While Jeep is preparing to introduce a mildly updated 2014 Grand Cherokee this summer, a week spent with the current Grand Cherokee Overland Summit proved that the 2013 models have much to offer.
The Grand Cherokee is at the top of the Jeep lineup and the Overland Summit is its top trim level. This version appeals to buyers who want a luxurious vehicle and the ability to go off-road, although they probably won’t. The hardcore off-roaders usually end up in Jeep Wranglers.
Still, the Grand Cherokee is immensely useful, even on paved surfaces. No sooner had it arrived than snow fell, demonstrating the advantages of Jeep’s optional Quadra-Drive II four-wheel drive system. This Jeep Grand Cherokee proved to be unstoppable, even when this driver deliberately tried some really stupid winter driving maneuvers, such as stopping halfway up a steep ice-covered hill, just to see how hard it would be to get started again.
It wasn’t difficult at all, as the Grand Cherokee resumed its forward progress with no wheel slippage. It repeated this performance on another unplowed steep hill.
Jeep Grand Cherokees come in five trim levels: the base, but nicely equipped Laredo, the more lavishly outfitted Limited, and the Overland and Overland Summit. There is also the high-performance SRT version, with a 6.4-liter V-8, all-wheel drive and a sport suspension.
All except the SRT come with either Chrysler’s relatively new and impressively smooth 3.6-liter V-6, or the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. The V-6 is paired to a five-speed automatic, while the V-8 gets a six-speed unit. One of the changes set for 2014 is the adoption of an eight-speed automatic, along with a newly optional diesel engine.
Previous trials with the V-6 Grand Cherokee left me thoroughly impressed, though a co-worker who bought one complained of a “lack of power.” This version with optional four-wheel drive took 8.5 seconds to reach 60 miles per hour.
The 5.7-liter V-8 we had this time around presents an entirely different performance picture. It delivers ample low-end torque, which means nearly instant throttle response. A full-throttle run to 60 miles per hour takes just 6.9 seconds and, as an additional indication of the added power of the Hemi V-8, the trailer rating climbs from a maximum of 5,000 pounds with the V-6 to 7,400 pounds.
The price to be paid for V-8 power starts with the initial purchase; the V-8 adds $1,695 to $2,195 to the bottom line, depending on other equipment. Fuel economy also suffers with the V-8. In our review vehicles, the V-6 managed to go 21.7 miles per gallon. The V-8 in the Overland Summit went 17.1 miles per gallon, despite having displacement on demand. Displacement on demand allows four of the eight cylinders to shut down seamlessly when full power isn’t needed.
The base Laredo model is nicely equipped, while our Overland Summit had a variety of added features. In addition to all the upgrades in the Limited – dual zone automatic climate control, a backup camera and power everything – our Overland Summit added the sophisticated Quadra-Drive II four-wheel drive system with Quadra-Lift air suspension, and advanced safety features such as adaptive cruise control, blind spot and cross-traffic warning systems, forward-collision warning and front and rear parking alert systems.
Ride and handling closely mimic the best crossover utility vehicles. That’s impressive, since crossovers don’t come close to the Grand Cherokee’s off-road capabilities. These crossovers can be best described as car-like. The same can be said for the Grand Cherokee. With its luxurious Overland Summit trim, “luxury car-like” would be more accurate.
The current Grand Cherokee was impressive at its 2011 model year introduction. It was light years ahead of the previous version. The fact that is continues to impress three years later is a testament to the quality of its original design.
I can’t imagine taking this luxuriously-outfitted 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit into the woods. It has the kind of interior that makes me want to go out of my way to keep it from getting dirty. Muddy shoes and dirty cargo would be out of the question in this luxury SUV.
This Jeep proved its worth when I forgot my gloves on the first cold morning I drove it. Fortunately, the thick-rimmed wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel is heated, and the first bit of warmth arrived by the end of our relatively short driveway.
The leather upholstery in our Overland Summit looked and felt better than average. Upscale interior treatments extend to the door panels, dash covering, seat embroidery and stitching. While Jim appreciated the adjustable ride height suspension for its ability to raise the vehicle for off-road conditions, then lower it for a more aerodynamic profile on the highway, I like the feature because you can lower the vehicle all the way to make getting in and out easier.
The front seat passenger has the same range of power adjustments that the driver enjoys, including a power lumbar support. There’s good room in the back along with rest adjustments for enhanced comfort.
While this Jeep was impressive in many ways, its cargo area is not as large as those found in some comparably priced crossovers. There is also no third row seating option. Buyers desiring either more cargo room, or seven-passenger capacity, will undoubtedly be shown a Dodge Durango, which is based on this Jeep.
Shorter drivers will find the large outside mirrors great for seeing what is beside and slightly behind you, but not as appealing for their ability to block the view to the sides at intersections.
This Overland Summit has many safety features. The blind spot warning system and cross traffic alert, which beeps if a vehicle is approaching from either side while you are backing blind out of a parking spot, are particularly useful.
The Grand Cherokee with the V-8 is powerful and thirsty. We averaged just over 17 miles per gallon during the review period, but my around town driving delivered only 15.8 miles per mile on mid-grade fuel. If I were to go for a Grand Cherokee, I would bypass the V-8 for the more economical V-6.
Jim MacPherson is the host of "The Car Doctor" show airing Sundays at noon on WTIC-AM. Paula MacPherson is his wife and new-car review partner. Send comments, questions, suggestions in care of Special Publications, Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115, or email email@example.com