3.6L Pentastar that Fiat Chrysler seems to be putting in everything it can these days. It’s infinitely better than the 3.7L V6 it replaced and just about as good as the old 4.7L V8 of a few years ago. In this configuration it has a solid 290 hp and 260 torques which is more than enough for the vast majority of consumers. Optional engines include the awesome 5.7L Hemi (with 360 hp/390 torques), the 3.0L EcoDiesel (240 hp/420 torques), and the super sweet 6.4L Hemi (475 hp/ 470 torques) in the SRT version. If that last one wasn’t enough for you, they are going to be Hellcat-ing the GC with the stupidly amazing supercharged 6.2L V8 that should produce around 707 hp for the 2017 model year.
At a curb weight of around 5,000 pounds, the 3.6 is slightly underpowered for the GC for my tastes. Admittedly I like as much power as I can get out of vehicles but I did feel that the Pentastar was struggling a bit too much during some hard acceleration and passing attempts. The eight speed automatic is fantastic (for a Chrysler) and surely helps to make the most out of what power is available but I would really have appreciated the 5.7 (and obviously the 6.4). I haven’t driven a new EcoDiesel yet but I’d love to feel that wave of torque in a vehicle like this. The Pentastar has a decent torque band in the middle of the rev range (where you need it) but could obviously use more.
Other little qualms that I have are that the drivers seat doesn’t go back far enough for my long legs. For those of you that have read my previous posts, I’m a tall guy (6’6’’) and although I have enough headroom (thanks to the seat going low enough), I could use another inch or two of seat travel back and forth to be 100% happy. As you can see in the below photo, the seat behind me is just about useless as is and having a few extra inches wouldn’t change that too drastically. I think a bit of this could be solved with power adjustable pedals (which the Limited doesn’t have) but that’s a reasonably small niggle that only impacts a small fraction of the population.
The other big thing that kind of bugs me is the transmission software calibrations. I love how it has a sport setting which holds gears longer and fits my driving style much better than the standard setting. However, that sport setting is quite jerky at slow speeds and a bit too aggressive when stuck in traffic. I’m in Seattle this week which means I’m constantly stuck in traffic so this is quite annoying. It is much better when I go back into the standard Drive setting but I always forget to put it back into Sport once I get going. Once again, this isn’t a huge deal to the vast majority of people, and the fact it has a Sport setting is awesome but the calibration could use a little tweaking to make it perfect.
I don’t have too many big issues with the Grand Cherokee overall. It’s not a Porsche or Mercedes or BMW but for an American SUV it’s reasonably priced and has no less than 8 different trim levels that span the needs/budget of just about any buyer. I believe the Limited is right in the middle of that sweet spot between price and equipment whereas the Laredo is too much for not enough and the Overland/Summit would be difficult to justify ($~60k+) for a non-SRT. To be fair, I haven’t driven a new Overland or Summit but have been in a 2011 Overland and the interior wasn’t that much better in my opinion.
All in all, it’s a decent vehicle and with a bigger engine it would be quite a bit more fun and capable to drive. The latest mechanical updates are spot on and moving in the right direction but it does fall a little short against the imported mid-size SUVs in terms of fit and finish and the little details. When you take into account the price discrepancy between the imports and the GC (and equivalent features) the gap significantly narrows and might just tip in the American’s favor.
BaronBoaty (not his real name or title) is a consultant that lives in Denver but travels all over the country for work. He travels nearly every week and therefore spends a considerable amount of time in rental cars. Since he’s a car guy (and plane guy and motorcycle guy) and he occasionally writes about the cars that he rents and life in general. Recently he has also started recording YouTube reviews of certain cars. You can find him on Twitter, YouTube, his blog, and via email if you want to talk.