Payne: If only Clark Griswold had driven a Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 18, 2021

Moab, Utah — Poor Clark Griswold. He famously took his family out west in “National Lampoon’s Vacation” movie in an overmatched Wagon Queen Family Truckster.

He should have bought a 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The fifth generation of Jeep’s best-selling family vehicle will now not only confidently carry you over America’s highways — but beyond where the asphalt ends. Griswold and family’s final destination was Wally World, California, but allow me to suggest a detour to Moab, Utah, in the Grand Cherokee.

Mountain goat. The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk brings capable off-road tools to the family SUV like detachable front swaybars, two-speed transfer case, AWD, and skid plates.

Moab is Jeep’s home away from home. For decades, Wrangler pilots have come here to put their 4x4s to the ultimate test across Hell’s Revenge, one of the most daunting off-road terrains in the United States. Drive down Main Street and Wrangler rentals are everywhere. Now the family Grand Cherokee can join off-road fun with its Trailhawk package armored with steel skid plates, a detachable swaybar, air suspension with 11.3 inches of clearance and all-terrain tires.

Those tools came in handy as I followed a Wrangler Rubicon up a steep trail into Moab’s vast slippery-rock wilderness. It’s territory the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk knows well, having been tested extensively here. I’m betting Griswold would want to impress his family with the SUV’s capability.

Off-roading is not unlike on-road track racing. You want a belt-full of tools at your disposal. Tracking a production car means stiffening everything from shocks to steering response. Off-road is the opposite. You want as much vehicle flexibility as possible.

Dipping into Trailhawk’s toolbox, I shifted into NEUTRAL, selected 4-LOW and engaged ROCK mode. The beast loosened right up: swaybar disconnected to allow the front wheels Gumby-like articulation; ride-height jacked to protect the belly. Throttle eased to prevent sudden lurches.

The Jeep crawled around the broken landscape like a two-ton mountain goat.

If that sounds too nuts, then Griswold might haul the family over to Schafer’s Trail Road in Canyonlands National Park east of Moab. Be sure to option the Family Truckster — er, Grand Cherokee Trailhawk — with the panoramic sunroof. The Colorado and Green rivers have carved Canyonlands as deep as Arizona’s Grand Canyon.

The kiddies will gawk at the sheer cliffs above while Dad white-knuckle steers past sheer drop-offs unprotected by guardrails. Happily, the sure-footed mountain goat is your friend. Sitting on 18-inch rims, Trailhawk’s 30.5-inch-tall sidewalls will ride smoothly over Shafer Trail’s pocked rocky road — just like the thousands of Wranglers that have gone before it.

Gotta have the panoramic roof. The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee offers great views of the Moab countryside.

Better to take the Grand Cherokee to Arches National Park 28 miles north, where the only off-roading is by foot. Along the park’s winding asphalt road, the panoramic roof is a glorious window to a natural red skyline that includes iconic structures like the Three Penguins, Park Avenue, Balanced Rock and other achingly beautiful natural wonders.

That is, if your teens can pull themselves away from the 10-inch screens available in the rear. Fire TV transforms the backseats into a rolling family room where you can watch your favorite series, movies and so on. I took a break in the back seat myself to watch some auto racing highlights on YouTube after a long day of driving the Colorado River basin to the LaSalle Mountains. The Grand’s back seat is the biggest in class and easy on my 6’5” frame.

The rear seats of the 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee are roomy for six-footers - and offer Fire TV entertainment on 10-inch screens.

Wait, spirited drive? In a mid-size SUV?

“Slow down!” Griswold’s wife barked as Clark’s right foot got too heavy on the highway. Grand Cherokee tempts the right foot in the twisties, too.

The Jeep is not only built for the off-road, but engineer Dave Partlow and his team have cast a spell on the suspension to make it truly enjoyable at speed. My Trailhawk tester was nicely equipped with the Grand’s standard 292-horse V-6 workhorse. But for Jeep lovers with a lead foot — and there are plenty of them — the 5.7-liter, 470-horse V-8 is also available. Yes, the same eight-holer as in the insane Wrangler 392 that I destroyed Holy Oaks ORV park with last summer.

The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk has been tested in the extreme environment of Hell's Revenge in Moab, Utah.

For my money (and the Grand demands deep pockets; more on that later), the Trailhawk is plenty bad-ass with six cylinders. Its black hood, tow hooks and eye-catching wheels look plenty cool (and the black hood is also useful for reducing sun glare when the Moab sun is baking you and the slippery rocks at 115 degrees in August).

In those conditions, the Griswold clan may be happy to close the roof, turn up the AC and keep cruisin’ to Wally World. Because the interior of the Jeep is a grand place to be.

The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee is covered in Easter Eggs paying homage to its Jeep heritage. See the WW2 Jeep in the grille?

For all its exterior muscle, the lines of the 2022 Grand Cherokee have changed little from Gen 4. The signature seven-slot grille is more upright, the LED headlights narrowed from squinting into the sunset, the body more sculpted, as if it has spent more time in the gym to take advantage of the advanced hardware underneath.

The interior, meanwhile, has undergone a major face-lift.

No wonder Jeep has raised the Grand’s base price by a stiff $3,705 — the brand team knows the Grand is the rare mainstream badge cross-shopped against luxury makes Audi, BMW and Land Rover.

An elegant center console spills like a waterfall between the seats, splitting the wing-shaped dash spread between the A-pillars. The digital screens are packed with tech befitting a smartphone. Indeed, Jeep designers modeled the Uconnect 5 system — already an industry benchmark — after an Android with a “dots” avatar that allows intuitive navigation between pages.

The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee has an array of 10-inch digital screens - including an available passenger-side display (right).

Pages can be configured with the content you want. My favorite layout put Android Auto (wirelessly mated to my phone) at my fingertips next to my wife’s telephone number, Spotify app, map and SiriusXM radio.

Mrs. Griswold can have a screen of her own thanks to the Grand’s class-exclusive passenger screen (she can use it to monitor what the kids are watching).

Like Tesla, Jeep is obsessive about putting climate controls in the center screen, which will turn off some shoopers yearning for more console knobs. Jeep’s excellent Level 2 adaptive cruise system helps keep the Grand centered in-lane to mitigate distraction.

Imagine that, Clark Griswold. Level 2 self-driving for those long cross-country miles. So when Christie Brinkley pulls up in her Ferrari, you can give her a nice wave. But you’ll keep the Grand Cherokee, thank you very much.

After all, you can’t fit a family of four and their luggage in a Ferrari. Or take it off-roading in Moab.

2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Vehicle type: Front engine, rear- and-all-wheel-drive, five-passenger SUV

Price: $39,185, including $1,795 destination fee ($60,645 Trailhawk and $73,085 Summit Reserve as tested)

Powerplant: 3.6-liter V-6, 5.7-liter V-8

Power: 293 horsepower, 260 pound-feet torque (V-6); 354 horsepower, 390 pound-feet torque (V-8)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.6 seconds (Car and Driver est. V-8); towing, 7,200 lbs (V-8)

Weight: 4,747 pounds (V-6 Trailhawk)

Fuel economy: EPA est. mpg 18 city/25 highway/21 combined (V-6 AWD); 14 city/22 highway/17 combined (V-8 AWD)

Report card

Highs: Luxury, roomy interior; tech-tastic

Lows: Gets pricey

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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