Mrs. Curmudgeon had the opportunity to be driving a rental 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee for a few weeks recently, and the Tech Curmudgeon had the opportunity to drive it a few times. The Tech Curmudgeon was was thoroughly unimpressed with the experience. Supposedly the Grand Cherokee is a sport utility vehicle. So the Tech Curmudgeon has to ask – why isn’t it sporty and why does it lack utility?
The “sport” in SUV can mean a couple of different things – sporty like it has good performance, or useful for sporty activities like hauling bicycles, climbing gear. The Grand Cherokee fails on both accounts. Most American-made cars have torque and horsepower to spare – it’s historically been the Japanese cars and trucks that could barely get out of their own way. But it took the Tech Curmudgeon literally pushing the accelerator to the floor before the Grand Cherokee would match the acceleration of either Ms. Curmudgeon’s minivan or the Tech Curmudgeon’s own 9-year old, 100k mile plus, 4-cylinder station wagon.
As for the “useful for sporty endeavors” metric, the Curmudgeons bought one of the little Curmudgeons a new bicycle recently and took the Grand Cherokee to pick it up. The Curmudgeons had to put the back seats down before the bicycle would fit into the cargo area. The Tech Curmudgeon supposes that he could have removed the front wheel and made it fit, but he shouldn’t have needed to – the Grand Cherokee is supposed to be a sport utility vehicle, after all. The Tech Curmudgeon is just glad that the little Curmudgeons weren’t also along for the ride – someone would have had to walk home.
Yes, the Grand Cherokee has four-wheel drive, but so what? It’s not useful for going off-roading if the cargo area is too small for four passengers and all their stuff. If you can’t load a couple of bikes into the back while still carrying 4 passengers, or sit on the tail and put on ski boots without your feet dangling, then why bother with an SUV in the first place? And what good is the ability to tow 7400 pounds (according to the Jeep website) if you can’t pull it uphill at more than 5 MPH? The Tech Curmudgeon exaggerates, but not as much as you might think.
Beyond the lack of actual sportiness, the Grand Cherokee’s so-called “features” limit its utility too. Even with a V6 it gets terrible gas mileage – Mrs. Curmudgeon didn’t get more than about 18 MPG the entire time she was driving it, even on the highway. The website advertises 23 MPG. Of course, the Tech Curmudgeon understands that the EPA’s mileage tests are a complete joke, but even so – that’s a reduction of over 20%. And at $3.50 per gallon, that’s a lot of extra money going to feed a gas hungry V6 that also has crappy acceleration.
The Tech Curmudgeon is obviously a tech-head, but he found the keyless entry to be almost worse than useless. It was counter-intuitive even when following the instructions displayed on the poorly organized display smack center in the middle of the instrument panel. The Tech Curmudgeon found that it was even easier to lose track of the “key” fob than it is to lose a normal key. And there’s nothing quite like having the key walk away with Mrs. Curmudgeon and have the Grand Cherokee beep angrily at the Tech Curmudgeon while he sits there wondering whether the vehicle is about to shut down unexpectedly.
As mentioned above, the cargo area in the Grand Cherokee is too small for any sport that actually requires equipment or gear (don’t even think about trying to car camp without a roof rack or an anchor a trailer for all the stuff). But if you actually want to try to load something massive like a child’s bicycle in the cargo area, you’ll have to figure out how to fold down the seats first. Putting them down was not intuitive, and they risked crushing anything left on floor behind the front seats (like a cake, a Kleenex box, or the Tech Curmudgeon’s foot).
And for those times Mrs. Curmudgeon had to use the Grand Cherokee to go shopping for groceries, the cargo area was so poorly designed that the groceries went skidding around those lovely carpet protecting chrome runners. Yes, there are a few hooks on each side, but they’re so small that you can’t hook more than one plastic bag in each, and even then they’re so close to the floor of the cargo area that food just pops out of the bags anyway. And forget about using your own reusable bags – the handles wouldn’t even fit in the hooks.
So out of the three characteristics of an SUV, the Grand Cherokee has exactly one – there’s no denying that it is a vehicle. But then again, so was the Pinto.
The Grand Cherokee has two things going for it – it’s got high ground clearance, and it’s pretty. And the Tech Curmudgeon supposes that at Grand Cherokee would be fine for someone living in a snowy or hilly area who wants a comfortable commuting vehicle. Of course, a higher-end Subaru would work just as well for that, except with a larger (and more utilitarian) cargo area and much better gas mileage. Heck, if you really want the ground clearance of the Grand Cherokee, buy an Outback and jack it up instead. Sure, it’ll look a little funny, but it’ll be as much an SUV as the Grand Cherokee is.
As for the pretty parts like the soft interior panels, a hand-stitched leather steering wheel, independent climate zones, and Bluetooth built-in, you can’t make a Grand Cherokee that starts at about $26k a luxury vehicle. It just ain’t happening, and the Grand Cherokee would be a better vehicle if it tried less to be a Lexus (and failed) and tried more to emulate the authentic utility of the Wrangler.
TTC can hear it now – “It’s a Jeep thing – you wouldn’t understand.” Any Jeep lover who says this is absolutely correct, because TTC doesn’t understand why anyone would want to own an underpowered, gas guzzling wanna-be luxury SUV with annoying “features” and a cargo area that is small and poorly designed.