With Hummer gone, Jeep is our resident Alpha male off-road vehicle and truth be told, it has been for 70+ years. Hummer was the upstart.
While Wrangler is Jeep’s real Type A personality, it’s more sophisticated brother, the Grand Cherokee is no shy guy. Take the Limited model for example.
Standard with a 290-horse Pentastar V6, our silver test model upped the ante with a 5.7-liter HEMI V8 with variable valve timing and Fuel Saver Technology aimed at eeking out an extra mpg while still giving the Jeep major grunt.
Well, the grunt is there.
The HEMI (yes, we all loved the TV commercials) delivers up 390 lb.-ft. of torque so this sleek Jeep will pull up to 7,200 lbs. of snowmobile trailer and sleds, when properly equipped. Jeep uses a 6-speed automatic transmission to massage that power into all four wheels on the test truck and most of the time it does a fine job.
There’s plenty of power, but I noticed the tranny was a little slow on the uptake. At low speeds it shifted early, probably trying to save gas, so the Jeep wasn’t as quick off the line as you might think with all that power. From 30 mph upward though, as you crunched the accelerator the Jeep sprang to life, not always the easiest task for a 4,850-lb. vehicle.
Sadly, while that Fuel Saver Technology may have slowed the Jeep a bit off the line, it didn’t seem to do much fuel saving. I got just 15.8 mpg in about 60% highway driving. The EPA rates this at 13 mpg city and 20 highway, and in an earlier Overland edition I’d gotten 19.7 mpg. So I’d expected much better gas mileage. All this was without a trailer too.
Still, I wasn’t disappointed in the Jeep’s ride and handling. The Grand Cherokee turns into corners well and feels relatively nimble for its weight. There is slight body lean in tight turns, but with its excellent all-wheel-drive system you feel locked to the road.
We had some wet weather during my drive, even a little slush, but the Jeep easily powers through and keeps its wheels planted beneath it.
Most enjoyable was the ride. Many utes bounce you silly, or firm up the suspension so much that you feel every crack and crease in the roads. Not here. The four-wheel independent suspension climbs over the bumps with enough finesse that you almost forget you could take it over rocks and rivers.
For the record, the ground clearance is a bit over eight inches, but you can adjust the Quadra-Trac II 4-wheel drive’s Selec-Trac system by twisting a knob on the console to fit your road or snowy off-road needs. There are five settings. For instance, the Rock setting raises the Jeep 4.1 inches for more hazard clearance. Put it in Park mode and it’ll lower 1.5 inches from its standard height. Sport mode lowers it 1 inch for better highway aerodynamics too.
Brakes are strong too with heavy-duty discs front and rear, plus ABS and stability control. Hill Descent Control is another feature to keep you safe, once off road and allow you to crawl down steep inclines. Heavy-duty brakes are part of the HEMI engine package that adds $1,695 to the Jeep’s sticker.
But while you COULD go clamoring over hill, dale and swamp with this, inside you’ll feel like you’re in a luxury sedan. First, it’s quiet inside the Grand Cherokee. While there are 18-inch tires rolling below you, there’s no tire roar like you have in a Wrangler.
Overhead is a panoramic dual-pane sunroof and there are black perforated leather seats that offer both two-speed heat and cooling, if that’s something you need. That’s part of another $1,495 package, which also adds a heated steering wheel, something more of us in the northern climes may find necessary.
The test ute looked classy inside too with its textured dash and fake wood door and dash trim with matte silver accent trim on the steering wheel and center stack. The seats themselves are power in front and offer fairly flat bottom cushions, but more contoured backs. The driver gets two memory settings too.
While I could find things easily on the dash, the radio and navigation buttons are tiny and the Grand Cherokee’s steering wheel remains pretty thick, which might not be comfortable for small handed drivers. Chrysler’s trip computer controls on the loaded power tilt/telescope steering wheel hub also remain somewhat confusing and are more complex and require more attention than many other systems.
There’s voice command for the navigation system, part of a $465 media package that includes MP3, satellite traffic and more. I also appreciate the rear backup camera, a nice safety feature.
This also has a power rear hatch that you can activate from the driver’s seat, or by pulling the handle on the hatch. Inside there’s also a HomeLink security system and the Jeep’s solid visors also slide to block side sun.
Cargo room is good in back at 36.3 cu.ft., and grows to 68.3 cu.ft. when the second row seats are folded flat. That’s easily accomplished.
Pricing? The tested Limited with 4-wheel drive starts at $39,295, plus an $825 delivery charge. With options, the test truck was $43,775.
If that’s too rich for your wallet, the Laredo 2WD with the 290-horse V6 starts at a more modest $26,995 and also gets better gas mileage. Its EPA rating is 17 city and 23 highway. Moving up to 4WD pushes Laredo to $28,995. Limited is the mid-level model and Overland the top of the normal model lineup, the 4WD version listing at $42,995.
However, there is a special SRT-8 performance model that boasts a monster 6.4-liter V8 that makes 465 horses. It lists at $54,470 and gets just 12 mpg city and 18 highway, according to the EPA.
For serious off-roaders and snowmobile haulers who also demand luxury for their daily drives, the Grand Cherokee remains a stylish, comfortable choice.
2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4×4
Made in: Detroit, Mich.
Engine: 3.6-liter V6, 290 hp
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Weight: 4,850 lbs.
Wheelbase: 114.8 in.
Tow: 5,000-7,200 lbs.
Cargo: 36.3 cu.ft., 68.3 cu.ft. (second row seats down)
Base Price: $39,295
Dealer’s Price: $37,059
Luxury Group II (heated steering wheel w/audio controls, leather seats, power liftgate, power tilt/telescope steering column, vented front seats), $1,495
5.7-liter VVT HEMI V8 (360 hp) w/Fuel Saver Technology, ABS, 4-wheel heavy-duty disc brake, dual bright exhaust tips, $1,695
Media center w/CD/DVD/MP3/HDD/Nav 40gb hard drive, GPS with voice command, Sirius XM Traffic, $465
Test vehicle: $43,775
Sources: Jeep, www.autos.yahoo.com
Hits: Ride and handling are excellent for a mid-size ute, plus this one offers great off-road ability. Attractive and quiet interior with good amenities, heated steering wheel and first and second row seats, power tilt/telescope wheel, backup camera and giant sunroof.
Misses: Transmission is a little slow on the low end, bad gas mileage for having Fuel Saver Technology, and tiny radio/navigation buttons on the dash. Thick steering wheel with confusing trip computer controls.