Jeep Cherokee vs Grand Cherokee: Which Model Is Right For You?
For almost five decades, the Jeep Cherokee has been the gold standard for off-road performance. The inaugural generation, introduced in 1974, was designed for those who eschewed interior comfort and paved roads for adventure. It was a hit, particularly with those in rural areas and for those who used their vehicles at work.
But over time, American tastes shifted. By the turn of the 1990s, people were buying big cars, irrespective of whether they worked in the great outdoors, or spent their leisure time tearing down dirt roads. And so, the Jeep Grand Cherokee was born.
Despite their outward similarities and their close naming, both vehicles are fundamentally different, both when it comes to their styling and underlying platform. This article will explain what sets the Jeep Cherokee apart from the Grand Cherokee, and help you make an informed choice when buying your next vehicle.
The Legendary Jeep Cherokee
The Jeep Cherokee came at a period of crisis for its original manufacturer, American Motors. This was a crisis of identity.
The Jeep name harks back to the vehicles used by American servicemen in World War II. These were capable of handling any terrain, from the jungles of the Pacific, to the mud-soaked fields of Western Europe. But by the 1970s, its efforts to bring a similar kind of vehicle to the civilian market had hit a brick wall.
The Jeepster Commando — a two-seat convertible pickup — largely bombed and was discontinued after just seven years on the market. The Jeep Wagoneer, although popular, had failed to capture on the values embodied by its war era vehicles, and was largely seen as a practical (and slightly boring) family car.
The Cherokee was American Motors’ shot at salvation, and it worked. The first versions were nimble and powerful. Like the Commando before it, it came in a two-door configuration, but offered plenty of cargo space. Thanks to its powerful engine choices (which ranged from a 4.2L I6 to a 6.6L V8), it boasted incredible acceleration speeds, and had an undeniable edge when it came to towing heavy loads.
Meanwhile, its capable 4x4 drivetrain gave the Cherokee serious off-road credentials. It could tear through the deserts of Nevada just as easily as its predecessors traversed through the sandy terrain of North Africa in the 1940s.
American Motors found the winning formula, and the Jeep Cherokee would enjoy a degree of longevity that few other vehicles do.
Fast forward to 2014, when Jeep’s new owners Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (which later rebranded to Stellantis) introduced the newest fifth generation. This is a very different beast to the original Cherokee.
First, let’s talk about what it is. First and foremost, it’s a compact SUV, based on the same FCA Compact Wide platform used on the short-lived Dodge Dart and the compact Alfa Romeo Giulietta. But don’t let that deceive you.
In terms of dimensions, it’s compact enough to flock through the city without feeling cumbersome, but still reasonably practical. It measures 182-inches in length, and has 27.6 cubic feet of storage space. Pushing the second row of seats down extends that to a respectable 54.7 cubic feet.
It’s still capable, although this depends on the configuration you pick. In addition to a base FWD configuration on the cheapest trims, Stellantis offers three different AWD drivetrain features, with all capable of switching to a FWD mode during the periods when you don’t really need both axles in motion.
This leads quite nicely to an important point about the Jeep Cherokee: there are different trims, and these vary wildly when it comes to performance and interior comforts, not to mention price. Each trim is sufficiently distinct to provide its own unique experience.
At the bottom, you’ve got the Latitude trim, which comes with a 2.4L four-cylinder engine. The Trailhawk, meanwhile, packs a beefy 3.2L V6 engine. Some trims (like the Limited) prioritise luxury over acceleration speeds and off-road performance.
This means there’s a huge amount of variation in terms of price and fuel efficiency. The cheapest FWD Latitude model costs just $27,210 for the 2021 model year, and achieves an impressive 25MPG combined fuel efficiency rating. But if you crave the sheer performance of the Trailhawk, you can expect to pay $36,285. You’ll also have to stomach a combined fuel efficiency rating of just 21MPG.
The Upstart Jeep Grand Cherokee
By comparison, the Jeep Grand Cherokee has a relatively younger pedigree, introduced in just 1993. It was, initially, supposed to be a more luxurious take on the standard Jeep Cherokee. It launched with a flood of features that, at the time, were considered luxuries. Think anti-lock brakes, power door locks, and driver’s side airbags.
The Grand Cherokee hasn’t really wavered from that vision, but it’s extended it to include use-cases. It’s not just a status symbol, but can also be a veritable workhorse. To demonstrate that point, let’s look at the fifth generation, which Stellantis introduced this year.
As is true with the ordinary Jeep Cherokee, a dizzying array of trims are available here, from the basic FWD Laredo E, to the 4WD Trackhawk. And although they share a common platform and body type, they might as well be different cars.
The Laredo E has an MSRP of $34,970 and is powered a solid — although hardly earth-shattering — 3.6L V6 engine. It has a modest towing capacity of just 3,500lbs, and decent levels of fuel burn, with a 21MPG combined EPA rating.
By comparison, the Trackhawk is a beast. With an MSRP of $88,690 (or almost triple that of the Laredo E), it blends luxury and capability. Under the hood lurks a 6.2L supercharged V6 engine, which allows the Trackhawk to haul up to 7,200lbs, albeit at the expense of fuel efficiency. It gets just 13MPG combined. But it also enjoys one of the most refined interiors you’ll find on a vehicle of its class, even if, from the outside, it looks a touch intimidating.
And that’s saying nothing about the various other intermediate models (like the Altitude, Summit, and SRT), which distinguish themselves in terms of capabilities and furnishings. For the first time, Jeep has also offered the Grand Cherokee in plug-in hybrid and mild hybrid variants, too.
But what they have in common is a unifying design and body type. The fifth-generation Grand Cherokee uses the FCA Georgio platform, which is present on luxury crossover SUVs like the Maserati Grecale, as well as nimble Italian sports cars, like the Alfa Romeo Stelvio and Giulia.
With a length of 196.8-inches or 204.9-inches depending on the model, this vehicle is undeniably huge. This is reflected in the roomy levels of cargo space, which starts at 36.3 cubic feet, and extends to 68.3 cubic feet with the rear seats lowered. There’s also multiple little cubby holes throughout the vehicle, where you can stash small bags and personal effects.
You can also configure the Grand Cherokee with third-row seating, making it a tempting upmarket alternative to the Honda Pilot.
The Jeep Cherokee vs the Grand Cherokee
Although they share similar names, both cars couldn’t be more different.
The standard Jeep Cherokee is a practical compact SUV that fares well in both urban and rural environments. It’s smaller, but also more economical. It lacks the same level of opulence and performance as the Grand Cherokee, but it’s still competitive on these fronts, especially when compared with similarly-classed cars.
The Grand Cherokee lives up to its name. It’s big. It’s powerful. It’s not aimed at those concerned about fuel consumption. It guarantees a comfortable ride, but can also do a hard day’s work, particularly when it comes to things like towing.
Whatever you pick, Shift can help you find your next Jeep Cherokee or Grand Cherokee. From the comfort of your own home, you can browse our massive inventory. We make it possible to buy your next vehicle without having to step foot in a dealership.
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August 30, 2021
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