A Whale of a Road Trip

I asked a couple of non-car aficionado friends to name the first thing they think of when they hear the word Jeep.

Their responses? Rugged. Off-road. Cool. Jurassic Park. Barbie (yes, Barbie apparently has a Jeep amongst her fleet of pink vehicles). Another person said Wrangler, specifically.

Most of these were words I was expecting. So I countered with a few words of my own.

 

Luxury. Tech. Efficiency.

The latter made a few people laugh, but it’s now true. For the first time in the brand’s history, Jeep has electrified two of its offerings: the Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee. 

 

Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

 

The Grand Cherokee itself gets a substantial redesign (the first in over a decade) and now includes a proper plug-in hybrid as an option. 

In what has become a bit of an annual tradition, my wife, Liz, and my sister, Michelle, and her family decided to take in a bit of whale watching down on the neck of Digby; about a three-hour drive from Halifax. We had the perfect road trip vehicle in the form of a Grand Cherokee in Overland trim and equipped with the aforementioned plug-in hybrid system. 

 

Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4xe
Photo: Lisa Calvi

 

While the Jeep brand itself does not conjure up thoughts of luxury, the Grand Cherokee has played in the upscale SUV segment and has always done well sales-wise. 

 

This new version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee has dialled the luxury up a notch.

It’s also taller, longer and wider. Having driven plenty of previous generation Grand Cherokees in the past, I can say the increased measurements are very much noticeable as you drive it. At first, it makes the Grand Cherokee seem bulky and a bit clumsy, especially during city driving, but you get used to it quickly.

 

Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

 

Three hours on the road is something I could do in one go quite easily, but being mindful of my two nephews aged 10 and 12, who, by the way, were being chauffeured along in Michelle’s 2007 Honda Fit (aka the car that refuses to die), we took a nacho break at Roofhound Brewery in Kingston. 

Once settled in to our AirBnB near Freeport, a working fishing village on Long Island at the end of Digby Neck, we went to a place called Tacocat for supper. It actually has nothing to do with cats. According to the owner, he is just that much of a fan of palindromes. Weird. It was also odd having Mexican food in a place largely dominated by seafood restaurants, but it was delicious nevertheless. We would definitely go back.

At this point the Jeep’s allure became quite obvious. The air suspension ensured a coddled ride when you wanted it, and a more engaging drive when a bit of testosterone starts to flow.

 

Even if you are a V6 or a V8 purist, you can’t sneeze at the power numbers of the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

By now, we should all be used to finding four-cylinder engines under the hoods of performance sedans, muscle cars and even half-tonne trucks. So it wasn’t a complete shock to learn that our tester came with a 2.0-litre turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine, good for 375 horses and 470 pound foot torque.

 

Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

 

It should also be mentioned that you can still get those larger engines as options in the new Grand Cherokee if you desperately need one.

 

No satisfying growl from the four-cylinder

But behind the wheel, it certainly feels like 375 horsepower. The only thing that took some getting used to was the lack of that satisfying growl you would otherwise get. The quieter and more weasy sounding 4-cylinder won’t give you any goosebumps but the satisfying whirr that comes from the turbo spooling up almost makes up for the lack of audible grunt.

To get to Freeport, you need to take a ferry to the other side. The 5 minute ride allows you to take in some nice scenery from the comfort of your vehicle. I may have put the Jeep’s suspension setting at its highest level to get a better view over the boat’s railings.

Last year when we went whale watching the weather shut us out. This year was thankfully a different story. 

 

Whale watching off Digby Neck, Nova Scotia

 

We saw a mother humpback whale with her calf. They said that she likely came all the way from the Dominican Republic to feed on the Bay of Fundy. Whales have very good memories so when they find a place they know will reliably have grub, they almost always return.

Mama (like most mothers) was exhausted from the trip trying to keep the baby safe, all while feeding it along the way. This means that mama usually starves herself to make sure the baby stays alive and makes the trek. Thank you mothers!

Further down we saw two more humpbacks; one of which was all too happy to give us a rather unusual greeting. The whale’s name is Tusk and he is famous for what is called the ‘Tusk Twist’. 

Basically he dives and raises his tail above water like most whales do, but he twists his tail in the process almost like he was waving or, dare I say, twerking.

 

 

Our tour guide mentioned that Tusk is the only whale that she has ever seen do that trick in her 30 years doing whale watching tours. I looked it up when we got home and I couldn’t find any mention of any whale moving their tails about in such a way. Strange, but so cool!

 

Whale tale!

 

On that highlight, we headed back the next day to the city. I asked our nephews what they thought of the Jeep and they were quite impressed. Then I told them the price tag.

 

Price tag of Jeep Grand Cherokee shocks young passengers

My tester came in at just over $93,000.

My youngest nephew, Max, was shocked: “It’s nice, but not 90K nice,” he quipped. Ouch. I may have inadvertently been influencing Max’s opinions of press cars over the years because his review sounded like that of an automotive journalist. He was blunt, but fair.

I had to agree, though it should be noted that the plug-in version starts at $77K. Still a lot but if you leave some options out, you’ll likely spend much less than $93K.

 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the efficiency aspect.

Even when the charge for EV-only driving was depleted, it still acted like a regular hybrid. I couldn’t tell at all when it switched from gas to electricity and vice-versa. That’s a feat that few automakers can pull off.

Back home in Dartmouth, I took note of the Jeep’s fuel consumption. We ended up with 10.6 L/100 kms in both highway and city driving. Considering you’d be lucky to get in the 15.0L/100km range in the old Grand Cherokee, the noticeable difference is certainly welcomed.

 

Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4xe
Photo: Lisa Calvi

 

In the end, the Grand Cherokee proved yet again why it is so popular within the Jeep brand.

It was already quite nice, but with the upgraded tech, luxury and efficiency, Jeep may be well on the way as being known for things other than ruggedness, off-roading and, uh, Barbie.

It’s always tough to try to improve upon something that everyone thought was great in the first place. Jeep found a way. While the audible grunt is missed, I am happy to see upgraded tech, such as the plug-in, for those who want off-road capability while keeping some money in their wallets.

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