Since the latest Jeep Grand Cherokee debuted for the 2011 model year, the lineup has become increasingly more varied.
It doesn’t have as many special editions as its sibling, the Wrangler, but still. SRT, Trackhawk, Trailhawk, Overland, Summit – some are just trim names, but others are so different that they should be considered models unto themselves. We’re taking a look at the top-spec version when it comes to luxury: the 2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit.
The way said luxury is expressed in its exterior styling is subtle but effective. You could say the Grand Cherokee’s styling is generally subdued: The head- and taillight lenses aren’t all that aggressive and the various body panels are mostly free of the slashes and creases seen elsewhere in the segment.
There’s a sense of circumstance to the Grand Cherokee to be sure, but its appearance isn’t overtly adventurous. Still, the Summit’s smoked 20-inch wheels, silver mesh grille, chrome stripping around the side windows and lovely slate blue pearl paint job all exude an air of quality you’d expect from more luxury-oriented brands such as Lincoln or Mercedes-Benz. I particularly like the platinum treatment given to the various exterior badges and scripts; it looks melt-in-your mouth rich, contrasted against that great exterior colour.
Inside, you have to look closely through large swathes of white leather upholstery, but the blue theme continues here as well, with indigo piping on the seats. I have a hard time with light-coloured interiors, however, and worry about what denim might do over time. The indigo and black trim pieces in my tester do break things up nicely. The Laguna leather used throughout the cabin, meanwhile, is gorgeous in its suppleness and quality – there are tags attached to the seats detailing how special it is, and how to properly care for it – and comes draped over comfortable seats. Some may ask for a little more lumbar support from these, however. I know I would.
Being such a high-spec model, my Summit tester comes standard with pretty much everything Jeep offers for the Grand Cherokee: blind-spot warning, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, hill descent control, parallel and perpendicular park assist, keyless entry, more airbags than your local Sleep Country has pillows, trailer sway control – you get the picture.
My tester, meanwhile, had the optional rear entertainment system, and those wheels and chrome bits are also part of an optional package. It costs $1,495, and it’s definitely one I’d spec. That great leather inside is also part of an optional package and this one’s going to run you a little more – in this case, almost $5,000. Real leather does come as standard on the Summit, so it’s not like you’re stuck with cheap cloth or synthetic leather if you decide not to opt for the good stuff. I’m a big fan of it – it brings the Grand Cherokee almost in lockstep with offerings from bona fide luxury brands – but it’s a lot of coin to be sure.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has made big strides with its Uconnect infotainment through the years, and it continues to be one of the best, most intuitive systems on the market. The main display measures a generous 8.4 inches (although that is made to look a little tame compared to the massive 12-inch display found in the new Ram pickups), is responsive to touch commands and is intuitively laid-out. The icons that run along the bottom of the screen, meanwhile, can be configured to your liking depending on which commands you want displayed there.
Even when using the standard Apple CarPlay or Android Auto apps, those commands remain at the bottom of the screen. That’s good, especially when you consider that stuff like the heated seat and steering wheel controls need to be accessed via the display screen, and not via conventional buttons. I’m not a huge fan of that aspect of this whole thing, but it’s nice to know that the heated steering wheel automatically activates when temperatures fall below four degrees Celsius. As good as the display is, it’s tough to access when wearing gloves, which can be a bit of an issue in Canada.
Both front and rear rows of seats are almost full value for the comfort they provide. There’s also plenty of legroom for both rows, but I do take issue with how narrow the front footwells are. I routinely found myself uncomfortably bumping my knee on the transmission tunnel. This likely has something to do with Jeep needing to keep a certain level of ground clearance, forcing the running gear to intrude into the cockpit as a result. I’m a long-legged person, however, and the shorter folks among us might not take as much issue. If you are of taller ilk, however, you’ve been warned.
Even taller folks will likely be satisfied with the headroom provided. Even with the sunroof my tester had, I never found myself having to slouch to keep my hair off the headliner – whether in back or front – and that’s worth its weight in gold as far as I’m concerned.
Two engines are available at this level: The 3.6L Pentastar V6 that serves duty in a number of FCA vehicles, or a 5.7L Hemi V8. The former is rated at 295 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, fed to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission, while the Hemi is good for 360 hp and 390 lb-ft. My tester had the V6, and as big of a V8 fan as I am, with the V6 you will be saving at the pump without sacrificing too much on the capability front. You give up a little in terms of towing, but the 6,212-lb tow rating the V6 offers is plenty.
The Pentastar is a smooth operator, and even though you do have to rev it to 6,500 rpm to get the full shot of horsepower, it doesn’t feel too stressed (or yell too loudly) as you’re doing so. The close-ratio transmission certainly helps in this regard, as it works well in unison with the engine to keep you in the meat of the powerband during upshifts.
A quick note on the transmission: While I take no issue with its performance, I do take issue with the shift action. It’s an electronic shifter, so you don’t actually slot anything, but I find the way the “PRDN” indicator sits ahead of the shift lever as opposed to alongside to be off-putting. There’s also a set of paddle shifters if you feel like you want to do more work on your own, though I hardly used these and imagine they would really only come in handy when off-roading as they would allow you to control the revs to better get out of slippery situations.
Driving Feel: 7.5/10
Like the powertrain, “smooth” is the word of the day when it comes to the ride as well. The switch from body-on-frame to a unibody structure in the current-generation Grand Cherokee means a much smoother, quieter ride that’s better in keeping with the lion’s share of SUVs these days. So it goes, then, that the Grand Cherokee is a pleasure around town, the chassis soaking up all the bumps and cracks thrown at you so as not to disturb the peaceful Zen-garden-like atmosphere promised by all that leather and the soft-touch materials that pepper the cabin.
For those looking to hit the slopes, Jeep’s four-wheel drive system is on-hand to help get you there. It provides a two-speed transfer case with a 2.72:1 low-range, locking front and rear driveshafts, and 44.1:1 crawl ratio. There are also selectable terrain modes: Auto, Sport, Snow, and Sand and Mud, so you’ll likely have a harder time getting it stuck in adverse conditions than not. During my test, I spent most of my time in Auto mode, as that’s what you tend to use around town. A particularly snowy day had me select Snow mode to see what the truck could do, and it pretty much made mincemeat of the compact snow and ice I was tackling.
Cargo capacity is rated at 1,028 L with the rear seats up and 1,934L if you fold the rear bench flat. That’s a fine figure, but it’s less than what you get in a Honda CR-V or Nissan Rogue, and there’s no storage below the cargo floor. Regardless, it’s an easy-to-load space thanks to my tester’s adjustable suspension; when parked, you can hit a button to have the Grand Cherokee kneel down a little for lower liftover. It will automatically lift itself once you start driving.
While the rear cargo area is fine, I’m less enamoured with what you’re given in the rest of the cabin. Chief among the in-cabin storage offences is the front centre bin, whose usable area is reduced by half thanks to the disc drive that comes as part of my tester’s optional rear-seat entertainment system. Oh, sure, there’s a small bin at the base of the centre console that’s just barely big enough for a glasses case, but it’s hard to reach thanks to the shift lever and my guess is most people will be storing their mobile device there anyway.
Along with the standard glovebox, that’s pretty much all the storage you get up front and it’s nowhere near enough for a vehicle that’s likely to be used for family road trips and the like. My advice? Use a streaming service like Netflix to keep the kids entertained on the go. The infotainment system also provides a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot that can pair up to 10 devices. If the kiddies really need screens back there, go that way and scrap the entertainment system, saving $2,150 in the process.
As mentioned in the features section, the Summit comes well-equipped with all the safety features one could ask for. There have been times where I’ve been surprised to see that on some vehicles, even top-end trims like this don’t necessarily get all the safety goodies; maybe you have to pay a little extra for adaptive cruise or blind-spot monitoring, or something to that effect. The fact that it all comes as standard here makes the buying process that much simpler.
If you can spare the rear-seat entertainment system (easy choice) and fancy leather (a tougher one), then you’re looking at about $70,000 for the Summit. That’s about the same money you’ll have to lay out for the likes of the Mercedes-Benz GLE 350, and down just a little on the GLE 450 or a BMW X5 xDrive40i. And that’s some pretty heady company.
Of course, at that price level, those two models don’t offer quite as much as the Summit does, so in that context, the pricing is valid. The question becomes whether buyers will see the Grand Cherokee – in Summit trim, anyway – as a viable competitor in the luxury realm. Considering the equipment it offers, I’d say that it does. Whether the Jeep brand has that kind of equity associated with it will be a decision for buyers.
I respect Jeep for having the guts to enter the luxury space. The brand has made a very capable SUV that, when it comes to performance both on-road and off, will go toe-to-toe with premium models. The optional leather interior, meanwhile, coupled with the smooth ride and quiet manners will give those offerings from more traditional manufacturers some pause. Indeed, without a real luxury arm (you could make an argument for Alfa Romeo or Maserati), the Grand Cherokee Summit is FCA’s luxury SUV offering. And it’s certainly got the bits to compete in the segment.
|Peak Horsepower||295 hp @ 6,400 rpm|
|Peak Torque||260 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||12.7/9.6/11.3 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||1,028 / 1,934 L seats down|
|Model Tested||2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit|
|Price as Tested||$81,430|
$8,740 – Slate Blue Pearl paint, $100; rear DVD entertainment centre (Blu-ray compatible dual screen video, rear seat video system w/remote and headphones), $2,150; Premium Plus Appearance group (20-inch platinum aluminum wheels, platinum chrome roof rails, platinum chrome daylight opening mouldings, body-colour sills with platinum chrome accent, body-colour front fascia with platinum chrome accent, body-colour rear fascia with platinum chrome accent, gloss black grille with platinum chrome surrounds, platinum chrome exterior badging, platinum chrome taillamp strip), $1,495; Signature leather-wrapped interior package (leather advanced multi-stage airbags, leather-wrapped lower panels, Laguna leather bucket seats, Laguna leather care instruction tag), $4,995