Jeep Grand Cherokee Off-Road Capability: A Comprehensive Review

jeep grand cherokee off-road capability

For an SUV with the Jeep badge, exceptional off-road capability is a given. But how capable is the Jeep Grand Cherokee off-road specifically? The short answer is – extremely capable. Equipped with specialized 4×4 systems like Quadra-Lift air suspension, Selec-Terrain traction control, and heavy-duty skid plates, the Grand Cherokee can confidently tackle mud, snow, steep hills, and rugged terrain.

In this detailed guide, we’ll explore the Grand Cherokee’s off-road credentials by looking at key features and technologies that enable it to excel when taken off the beaten path. Specific aspects covered include:

  • Quadra-Lift Air Suspension and Adjustable Ground Clearance
  • Selec-Terrain Traction Control System
  • Skid Plates, Tow Hooks, and Body Protection
  • High Approach, Departure, and Breakover Angles
  • Advanced 4WD Systems and Transfer Case
  • Optional Off-Road Tires
  • Hill Descent Control and Downhill Assist
  • Overall Off-Road Performance and Capability

Introduction: The Grand Cherokee’s Off-Road Pedigree

As one of the most recognized SUV brands worldwide, Jeep has cultivated a reputation for building incredibly capable 4×4 vehicles. The Wrangler may be Jeep’s most hardcore off-roader, but make no mistake – the Grand Cherokee SUV is engineered for tackling challenging terrain with ease.

Introduced in 1992, the Grand Cherokee set a new standard for upscale SUVs that combined luxury and refinement with serious off-road prowess. Now in its fifth generation, the latest Grand Cherokee stays true to its roots with a range of systems focused on maximizing grip, stability, and control when taken off-road.

Jeep also optimizes key dimensions like approach, departure, and breakover angles to allow the Grand Cherokee to clear obstacles and steep slopes without scraping its underside. And with available quadra-lift air suspension, the Grand Cherokee can articulate its wheels over uneven ground and raise its body for an impressive 11.3 inches of ground clearance.

While some SUVs pay lip service to off-road capability, the Grand Cherokee’s credentials are proven and genuine. Between its specialized 4×4 hardware, robust construction, and Jeep’s heritage, the Grand Cherokee ranks among the most capable mainstream SUVs for venturing off the beaten path.

Quadra-Lift Air Suspension: Adjustable Ground Clearance for Off-Road Driving

One of the Grand Cherokee’s most important off-road technologies is the available Quadra-Lift air suspension system. Quadra-Lift provides adjustable ground clearance via four-corner air springs that can raise the Grand Cherokee’s body up to 11.3 inches off the ground.

With a button push, the driver can raise the Grand Cherokee’s ride height for extra clearance over obstacles like rocks or fallen trees. Quadra-Lift offers five different height settings optimized for different conditions:

  • Normal Ride Height: The default setting offers 8.7 inches of ground clearance for a comfortable on-road ride. It works well for mild dirt roads and gravel.
  • Off-Road 1: Lifts the body 2 inches for 10.7 inches of ground clearance. Ideal for moderate off-road trails and deep snow.
  • Off-Road 2: Raises the Grand Cherokee 4 inches from normal, providing 10.9 inches of clearance for more challenging terrain and deep ruts.
  • Park Mode: Lowers the vehicle 1.6 inches from normal ride height for easier ingress/egress.
  • Aero Mode: Drops the vehicle 0.6 inches from normal, improving aerodynamics and fuel efficiency on the highway.

In addition to greater ground clearance, the air suspension improves the Grand Cherokee’s wheel articulation – allowing wheels to better stay in contact with uneven ground by moving up and down independently. This enhances traction and control on rocky, undulating surfaces.

The Quadra-Lift system works in tandem with the Grand Cherokee’s Selec-Terrain system (covered next) to optimize the SUV’s ride height and traction for different off-road conditions at the push of a button.

Selec-Terrain Traction Control: Custom Traction Modes for Different Surfaces

Another pivotal off-road tech is the Grand Cherokee’s Selec-Terrain traction control system. Selec-Terrain lets the driver configure the SUV’s traction, throttle, transmission, and wheel articulation settings to best suit different surfaces like snow, mud, rocks, and sand.

By coordinating these systems, Selec-Terrain maximizes the Grand Cherokee’s tire grip for optimized traction on a given terrain. The driver chooses from up to five different traction modes:

  • Auto: Automatically adjusts traction settings for on-road driving. This is the default mode.
  • Sport: Tightens up steering and adapts transmission/throttle response for enhanced on-road performance. Low range gearing is not available in this mode.
  • Rock: Configures the SUV for optimum low-speed rock crawling. Raises ride height while enabling Hill Descent Control.
  • Snow: Maximizes traction on snowy and icy roads by limiting throttle input. Available with front/rear differentials locked.
  • Mud/Sand: Allows aggressive wheel spin to help power through mud or deep sand. Raises ride height.

Between the customized traction/chassis settings and available two-speed transfer case with low range gearing, Selec-Terrain transforms the way the Grand Cherokee performs on different surfaces. The SUV can tackle snow, mud, sand, or rocks with remarkable confidence and control.

Heavy-Duty Skid Plates and Underbody Protection

To complement its advanced 4×4 systems, the Jeep Grand Cherokee features heavy-duty skid plates that protect its most vulnerable underbody components from damage on rough terrain.

Made from thick steel, these skid plates shield key mechanical parts like:

  • Front suspension
  • Fuel tank
  • Transfer case
  • Transmission pan
  • Engine oil pan

This armor takes the brunt of impacts from rocks, stumps, debris, and other trail obstacles that could otherwise dent, puncture, or tear vital systems. The plating helps the Grand Cherokee traverse rocky trails or overgrown areas with less risk of getting hung up or sustaining damage.

The steel skids join the Grand Cherokee’s robust front and rear tow hooks made for winching the SUV out of trouble should it become stuck off-road. The factory bumpers also minimize overhang to improve approach and departure angles.

Excellent Approach, Departure, and Breakover Angles

In addition to its adjustable ground clearance, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is engineered with optimized approach, departure, and breakover angles that enable the SUV to clear steep obstacles and inclines – especially when equipped with air suspension.

  • Approach angle: The maximum slope the vehicle can climb without scraping its front bumper. The Grand Cherokee boasts up to 36.1 degrees of approach angle in its Off-Road 2 air suspension setting.
  • Departure angle: The maximum slope the vehicle can descend without scraping its rear bumper. Up to 27.1 degrees in the Off-Road 2 mode.
  • Breakover angle: The maximum crest a vehicle can traverse without bottoming out. Up to 22.8 degrees with Quadra-Lift deployed.

Between its specialized traction systems, available 20-inch wheels, and generous angles of approach/departure, the Jeep Grand Cherokee can power up and down incredibly steep mountain trails that would leave some rival SUVs scraping their bumpers.

Advanced 4WD Systems Increase Traction

In addition to traction control modes tailored for different conditions, the Grand Cherokee leverages advanced four-wheel drive systems to distribute torque for superior traction off-road.

Available Quadra-Drive II with rear electronic limited slip differential optimally varies torque between front and rear axles and left/right wheels to keep the SUV moving over rough terrain.

The two-speed transfer case provides low range gearing for extra torque at low speeds during rigorous off-road driving or when pulling heavy loads. Hill Descent Control uses the brakes to maintain a steady downhill descent speed so the driver can focus on steering alone.

Optional Off-Road Tires Enhance Grip

While all Grand Cherokee models come with all-terrain tires that perform reasonably off-road, choosing the available aggressive off-road tires transforms the SUV’s traction for the tougher stuff. Upgraded tire options include:

  • Falken WildPeak AT3W: Ideal balance of on/off-road grip with strong sidewalls and deep, rugged tread pattern that excels in mud or snow.
  • Goodyear Wrangler Adventure: Tough and durable off-road tire optimized for rock crawling with DuPont Kevlar construction that resists punctures. Aggressive shoulder and sidewall lugs.

Compared to the stock tires, these specialty tires bite deeper into loose dirt and muddy trails thanks to wider tread grooves, sturdy sidewalls, and a more rugged, open tread. They provide a major boost in capability for Grand Cherokee owners who take their Jeep into demanding backcountry terrain.

Hill Descent Control Conquers Steep Downhills

Proper downhill driving technique is crucial for controlling descent speeds, avoiding brake overheating, and preventing damage to underbody components on rugged declines off-road.

Here, the Grand Cherokee’s Hill Descent Control takes the guesswork out of steep descents by automatically controlling the vehicle’s speed between 2-20 mph using the brakes.

After coming to a halt and engaging Hill Descent Control, the driver needs only to steer while the system modulates the brakes to crawl down treacherous grades at a steady, even speed. It’s a valuable feature for off-roading novices uneasy about descending tricky terrain.

Overall Off-Road Performance and Capability

While some SUVs pay lip service to off-roading in their marketing, the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s 4×4 hardware enables it to walk the walk when taken off pavement. Between available Quadra Lift air suspension, Selec-Terrain traction modes, heavy-duty skid plates, advanced 4WD systems, and optimized approach/departure angles, the Grand Cherokee can traverse rigorous off-road terrain that leaves some competitors scraping their bumpers or getting stuck.

Equipped with the right features, it conquers mud, snow, loose dirt, steep hills and rock crawling scenarios that defy lesser SUVs. Its credentials only improve when opting for specialty off-road tires or upgrading to the high-end 470 horsepower Summit or Trailhawk trims. Though not as rugged as a Wrangler, the Grand Cherokee packs genuine 4×4 capability in a refined, family-friendly package.


The Jeep Grand Cherokee continues its brand’s renowned legacy for off-road prowess. Engineered with specialized 4×4 systems and robust underbody armor, it can tackle mud, snow, rocks, steep slopes, and other challenging terrain that leaves rival SUVs scraping their bumpers.

Key features like Quadra-Lift air suspension, Selec-Terrain traction control, skid plates, and advanced four-wheel drive allow the Grand Cherokee to keep moving and under control when taken off-road, resulting in one of the most capable mainstream SUVs for those who don’t just stick to the pavement.

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