Was it difficult to maintain the off-road spirit of the brand with the plug-in hybrid powertrain?
A: No. Actually, it's kind of interesting because the plug-in hybrid powertrain comes from the Wrangler, so it almost starts with the off-road brand. We start with an incredible off-road vehicle. We designed a purpose-built architecture that included the PHEV from upfront.
Are there any benefits to putting the battery under the second row?
We put the battery under the second row because we put the [Integrated Dual Charging Module], a [power inverter module] and the dedicated heating and cooling circuit underneath the front row. So just from a packaging space where everything lays out, but there is a benefit to putting the battery in the floor. Compared to, say, a gas counterpart, the 4xe, the center of gravity is actually 2 inches lower, which just improves the driving dynamics.
Jeep was able to improve visibility for the driver. How did you achieve that?
On all of the pillars, we shrunk the pillar. Inside the pillar, there's the metal structure, we shrunk that to the minimum section possible. We shrunk the trim that goes over that, and in some cases, there's wiring harnesses or some small pieces of hardware underneath that; we shrunk it. We shrunk every single pillar to the minimum amount possible. And it really opens up things so the driver can get a good view, both in front of you and even looking over your shoulder or wherever you're looking.
What are some features the off-road crowd might get excited about?
The disconnecting sway bar; it's exclusive. It really disconnects the vertical motions of the front two wheels. What it allows those wheels to do is, normally, if you hit a bump, you have this sway bar that's trying to react. Without them connected, this wheel can drop, all four wheels can drive forward.
The increase in "off-road 2" ride height. We mentioned that on the Trailhawks, we increased the "off-road 2" ride height. From normal to "off-road 2," it's 75 millimeters [or] 3 inches. That's a 20-millimeter improvement from the previous generation.
I was just out on the course and the driver was like, "I can't even hear a skid plate bump." Giving that extra space just makes it so that you hit less objects. The underbody is protected; it has skid plates, but it provides additional clearance.
What are the top three things people will notice when they drive the Grand Cherokee 4xe compared with the previous generation?
With the virtual ball in the front, we're able to decouple steering precision with ride comfort. So we actually made an improvement in steering precision, both right on center and even off center, and we improved comfort by over 20 percent. Usually, if you improve the steering, you make it more responsive, [but] you also make it more harsh. By having the two ball joints, the virtual ball joint, we decoupled the comfort from the steering, so we improved handling and ride.
You'll notice it's very quiet. And to me, quite honestly, it's absolutely beautiful inside. The interior craftsmanship is gorgeous. And, of course, it's 4xe, so it's electric. You've got 25 miles of all-electric range, and the one thing that's interesting for me, the "Max Regen" button. When you lift off the accelerator pedal, you get a slight braking, and that slight braking is back-feeding all of that energy back to the battery so that you improve your driving efficiency. What I find interesting about that is I'm used to driving gas cars. I always used to put the brake on and never really think anything of it. Now it's like when I put the brake on in a 4xe, I recover that, so in the gas car I almost feel like I'm wasting it.