Jeep introduced the fifth generation of its two-row Grand Cherokee SUV last summer, and now there’s an electrified version. The 4xe is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), which means you can plug it in at home or in a Level 2 charger on the go, and it will run solely on electricity. But not for long. Its electric range is about 40 kilometres.
Most plug-in hybrids don’t travel far on electricity alone. They’re designed to cover around the distance of an average commute and the best of them don’t go much farther than 60 kilometres. Mostly, their electricity is intended to supplement the power of the gasoline engine.
For the Grand Cherokee 4xe, that short electric range will cost you plenty – as much as an extra $22,650, which is the difference between the most basic Laredo version of the V6-powered Jeep, and the least-costly Limited version of the plug-in.
In practice, the true difference in price is about $10,000 between equivalently optioned models, because the basic plug-in is far better equipped than the run-of-the-mill gas version. Even so, it’s a steep premium.
The electrification system is basically the same as Jeep introduced last year on the Wrangler, with popular success. It’s relatively slow to charge, with a maximum rate of 7.2 kilowatts, but its smaller capacity means it should fully replenish if it’s plugged into a regular 110-volt socket overnight.
The battery may not take you far, but the electrification still adds at least 345 kilograms to the overall weight compared with the V6 – about the same as having an adult in each of the five seats. It makes up for the weight by using its two electric motors to reduce overall fuel consumption, though it’s probably not going to save you $10,000 in gasoline over its lifetime.
There are two true benefits to having that heavy battery and extra motors to help power your wheels. The main one is the extra power they deliver: The combined strength of the 4xe is 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque, compared to 293 and 260, respectively, for the regular V6. It’s even more than the V8′s 357 horsepower and 390 lb-ft, though the 4xe has the lowest towing capacity, at a maximum 2,720 kilograms (6,000 pounds).
At cruising speed, the extra power is not really apparent, but it’s there when you put your foot down. The 4xe can be set to automatically determine the best driving combination of engine and motors, or you can switch to just one or the other.
I fooled around with many combinations, including charging the battery while driving and adjusting the regenerative power of the brakes and setting five different terrain modes, and ultimately just left the Jeep to do everything automatically. I’m sure it was more efficient when left to itself.
The other main benefit is the reduction in fuel consumption and harmful emissions, despite the additional capital cost. It means you can drive in the city and out on the trail without emitting any greenhouse gases, although there’s an argument that the mining of the battery’s raw materials may outweigh that. And of course, in those provinces that allow PHEVs to drive in the high-occupancy vehicle lanes, it can get you ahead on the daily commute.
Base price/as tested: $75,195/$89,295, plus $2,095 freight and pre-inspection delivery
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged i4, plus twin electric motors and 17.3 kilowatt-hour battery
Transmission/drive: Eight-speed automatic/all-wheel drive
Fuel consumption (litres equivalent per 100 kilometres): 4.1 claimed
Alternatives: Toyota RAV4 Prime, Kia Sorento PHEV, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, Jeep Wrangler PHEV, Jeep Grand Cherokee (V6 or V8)
There’s not much to differentiate the 4xe from the rest of the Grand Cherokee stable, aside from the badges and the additional filler cap over the charging socket. The Jeep’s redesign last year was cosmetically mild, making the seven-bar grille and lights more shallow, but mostly just adding space for both passengers and cargo.
The 4xe can only be bought in upscale versions, which means standard leather seats, heated in the first two rows, a dual-pane sunroof and pleasant ambient lighting. There’s a simple round transmission knob in the centre console, which removes the lever and adds more space to the area between the driver and front passenger.
The Grand Cherokee is intended as a premium vehicle, and its more expensive versions live up to the billing, including effective massage seats with thick, quilted leather.
The Grand Cherokee 4xe is comfortable on the road and extremely capable on the trail. All versions have a two-speed transfer case, and I also drove the Trailhawk edition, which has a limited-slip differential, air suspension, and a sway bar for better stability on the highway that disconnects for driving over boulders and through deep holes when off road.
I took it over some seemingly impossible terrain with little difficulty. It can even send 100 per cent of its torque to just one of the rear wheels if needed, which it did for me a few times without incident on some very steep and slippery rocks. The transition from electric to gasoline was occasionally a bit jerky, but I think if I’d just left the settings on “automatic,” it would have been much less perceptible.
When the 17.3-kilowatt-hour battery is drained, there’s still enough charge left to help the gasoline engine when needed. Even so, once I’d used up all the accessible power left in the battery, my fuel consumption averaged 12.6 litres per 100 kilometres at highway speeds, which is not too bad for such a large and heavy vehicle. Jeep claims the fuel consumption of just the gas engine will be 10 litres per 100 kilometres in mixed driving conditions.
The Grand Cherokee offers pretty much everything that’s possible, though you’ll have to pay extra for some of the driver’s assistance features, such as automatic parking and intersection collision avoidance.
One of the clever features that’s standard on the 4xe is a dedicated control display screen for the front-seat passenger, which cannot be seen by the driver. It includes distracting views from the many cameras while driving, and a separate navigation screen where a route can be decided and then moved over to the main centre screen. It’s neat, but it held my interest as a passenger for only a few minutes at the start of the drive.
There’s no reduction in cargo space to accommodate the large battery, though the gas tank is 15 litres smaller. The new Grand Cherokee bumped up its passenger and luggage spaces from the previous generation, creating 1,067 litres behind the second-row seats and 2,005 litres when those seats are laid flat.
This is not a three-row SUV, however. If you need more seats, you’ll need the longer-wheelbase Grand Cherokee L, and it does not offer an electrified edition. At least, not yet.
The Grand Cherokee 4xe is a true, capable Jeep, and now more premium than ever. Whether you really need the electrification is up to you and your daily driving habits. It adds power, but don’t expect the electric motors to save you any money in the long run.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.