2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Edition Review Behind the Wheel ZipRage-2

THE RIDE:

2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

THE REVIEW:

The Grand Cherokee arrived on the market in 1993 as a mid-sized SUV slotted between the full-size Grand Wagoneer and the smaller Chrokee. Like most things American, the Grand Cherokee has grown and put on weight over the years but unlike most of its competitors the SUV has also been something of a social climber. The Grand Cherokee has received major trim level refinements and luxury enhancements over the years making the 2012 vehicle a much different beast than the vehicle that was introduced 20 years ago.

Despite the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s “American-s-izing,” the Grand Cherokee is actually a very well proportioned SUV and surprisingly elegant. The Overland edition is the top of the Grand Cherokee line and it shows. The SUV is bathed in chrome, even the tow hooks are polished to a mirror finish.

The exterior refinements in the Overland edition are nice but the real gem is the interior. Stitched leather is always a recipe for success. The Overland interior looks fantastic with contrasting saddle leather seats and one of the best stitched dashboards I have ever seen. I’m not kidding the stitch-work is second to none. Jeep has also tossed plenty of real wood in to further dispell any thoughts that a corner may have been cut, you’ll find tasteful matte and shiny chrome trim to finish things off. All the creature comforts you would expect out of a luxury SUV are there including: radar cruise control with pre-collision warning, heated steering wheel (which actually heats the whole steering wheel, another concept most luxury brands haven’t been able to figure out), cooled seats and automatic high beams.

Rear leg room, a major complaint in previous Grand Cherokee models, has improved and is no longer a problem. An increase in leg room always comes with expanding dimensions elsewhere and the Grand Cherokee is slightly longer for it. While the increase does make the SUV slightly less off-road capable, I think the difference in passenger comfort and cargo room more than make up for it. The increased length does have one major benefit for DIY’ers and woodworkers, the Grand Cherokee now accomadates 8-foot long items in the vehicle. As with previous Grand Cherokee’s you can also open the rear glass, independent of the door, and hang items out the rear as well.

The one dissapointment I had with the Overland’s interior was the infotainment system. At the center of the infotainment center is a 6.5-inch touch-screen interface, in the Overland edition the system includes: Bluetooth, iDevice/USB integration, Sirius Satellite Radio and a backup cam. While the features are competitive, the system’s graphics and screen resolution look rather outdated. The system further suffers from a lack of intuitive control, sluggish voice command recognition and mediocre call quality. An update is on the books for 2014 when a new 8.4-inch uConnect system will adorn the dash.

The top-of-the-line Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland no longer automatically comes paired to a larger engine. Instead, the Overland starts with a 3.6L V6 good for 290HP and 260lb-ft of torque. Making the jump to the 5.7L V8 gets you 360HP and 390lb-ft of torque. Of course, making the upgrade drops fuel economy from 16-city/23-highway to 13/20. Over my week of testing I averaged 18 MPG with the V6.

Powering the wheels in the V6 is a Mercedes 5-speed automatic transmission while the V8 gets Chrysler’s in-house designed 65RFE 6-speed transmission. My Overland also had the optional Quadra-Trac II AWD system which uses a 2-speed transfer case to split power 50:50 during normal driving situations and provides a 2.72:1 low range for off road use. I also had Jeep’s “Quadra-Lift” variable height air-suspension, Jeep claims it is one of the fastest acting systems. You can go from the low ride height of 6.6 inches to the 10.7 inch off-road height in around 30 seconds.

Given the numbers you would think the V8 would be the faster of the two engine options. My V6 hit 0-60 MPH in 7.2 seconds and published numbers for the V8 put it around 7.1-7.3, so they seem to run about the same.

You might think, given the Overland’s refinements, that it would be a less capable off-road vehicle. Softened for the modern consumer. Not the case. The Grand Cherokee still provides all the off-road hardware you need to tackle the rough stuff and in my testing it functioned very well for it’s size and weight. The off-road setup never flinched through my rouch Rocky Mountain testing.

Since most Grand Cherokee buyers think of their gravel driveway as “off-road,” Jeep’s newfound focus on asphalt also shines through in the Grand Cherokee. The Overland behaves well on road and highway driving and accelerates to pass and merge confidently.

The Grand Cherokee achieves a balance devoid of much of the modern SUV market. You don’t have to choose between a harsh riding, loud, mushy on the road off-road dedicated machine and a slightly higher off the ground, still wearing tiny tires, off-road incapable, luxury sedan. Instead you get a great balance of strong off-road capability, luxury comforts, great styling and good on-road driving behavior.

BRAGGING RIGHTS:

The best of all SUV worlds, high-class luxury with great on-road and off-road capability and manners.

THE PRICE:

The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland starts at $43,395 with a few additions my tester came in at $48,195.

WINDUP:

The  Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland is a powerful, fun and luxurious full-size SUV with all the bells and whistles without the fuss or sticker shock.

THE PHOTOS: