By Jim MacPherson
Last year’s redesign of the Jeep Grand Cherokee was an overwhelming success from nearly every perspective. Not only did auto writers heap praise on the latest version of the Grand Cherokee, but buyers stepped forward in large numbers. Sales were up 51 percent last year while the overall market for new vehicles grew 10 percent.
Enthusiasm for the Jeep Grand Cherokee seems to be growing for 2012. Sales were up another 40 percent in January of this year compared to the same period in 2011.
This year, Jeep has decided to increase its pool of potential Grand Cherokee customers by adding two new models. For the high performance crowd (small in number, but laden with cash), the SRT-8 version, with its 470-horsepower, 6.4-liter V-8 and all-wheel drive is now offered. Its performance is impressive and it should give buyers of imported high-performance SUVs something to think about, especially when the SRT-8’s price advantage is considered.
Then, there is the subject of this review: the new Overland Summit. With this model, Jeep is making a direct assault on the luxury SUV market. The question of the hour: Can they pull it off by adding up-level trim and luxury features to the rationally priced Grand Cherokee Laredo and Limited models?
If a week spent with a Grand Cherokee Overland Summit is any indication, then the answer is yes.
That the Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit is in a position to do this speaks volumes about the new platform. With last year’s redesign, the Jeep Grand Cherokee was endowed with a level of riding comfort and handling precision that would make it competitive with a very good crossover utility vehicle. Yet, properly equipped, the Jeep Grand Cherokee would be able to leave one of those crossovers – even a model with all-wheel drive – in its dust on an off-road trail. That makes the Jeep Grand Cherokee the closest thing yet to a rationally priced, no-compromise sport utility vehicle. In the past SUV buyers have had to give up daily driving comfort for off-road capability. Those days appear to be over, at least for Jeep Grand Cherokee buyers.
All Grand Cherokees, except the SRT-8, come standard with a 290-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 engine. Introduced last year, this engine is smooth and powerful, but the Grand Cherokee is weighty, making performance adequate, but not invigorating. Our last Grand Cherokee equipped with this engine made it to 60 miles per hour in 8.5 seconds.
Our review Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit was equipped with the optional 5.7-liter HEMI V-8. New for 2012 is a six-speed automatic transmission, but accessing all six speeds requires manual overrides on the part of the driver. Interestingly, our run to 60 miles per hour still required 7.6 seconds. Once considered high performance, this level of acceleration is now average.
Still, our 5.7-liter V-8 Jeep Grand Cherokee felt quite lively. Throttle response was excellent and the automatic transmission delivered properly timed and crisply executed shifts, with no driver involvement.
Previous outings with this V-8 have produced disappointing fuel economy. However, this 5.7 liter V-8 produces a better mark compared to years past. When asked about this, Chrysler engineers mumble something about minor modifications made to the engine in the effort to improve fuel consumption. And, there is one major update: the 5.7-liter V-8 in the Jeep has variable displacement technology. This means that Jeep turns off the fuel supply and valve operation to four of the eight cylinders when full power is not needed, which results in better fuel economy.
The interior of the Overland Summit is highly attractive, extremely comfortable and suitably luxurious. It allows this Jeep to be competitive with more costly imports. The ride is quiet and comfortable and the handling is secure.
Aiding the driver are several important safety systems that are standard on this model. Adaptive cruise control, which automatically adjusts vehicle speed in response to traffic, and advanced collision warning are packaged with blind spot and rear cross traffic alert. This last feature can be a fender saver, if not a life saver, when backing out of blind parking spots.
While the Overland Summit isn’t as pricey as many competitors, it may be too rich for many an existing Grand Cherokee customer. The good news: The base Laredo is also comfortable and competent. It’s also far more affordable.
Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo
Starts at: $27,490
Engines: 3.6 5.7 6.4
HP 290 360 470
Torque 260 390 465
EPA 16/22 13/19 12/18
EPA 2-WD 16/23 14/20 N/A
Next week: Chevrolet Sonic