There are certain sport-utility vehicles that truly earn both the “sport” and “utility” titles. They tend to have moderate dimensions, be European in origin and come with a pretty steep sticker price.

The Grand Cherokee is a handsome machine; one that looks simultaneously muscular yet not overwrought.

Land Rover has for decades made SUVs that owners can just as rightly leave with the valet as they can use to romp through the jungle. Porsche has shown its mettle off-road, torturing its Cayenne ute along the Trans-Siberian Rally route between Moscow and Mongolia, and yet in certain trims, the Cayenne can embarrass many high-powered sports cars on a race track.

But there’s a third option that has earned its stripes off-road, yet still carries considerable brand cachet: the Jeep Grand Cherokee. While not possessing the budget clout of, say a Cadillac Escalade or a Lincoln Navigator, the Grand Cherokee is nevertheless the closest domestic competitor to the premium Euro-utes. It offers versions that range from rugged (Trailhawk) to raucous (SRT), to luxurious (Summit).

Jeep is a storied brand that carries the machismo of a machine steeped in wartime history, even if this model shares absolutely nothing with the old Willys of War. It’s this ruggedness that gives the Grand Cherokee a measure of street credibility allowing it access to garage space normally reserved for premium brands.

It’s also the sort of brand power that enables Jeep to call this 2017 model a 75th Anniversary Edition, despite the 1941 badges denoting an inception 76 years ago. Added to a standard Limited trim Grand Cherokee, the $3,000 75th Anniversary option provides niceties like a panoramic sunroof, HID headlights, front cooled seats and an improved sound system, along with a host of visual improvements.

Even without the upgrades, the Grand Cherokee is a handsome machine; one that looks simultaneously muscular yet not overwrought. The 75th Anniversary trim adds bronze-coloured accents over the gorgeous, deep “Recon Green” paint. It’s a high-luster, non-metallic hue that was beautifully finished on our test machine, and offset perfectly by the 20-inch, Anniversary-specific wheels.

The Anniversary Edition’s interior is similarly upgraded with tangerine accents on the black leather, embossed with the 1941 logo. Otherwise, it’s pretty much status quo Grand Cherokee, with very good ergonomics, comfortable seating and decent interior space for five passengers. Luggage space, too, is competitive, if not class-leading amongst its similarly priced, mid-sized peers.

The layout of the controls in the Grand Cherokee is noteworthy in that Jeep still utilizes large, easy-to-reach knobs for essential audio and climate controls. The 8.4-inch touchscreen Uconnect system remains one of the best in the business for its intuitive operation, though the graphics now appear dated compared to other contemporary systems. And locating the seat and steering wheel heater controls a few menus deep into the system is a bit tedious. That said, while not typically a fan of remote starter systems on cars (due to their fuel wastefulness), I must confess to putting it to frequent use during our particularly cold test week, and having those seat and steering wheel heaters programmed to come on automatically was a welcome treat.

At only $1,495, Jeep’s Active Safety Group adds lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and a parking assist function that make the option seem like good value. On the other hand, spending more than $2,000 on the rear DVD entertainment centre also fitted to our tester seems excessive, especially when one could buy each of the rear seat passengers an iPad for far less and be useful for occasions inside and outside the Jeep.

One option that was certainly appreciated is the 5.7L V8 upgrade over the wholly adequate 3.6L Pentastar V6. With 360 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque, the Grand Cherokee accelerates and passes with authority, making great, deep noises all the while. Plus, so equipped, the Jeep can tow over 3,200 kg, putting it among the burliest of its mid-size SUV class.

Thanks to cylinder de-activation, the Hemi-equipped Grand Cherokee is rated at 10.7 L/100 km for its highway fuel efficiency (16.6 L/100 km city). During a week of mixed driving (including some highway and some downtown Toronto traffic navigation), we witnessed an indicated average of 13.9 L/100km, and considering how often the accelerator was stomped to enjoy all the Jeep’s torque, that number is understandable in this 2,300 kg 4x4.

The power is directed through Jeep’s eigth-speed automatic that shifts smoothly under most conditions, and rapidly when called upon to hustle. Like all Grand Cherokees, power is delivered to all four wheels, here with Jeep’s Quadra-Trac II 4WD system. It’s accompanied in various travel conditions by the Selec-Terrain System (Snow, Sand, Mud, Rock and Auto) that recalibrates the throttle, transmission, traction control and transfer case to best utilize the Grand Cherokee’s grip no matter the conditions.

Equipped with Bridgestone Ecopia all-season tires, our Grand Cherokee exhibited better on-road grip (and steering feel) than expected, but gave no confidence to try any proper off-roading. Instead, I found a few steep mounds of dirt that provided opposing corners of the Jeep with minimal traction, effectively putting the rig’s 4WD low-range to the test. As expected, the Jeep did a little bit of wheel spinning before clawing its way up the mound successfully. For proper off-road adventures, Jeep’s Trailhawk edition Grand Cherokee with its electronic limited-slip differential, air suspension and various protective skid plates would make for a better choice.

The Grand Cherokee is an attractive machine that’s rewarding to drive, even if it is starting to show its age in some of its interior accouterments, and a V8 engine whose performance could likely be surpassed with a smaller, more efficient turbocharged V6. The flagship Jeep remains endearing and capable, but has reached a point where it’s ripe for a significant update if the Grand Cherokee is going to remain a solid alternative to the pricey European competitors.

2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 75th Anniversary Edition 4X4
Engine Displacement: 5.7L
Engine Cylinders: V8
Peak Horsepower: 360 hp
Peak Torque: 390 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 16.6/10.7/14.0 L/100 km (cty/hwy/cmb)
Cargo Space: 1,728 L/1,934 L rear seats folded
2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 75th Anniversary Edition 4X4
Base Price $52,245
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,795
Price as Tested $67,875
Optional Equipment $13,735 – Preferred Package 28K $3,995; Rear DVD Entertainment $2,150; 75th Anniversary Luxury Group $2,995; Jeep Active Safety Group $1,495; 5.7L V8 $2,400; Uconnect Navigation $700
Optional Equipment
Scoring breakdowns 7.3
8 Styling
8 Powertrain
7 Quality
7 Comfort
8 Practicality
7 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
5 Fuel Economy
8 Features
7 Value