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Auto review: e-Xploring Virginia farms in the Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe

Henry Payne, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

URBANNA, Virginia — If you’re traveling to Virginia’s remote, historic Northern Neck, you may want to bring a Jeep.

“You’re free to check out the beach, woods and farmland. Be mindful the trail is grass, dirt, and may be muddy in places,” said a staffer at Rosegill historic farm in Urbanna.

“We have a Jeep,” I replied.

“Oh. Well, you’ll be fine.”

A Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe plug-in hybrid, to be more specific. Jeep is synonymous with “off-road” in any language, and the Grand is no exception. My standard 4xe rental was not a fully-armed Trailhawk (all-terrain tires, skid plates, detachable front sway bar, 11.3-inch lift, the works) but it was good enough with 10.9-inch lift, a low-speed transfer case and stout 265/60/18 rubber with six inches of sidewall — double that of, say, the low-profile tires on the Tesla Model 3 I last rented through these parts.

If I encountered anything too gnarly, I could just air down the tires to get out. Turns out that wasn’t necessary, and Mrs. Payne and I galloped around the property aboard our eager filly.

So celebrated is the Jeep brand that it plays in the premium space with my midsize Grand Cherokee clocking in at $63,630 — nearly 15 grand north of two superb, full-size, three-row SUVs I recently tested: the $47K Hyundai Santa Fe and $49K Chevy Traverse Z71. Pause for sticker shock. Batteries are all the rage, though, and 4xe qualifies for half ($3,750) of the federal $7,500 EV cash discount, making it $10,000 less than a comparable $70K BMW X5 xDrive50e plug-in.

A regular V6-powered Grand Cherokee is more affordable at $51.5K, but the 4xe’s 14.0 kWh battery-assisted, turbo-4 cylinder drivetrain is a fun toy to play with — and can drive up to 25 miles on electricity alone to soothe the social conscience of green consumers.

I picked up my spanking-new rental with ZERO charge at Reagan National Airport in D.C. No problem. I selected the HYBRID drivetrain setting and toggled SPORT from the blizzard of modes that also include AUTO, SNOW, ROCK, SAND/MUD and LUNAR SURFACE (kidding about that last one).

The heck with sitting at a 220-volt charger and gaining (maybe) 12 miles in an hour. The Jeep uses the electric motor (maximized in SPORT) to regenerate the battery while you drive. By the time I arrived at my destination in Stratford, Virginia, an hour and a half later, I had added 15 miles to the battery. Next to the HYBRD setting on the dash, I poked e-SAVE to preserve the electrons for another time.

The Grand Cherokee was a pleasant place to be on my 90-mile trip south with its digital instrument display and handsome, thin, vertical console screen. Electronics are advancing rapidly, however, and the Traverse’s 17.7-inch display running (excellent) Google Built-in is much easier to read than the Jeep’s 10-incher run by (excellent) Uconnect.

I paired my phone and wireless Android Auto navigated me through Metro D.C.’s clotted traffic arteries.

While the 14-kWh battery complements the turbo-4 for a healthy 470 pound-feet of torque, the jerky eight-speed transmission often gets in the way. The 4xe has a healthy suite of standard safety systems, including blind-spot assist and adaptive cruise control; I selected ACC for U.S. 301’s four-lane.

Even in adaptive cruise, though, the powertrain was uneven. On a night out with friends later in the weekend, I switched off ACC so as not to jostle rear-seat passengers. Rear legroom, however, is excellent, and they enjoyed the ride.

After crossing U.S. 301’s bridge across the Potomac River into the Northern Neck, population thins and so does the asphalt. I turned onto Virginia Route 3, a narrow, twisted, rural two-lane with plenty of broken center line passing opportunities for sports cars.

Grand Cherokee is no sports car. With its tall stance and big tires, its performance abilities are off-road — not on-road — focused. I cruised undramatically to my Stratford Hall Museum destination.

Once on the historic preserve’s 2,000 acres, I accessed the 15 miles of battery I’d saved up from the road trip.

Poke the ELECTRIC button and the gas engine immediately turns off, turning chores over to two AC motors. I explored the property’s trails (as I would Rosegill later) under smooth electric power. It’s hardly a silent experience, though.

The Jeep emitted a low, sci-fi hum like the UFO that destroyed Edgar the farmer’s truck in “Men in Black.” It’s required of all EVs up to 20 mph to warn pedestrians, even though most modern gas cars are quiet at low speeds. The boisterous V8-powered Jeep Wrangler 392 is the rare exception. All those D.C. regulators gotta keep busy, I suppose.

Descending to Stratford’s beach on the Potomac River, I felt the resistance of regenerative braking and almost one-pedaled the Jeep like a Tesla — the electric motor doing the braking.

On a lush meadow, I shifted to NEUTRAL to access the low-speed transfer case, then explored a long tree line deep into knee-high grass. The Jeep grunted along happily, though I worried about a flat should there have been a sharp rock or pothole hidden in the deep grass. The Jeep has a spare under the rear floor for such emergencies.

After my Rosegill adventure, I stepped back to admire the Jeep’s Silver Zenith paint job. It looked good with a coat of dirt.

 

For its fifth generation (produced since the 2021 model year), Grand Cherokee stayed true to its classic boxy design, but used advancements in LED technology to narrow its lighting signature that frames a thinner, seven-slot grille.

The effect makes for a leaner, meaner fighting machine. I found plenty of third- and fourth-gen Grand Cherokees driving around the Northern Neck, and the fifth-gen model is a handsome evolution.

Fancy prices deserve fancy duds, and you’ll know the 4xe by its electric blue highlights on the badge as well as the big blue “E” emblazoned across the charge port aft of the left front fender.

Despite the layer of Virginia soil I’d added to the Jeep, the blue still stood out.

Tesla’s vast charger network has penetrated the Northern Neck’s 100-mile-long peninsula with four superchargers. But it’ll require a half hour out of your day to fill up. The Jeep’s 400-mile range gas tank fills in two minutes — with an extra 25 miles of e-range so you can hum around historic farms.

Just reassure folks that it’s not a UFO.

2024 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe

Vehicle type: Plug-in hybrid, all-wheel-drive five-passenger SUV

Price: $63,630, including $1,795 destination charge ($63,630 as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter, turbocharged-4 cylinder with 14-kWh lithium-ion battery and electric motor drive

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Weight: 5,368 pounds

Power: 375 horsepower, 470 pound-feet of torque

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.3 seconds (Car and Driver); towing capacity, 6,000 lbs.

Fuel economy: EPA est. range, 19 city/26 highway/22 combined

Report card

Highs: Iconic looks; fun e-SAVE toys

Lows: Jerky drivetrain; gets pricey

Overall: 3 stars

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