For serious off-roaders who also demand luxury for their daily drives, the Jeep Grand Cherokee remains a stylish, comfortable choice.
Take the Grand Cherokee Limited model, for example.
Standard with a 290-horsepower Pentastar V6, the silver test model included a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 with variable valve timing and Fuel Saver Technology.
The additional power is there, as the Hemi delivers up 390 lbs.-ft. of torque so this sleek Jeep will pull up to 7,200 lbs, when properly equipped. Jeep uses a six-speed automatic transmission that delivers the power to all four wheels. Most of the time it does a fine job.
There’s plenty of power, but I noticed the transmission was a little slow on the uptake. At low speeds it shifted early, probably trying to save gas. From 30 mph upward though, the Jeep sprang to life, not always the easiest task for a 4,850-lb. vehicle.
While that Fuel Saver Technology may have slowed the Jeep a bit off the line, it didn’t seem to save much fuel. I got 15.8 mpg in about 60% highway driving. The EPA rates the truck at 13 mpg city and 20 highway.
I wasn’t disappointed in the Jeep’s ride and handling. The Grand Cherokee turns into corners well and feels relatively nimble. 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 SUVs 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.
The ground clearance is a bit over 8 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 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.
Brakes are strong with heavy-duty discs front and rear, plus ABS and stability control. Hill Descent Control is another feature to keep you safe off road. The heavy-duty brakes are part of the Hemi engine package that added $1,695 to the test Jeep’s sticker.
The interior is similar to a luxury sedan in many ways. First, it’s quiet with 18-inch tires rolling below you. Overhead is a panoramic dual-pane sunroof, and there are black perforated leather seats that offer both two-speed heat and cooling. That’s part of another $1,495 package, which also adds a heated steering wheel. The test vehicle looked classy inside with its textured dash and fake wood door and dash trim with matte silver accents on the steering wheel and center stack. The seats have power in front and offer fairly flat bottom cushions, but more contoured backs.
While I could find things easily on the dash, the radio and navigation buttons are tiny. 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 makers’ 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.
The Cherokee 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.
Cargo room is good in back at 36.3 cubic feet, and grows to 68.3 cubic feet when the second row seats are folded flat. That’s easily accomplished.
The tested Limited with 4-wheel drive starts at $39,295, plus an $825 delivery charge. With options, the test truck was $43,775.
The Laredo 2WD with the 290-horsepower 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 midlevel model and Overland is the top of the lineup, the 4WD version listing at $42,995.
There is an SRT-8 performance model that boasts a monster 6.4-liter V8 that creates 465 horsepower. It lists at $54,470 and gets 12 mpg city and 18 highway, according to the EPA.
Mark Savage welcomes your questions and comments regarding new vehicles at Savageonwheels@yahoo.com.