In my 50-plus years of life, I don't recall ever getting a Jeep for my birthday.
Not that I ever had one. Nor do I recall getting one. My brother and I might have a Tonka toy of an old Wagoneer, a military Jeep or a CJ. But, a real live one? Who would have thought about it in my 50-plus years of living?
It is a great gift. A Jeep is a vehicle that honors its legacy of being the victor in war and conqueror of all majesty of this wonderful land of ours. It is the embodiment of the spirit of the U.S. of A. in sheetmetal.
I could wax poetic over the Stars-and-Stripes and everything patriotic, but there is a new reality for Jeep. Though Willys-Overland and Ford began producing the Jeep as a versatile implement for Allied forces in World War II, it became a civilian after the last bullets were fired. Willys-Overland built not only the civilian version of the war hero, but added fun models that could be driven in town, as well as up in the mountains or down on the farm.
The Jeep brand had changed hands many times over the past 75 years. From Willys-Overland, Kaiser took it over to create a more modern vehicle for the family who wanted to get off the road – the original Wagoneer of the 1960s. Yet, Kaiser was unable to maintain the business of manufacturing a niche vehicle, so it turned the keys over to American Motors. Then, AMC turned themselves over to Renault, who in turn finally sold themselves to Chrysler.
Of course, Chrysler went through their own ownership machinations – the merger with Daimler AG, a lesson in private equity leading to the inclusion with Fiat S.p.A. At every turn, one comment was made by these owners – Jeep was the most valuable asset of the company.
With that said, Jeep would become a global brand under Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. They would join Fiat in many different markets to facilitate their amazing growth. Today's Jeeps are also built in other places – such as Italy and Brazil. Soon, they will also be built in Mexico.
As patriotic as we feel about Jeep, it is a part of us that the world now embraces. It is Fiat's Yankee half-brother that have been seen as essential to FCA's global strategy.
I have witnessed the many changes of the guard to upholding Jeep's legacy. I figured that the 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4X4 that arrived prior to my 53rd trip around the sun would seem appropriate for the occasion.
The Grand Cherokee is a model that commands respect, as it currently sits at the top of the Jeep lineup. The development of this model over the past 15 years has been centered on providing the best experience for upmarket consumers in keeping with Jeep's competencies in off-road performance. They did not want to make a Wrangler-based model, but rather a unit body constructed, solid machine that can carry five people comfortably anywhere you point it.
Four generations later, the formula continues to work. This year, saw some updates to the Grand Cherokee. The biggest news from this SUV is the addition of the Trailhawk model, giving the big Grand some serious off-road chops. Everything is practically the same – a wide model range that starts from the Laredo through two distinctive luxury models – the Summit and Overland – winding up with the monster power of the SRT and its 6.4 liter V8.
My Limited tester came with the Pentastar 3.6 liter V6 with 290 horsepower on tap. It is connected to the 8-speed automatic, Quadra-Trac II four-wheel drive system with Selec-Terrain control and electronic stop/start. This example came very well-equipped with a suite of active safety features – including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, parking assistance, blind spot warning, cross-traffic warning…you get the idea.
It is obvious that Grand Cherokee provided to me is capable and safe, but it also very connected. I have praised UConnect as being one of the best infotainment systems in the business. I also have praised the 8.4-inch touch screen that makes the work of entertainment and information easier for sore eyes. The instrumentation is also very informative – especially the TFT screen in the middle of it. One thing to look for is the digital speedometer when coupled with another readout. It is up top, but readable, along with a more prominent readout for fuel economy, tire pressure and other vehicle and trip information as displayed.
Lately, I have found the Pentastar V6 to be very lively. It is now a free-revving ball of fire. There are no turbochargers attached to it – just pure horsepower and torque. The eight-speed transmission works well and the four-wheel drive system senses traction loss quickly in Auto mode. Unbeknownst to me, there is a Sport mode button on the center stack. Knowing this is not a HEMI-powered Grand Cherokee – or the SRT model – I was curious as to what it would do if I pressed it. It did change the shift points higher ever so slightly, but the steering did weigh up for better control. I also saw no real loss in fuel economy compared to Normal mode. By the way, I averaged 19.9 MPG for fuel consumption – including a brief foray into the mud and snow of a farm southwest of The Cities.
As for the updates on the Grand Cherokee, they are actually more pronounced on the Trailhawk than on over trim levels of this vehicle. But, I do like the shortened grille height and new wheels for the Limited. The new shifter is a huge improvement over the recalled one on the last Grand Cherokee I drove a couple of years ago. The control and action are superb – along with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
In all, it is still the ol' familiar Grand Cherokee we know and love – capable, durable and full of life. This is why it is still a popular vehicle around here. It set the standard for what Jeep had in mind for an upwardly mobile SUV and continues to fulfill that role. For $47,930, you get a lot for that kind of money – with active safety features and plenty of luxuries to boot. Is it worth that kind of money? Probably. It seems normal for mid-sized SUVs to come with sticker prices in the $45,000-50,000 range and offer a lot for the most discriminating customer to consider one.
About this whole birthday deal, it was quieter day than in the past. I went to a Super Bowl party in the outer ring of the Twin Cities and managed to sit through almost everything – including Lady Gaga's halftime performance and overtime. I don't recall a Super Bowl going into overtime…and I've seen a lot of them!
I'll also skip a deeper discussion on the commercials. I can only say that FCA is really tripling down on Alfa Romeo (brand awareness is important to sell tons of Giulias and Stelvios now and throughout 2017), Hyundai connected with our armed forces through their tie-in with the National Football League, Honda had a great yearbook spot featuring celebrities and the 20th anniversary of the popular CR-V and Audi went in gender equality. This may be the year of the controversial ad campaign – regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum.
The game was not as provocative, however. Whomever won gets the spoils. Though I usually get somewhat frustrated knowing when a Super Bowl actually falls on my birthday. While it makes it easier to "celebrate," it makes it harder on other levels. I am at the age where days like Sunday no longer spoil me. Maybe I should try a vacation somewhere next year? After all, the Super Bowl is coming to the Twin Cities in a year's time.
Even with the collision of #sportsball and the annual ritual of affirming the aging process, this Jeep Grand Cherokee did not spoil me, however. Perhaps I am used to driving one to know what its capabilities were and to use the best parts of it enjoy the commute – or the run(s) to "The Clubhouse." Having a familiar vehicle around is like having an old Tonka toy around. They were both fun at the right moment.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
All photos by Randy Stern