2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee V6

I’ve had plenty of time in various Grand Cherokees powered by the eight-cylinder Hemi, but this past New Year’s was my first exposure to the better-selling V6 version of Jeep’s excellent SUV.

My expectations were low; the Grand Cherokee is one of my favorites, but its Germanic roots (derived from the Mercedes ML, and one of the last fruits of the ill-fated Daimler-Chrysler tie-up) mean it is very robust—in feel and actual mass. Its near-5000 pound weight works against it, meaning even the 5.7-liter, 360hp V8 (reviewed here) isn’t all that fast, and gets low/mid-teens fuel economy. I couldn’t imagine the six having the muscle to move the Jeep with any kind of vigor, and without undue aural strain affecting those inside.

The six cylinder in question is a very smooth and refined 3.6-liter with outputs of 290hp and 260lb-ft, and it was stout enough (and quiet enough) that I didn’t even realize I wasn’t piloting the Hemi when I first pulled away in it. Around town it has more than enough oomph for stoplight-to-stoplight driving; step-off is actually quite brisk. But to get a real feel for any limitations it might have, I decided to subject the V6 GC to the severe conditions typical of the Rocky Mountains in winter.

And so I found myself rendezvousing with fellow auto journalist and skier Andy Stonehouse much too early on New Year’s Day, temperature hovering about zero, ready to brave the ice, snow and traffic in search of some fresh powder and empty ski runs.

At least the Grand Cherokee was welcoming in the dark of early morning; the lovely, leather-lined cabin that comes with the Overland and Overland Summit models (drop down to the Limited and perceived quality nose dives, as you loose the stitched dash, upgraded hides and real wood trim); heated steering wheel and seats easily overcame the subzero temps, and the OEM 20” Goodyears did a great job of impersonating true winter tires on the slick pavement.

Most surprising as we began the climb up to Loveland pass from a “base camp” of 6000 feet elevation was how strong the Jeep felt, despite having only five ratios in the gearbox and a torque peak at a high 4800rpm. The willingness of the 24-valve engine to drop a gear or two and spin right round to redline without undue protest no doubt contributed to this, and despite somewhat mediocre recorded 0-60 times in the mid-eight second bracket we tore through the relatively light traffic without feeling like we needed the V8, even as the I-70’s grade steepened and the air thinned.

Just before Eisenhower tunnel we turned off onto Loveland Pass and began the switchbacked climb over the Continental Divide. At this point the Grand Cherokee started to show the strain; not surprising, considering the pass peaks at over 11,000 feet and engine power was down roughly half.

This is also where I began to pay more attention to other aspects of the Jeep, such as the way its computer-controlled Quadra-Drive II system distributes power to the four wheels. This optional system (standard on higher-end models) has both high and low ranges and can distribute up to 50 percent of the front wheels and 100 percent rearward, as conditions dictate. It is controlled by a knob situated behind the shifter, and allows you to tweak various parameters, such as the air suspension’s ride height, ABS and stability control thresholds.

One annoyance that cropped up on the pass was that when you set that Selec-Terrain knob to Sport mode, it turns off the stability control entirely. Which means you’re on your own when it comes to containing any slides that might develop. Slipping and slithering were prominent on the menu that morning, what with all the ice and snow packing the tight turns, so it was up to me to keep the us from plummeting into one of the deep canyons that lined the road (guardrails were also in short supply).

The Jeep’s steering didn’t help much here, as it was so light and offers no feel. I don’t remember the V8’s helm being so, leading me to conclude that the smaller engine’s 300 less pounds placed over the axle requires a recalibration of the steering rack’s weighting. Tail-out antics were part of an enjoyable wakeup—at least for the driver—and I indulged until Andy’s knuckles became white. Braking and body control were more than adaquite, meaning we continued to pass most everyone and arrived at Arapahoe Basin, our chosen destination, before the lifts had begun running.

With the outside temp reading -2 degrees, it was hard to motivate ourselves to leave the Jeep’s luxurious cabin; at least there was enough room in the second row to don ski pants and cram into rigid boots.

We chose Arapahoe Basin as our resort for a variety of reasons. 67 years old this year, it has long been a favorite, being close to Denver and boasting a compelling mix of benign and intimidating terrain—including big, open bowls above timberline—to suit your mood. It also has a particularly friendly staff, short lift lines, and stunning vistas. Normally these would be enough to keep me on the slopes till lunch, but the subzero temps froze the digits on all my limbs within an hour.

I was temped to whine about it to Andy, but his Canadian heritage prevented me. Twenty minutes later though, when he mentioned he couldn’t feel his own feet, I was down with a trip to the lodge, where their award-winning bacon bloodies served as excellent compensation for our strenuous endeavors. We braved the slopes for a few more hours, and then we headed for home.

As expected, traffic was horrific, giving us a chance to enjoy the comfort of the Jeep’s seats and be annoyed by its antiquated navigation and infotainment systems. At least they are still relatively fast-acting and intuitive to use. The Jeep system is also world’s better than something like MyFordTouch, which not only requires you to take your eyes off the road for too long, but is prone to computer crashes as well. Hopefully the updated system on 2014 GC models wont be overly complicated. Fuel economy for the week I had the Jeep was 18mpg, on par with its ratings and in the realm of what most users will find acceptable. The forthcoming 8-speed automatic in the 2014 model will only make things better.

In the final analysis, the Grand Cherokee V6 held up surprisingly well—much better than expected, if I’m being completely honest. I had always thought it a vehicle only suitable to the coasts and other, less demanding, environs. But it handled everything we threw at it with commendable aplomb, and bolstered my feelings about the overall excellence of this Jeep.

EPA ratings: 16/23mpg (4WD)
Price as tested: $48,195
Here is what Jeep has to say about it.


Colorado AvidGolfer is the state’s leading resource for golf and the lifestyle that surrounds it. It publishes eight issues annually and proudly delivers daily content via www.coloradoavidgolfer.com.