2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee: Solid utility with a panoramic view of the stars

Fiat Chrysler's Jeep division turned in a monster year in 2015. It was one of the U.S. auto industry's fastest-growing brands, with sales up a full 25 percent over 2014. Nearly 200,000 U.S. buyers chose a Grand Cherokee last year. With an array of engines from mild to wild -- including an optional diesel -- and a luxurious interior, the Grand Cherokee remains one of the top-selling SUVs. Here are some impressions from recent test drives of the 2016 version.

"When equipped with the base gasoline V6 engine, the 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee delivers satisfactory acceleration. It also provides a quiet, comfortable ride and a commendable sense of stability around turns. The eight-speed automatic transmission is a great ally, as it makes good use of the V-6's power and shifts very smoothly. All in all, most shoppers should be happy with the base-engine Grand Cherokee." --

"Even in base versions, the Grand Cherokee interior feels warm, and anything but plain. All versions get a chunky three-spoke steering wheel, a usefully arranged center stack of controls capped with inoffensive metallic-plastic trim, and a five-inch LCD touchscreen for audio.

"Materials get stepped up, as you move up to Limited, Overland, and Summit models. Jeep applies real wood trim on the dash, doors, and the steering wheel, and it begs to be touched, just as the last-generation vehicle's trimmings wanted to be kept at a distance. This is an interior that's at its best with some of the warmer, organic trims -- not the ones with a lot of brightwork -- so it's in its best light in Summit's organic coloring, under the natural light of the panoramic roof." -- The Car Connection

"To choose amongst the forward gears, there are shift paddles: little levers atop the horizontal spokes on the steering wheel. This isn't a new concept, but it's joined by audio controls on the back sides of the same spokes. So more than once, we changed volume or station when we really wanted a gear change.

"The LED lighting in the cabin works well, to erase the yellow harshness of the old days. An optional giant dual-pane panoramic sunroof opens wide to the sky. If installed, you can see the stars, perhaps better than you can see out the windows or through the rearview mirror. The generous windshield pillars, sloped backlight and rear headrests pinch the space for visibility.

"The location and operation of things on the center stack, such as the electronic switchbank and HVAC controls, is all good. Chrysler's Uconnect systems, big touch-screen and voice control work quite well. As a bonus, you can engage seat and steering wheel heaters." --

"Grand Cherokee is one of the best handling, best steering SUVs in its class. Road manners are smooth and crossover-like, without a bounding ride. Upper trim levels can get an optional Quadra-Lift air suspension, able to raise the Grand Cherokee from 6.4 inches to 11.3 inches off the ground. The air suspension can also lower the Jeep all the way for entry/exit.

"The refined 3.6-liter V6 offers strong midrange response, plus sufficient low-rpm torque to handle demanding off-road tasks. With the 5.7-liter Hemi V8, Grand Cherokee feels almost like a muscular Dodge Charger sedan, including a great-sounding engine; but the performance improvement over a V6 doesn't quite offset the gas-mileage penalty. The admirably responsive 8-speed ZF automatic includes paddle shifters." --

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