Is My Jeep Grand Cherokee Always In 4WD?

Sometimes, I like to answer the question at the beginning. So, YES! The Jeep Grand Cherokee is always in 4WD!

It´s completely normal when we have some doubts about a car, especially when automotive technology advances so fast. With the fifth-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee among us, the evolution in the gearbox and the traction system has taken giant steps. This means that the driver’s manual manipulation is out of the equation. To clarify, this change allows the on-board computer to automatically take control of the 4×4 traction system.

Is My Jeep Grand Cherokee Always In 4WD?

2WD… AWD… 4WD… What does that mean?

First of all, I would like to explain to you something about the differences between the transfer boxes. Let´s do this before starting our deep trip into the Jeep Grand Cherokee 4WD system.

A 4×4 vehicle, likewise called four-wheel drive (4WD), indicates a system in which a car’s engine powers all 4 wheels uniformly. Normally speaking, when it involves SUVs or a car, there are only 4 alternatives:

  1. Rear-wheel drive (2WD)
  2. Front-wheel drive (2WD)
  3. All-wheel drive (AWD)
  4. Four-wheel drive (4WD)


As you may imagine, for a consumer there are advantages and negative aspects to each option.

The distinction is about traction.

When you think about finding the right one for you, it’s commonly a balancing act about your likes vs. your dislikes, of course, everything based on your certain needs.

For some drivers, traction is important because they have to deal with severe conditions such as mud or snow. But for others, traction is a matter of handling and speed.

While these may seem like excellent additions for any type of vehicle driver, the flip-side is that sending power to all four tires calls for a more complicated drivetrain system. Which causes increased vehicle weight, and generally a loss to fuel effectiveness.

Not all Jeep Grand Cherokee´s are the same when it comes to the 4WD system. We will go into a bit of the history of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, and we will show the evolution in this system, from being applied manually to being automated.

Jeep Grand Cherokee throughout History

A good choice for a four-wheel drive (4WD or 4×4) vehicle is the Jeep Grand Cherokee. For example, if you ask a connoisseur: What is the most representative Jeep Model? He or she will certainly tell you that the Wrangler is the answer.

Another model is the Jeep Cherokee, one of the first SUV’s in history (with self-supporting bodywork and maintaining a good off-road commitment). This model has been on the market since 1974 (no less).

But of course, this SUV has set the tone throughout Jeep´s history, but it wasn’t the only one. Also, a model that marked during the ’70s and ’80s was the Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer.

Such was its success that the company decided to enter into the segment of the “Premium SUV” with the protagonist of this story. That is to say, the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The 4WD System

With the Jeep Grand Cherokee in the scene, released in 1992, the brand tried to repeat a move made decades earlier. At that time, they combined the sale of Jeep Wagoneer (released in 1963 as a luxury version of the 1946 Willys Wagon) with that the even more luxurious Jeep Grand Wagoneer.

Among the variants of its gasoline and diesel engines, it used to have a manual transmission until 1994. Year in which it was eliminated due to its low demand worldwide. From then on, it could only be chosen with automatic transmission. In other words, four-speed in the two-wheel-drive (2WD) and four-wheel-drive (4WD) variants.

Introducing the Quadra-Trac

Since the Grand Cherokee was introduced in our garages (believe it or not it was about 29 years ago). The new Quadra-Trac system has already stood out, which allowed us to maintain the legendary off-road tradition of the brand but with the plus of comfort and luxury.

This system uses the rear axle under normal conditions and sends engine torque to the front axle if necessary. Either when it detects wheel skating or through acceleration anticipation, which sends torque to the front axle before drifting when accelerating.

Quadra-Trac I employs a two-speed chain-driven transfer case featuring three modes of operation, “4-All Time”, “N” or neutral, and “4-Lo”, and it requires the activation of the system by the driver itself.

Improving the Traction System

For the next generation introduced in 1998 of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the new Quadra-Drive transfer box included among its features:

  • A new concept in four-wheel-drive systems,
  • Incorporating a progressive,
  • Speed-sensitive torque transmission coupling.

A new suspension scheme also made road driving smoother, as well as lighter and more efficient engines, either to be off-road or on the road towing your boat.

Here you can find the best SUVs for towing capacity

The system marked the first use in the Vari-Lok axle industry. That mounted progressive and speed-sensitive torque transmission differentials on both, front and rear axles.

The combination of the Quadra-Trac and Vari-Lok provided the revolutionary Quadra-Drive system, which could keep the vehicle moving even if only one wheel had minimal traction… and without the driver having to intervene at all.

Jeep is taken the Lead

With the new generations of the Grand Cherokee, we are also advancing in the transmission system. As it is with Quadra-Drive II’s active and permanent 4×4 traction system to overcome the most extreme driving conditions.

This system uses the Quadra-Trac II transfer box and limited-slip electronic differentials on both axles, offering excellent traction performance.

Quadra-Trac II is similar to the Quadra-Trac I system but eliminates the “4 Lo” and “N” or neutral modes.

The Quadra-Trac II excludes these modes with a system that requires no driver input, which is now controlled by the on-board computer.

The permanently active Quadra-Trac II four-wheel-drive system features a two-speed transfer box that implements the BTCS (Brake Traction Control System) on the front and rear axle for excellent off-road performance.

Its two-speed transfer box uses information from multiple sensors to determine tire slippage in the shortest possible time to take corrective action.

The Grand Cherokee System Also Uses the “Throttle Anticipate”

To detect rapid movements in the throttle from standing and maximize traction before slippage occurs.

When wheel slippage is detected, 100% of the available torque is immediately sent to the axle with tire slippage, the system can transfer up to 100% of the available torque to the rear wheel with better grip.

If it is equipped with the Quadra-Trac II, the system allows you to place the transfer case in 4WD L (4WD LOW) or 4WD H (4WD HIGH) manually when traction or terrain dictate with preset selection programs for when we’re in mud, snow, sand, or rocks. In this matter, Jeep built-in a new traction control system called “Selec-Terrain” for the new generation of Jeep Grand Cherokee.

This allows the driver to choose the configuration and off-road for excellent 4×4 performance. This feature electronically coordinates up to 6 different powertrains, 4-wheel torque distribution, braking and handling, steering and suspension systems, and steering response.

The system offers unrivaled enhanced capability as well as excellent highway driving dynamics.

The legendary off-road capability of these three 4WD systems: Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II, and Quadra-Drive II with the Electronic Self-Locking Rear Differential (eLSD). All three systems are equipped with an active transfer case to improve traction by distributing torque to the wheel with the most grip.


Another feature is the automatic disconnection of the front axle, which means, if the Jeep Grand Cherokee detects that the road conditions do not require 4WD (four-wheel drive), the front axle is automatically disconnected allowing it to operate with two-wheel drive. Consequently, it reduces the powertrain drag and improving economy fuel.

And last but not least, the 4WD (four-wheel drive) is automatically reactivated when the vehicle detects it is needed.

The 4WD of the future

As a good lover of the off-road world, each brand has its style and particularity, but Jeep has managed to perfection to unite luxury without losing its off-road essence.

For some people, being able to have control over the activation of the 4WD systems is paramount, tops, like an old school 4×4, such as a Jeep Cherokee or a Toyota Land Cruiser, or whatever you want to call it. But for others, the simple idea that the on-board computer, with all the sensors and electrical parts, is the one that fits the needs of the terrain, ¡it’s amazing!

The progress in the automotive industry has been astounding.

Artificial intelligence is here and now with us, it may not take long to be able to take a trip in a car with the option of self-driving like a Tesla.

If you decide to go through the mountains or going camping with the family in a new Jeep Grand Cherokee, consider that,  it is the on-board computer itself that takes the decisions about when using the 4WD or not.

Now, with the new programmable traction systems, air suspensions, and the electronic self-locking rear differential, and now including driving modes, they will enhance the legendary off-road capability.

Finally, Jeep always is and will be, a pioneer in this sector, bringing luxury with it in its Grand Cherokee, plus the comfort and certainty of its 4WD off-road driving systems wherever it goes. Roads, muds, rock, rivers… You just name it, and it’ll pass it like nothing.

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