2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit new car reviews

No, these aren't manufacturer photos. We put this new Jeep through its paces.
The Jeep's interior is a startling contrast after a day of wheeling.
The 3.6 liter engine was quite peppy, even by car standards.
You can see the extra ground clearance when the suspension is in "Rock" mode.
We didn't baby the Jeep. "Trail Rated" means "Submarine," right?
The car wash actually rejected it for being too dirty.
The Jeep's fancy 4x4 system works surprisingly well.
The Jeep's street tires were a weak point, but nothing the traction control couldn't overcome.

Better than: A Minivan
But not as good as: First-Generation Isuzu Trooper
GRM Bang For The Buck Index: 71.83

Jeep's newly redesigned Grand Cherokee has certainly ruffled some feathers. Off-road enthusiasts cite the fully independent suspension and plush interior as signs that Jeep has lost its way. However, car enthusiasts praise this redesign as a sign of Jeep's revival, and it has certainly won many awards.

So, which is it? Is this a car or a truck? Jeep's revival or a sign of the company's imminent demise?

To find out for ourselves, we recently sampled Jeep's newest Grand Cherokee in its highest trim level (aside from the SRT8), Overland Summit. This package slathers fancy wood, leather, chrome, speakers, sensors, and lights all over the place; it also adds a few items that one might actually use on an overland expedition, like skid plates, tow hooks, a rear electric limited-slip differential, and slightly off-road oriented wheels and tires.

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Other staff views

Tom Suddard Tom Suddard
Digital Experience Director

Let me preface this review with the following: My daily driver is a boxy 1991 Isuzu Trooper that I've modified considerably for better off-road performance. As a result, I'm slightly biased against both Jeeps and "fake" off-road SUVs.

In a departure from past Jeeps, the Grand Cherokee has very little in the way of actual off-road equipment. It doesn't have locking differentials. It doesn't have a big lever labled "low range." It doesn't have aggressive tires. It doesn't have solid axles. Instead of these things, the Jeep accomplishes what used to take extra weight, complexity, and expense with clever computer programming. Among other things, it imitates locking differentials with individual brake applications, while different throttle mapping is used to simulate the added control of low range. Also, it does away with the traditional solid axles and leaf springs, instead using independent air suspension and lines of code to supposedly provide articulation, load capacity, and comfort all at once.

With all this in mind, I cooked up the perfect test for what I thought was a fake Jeep. Computers couldn't replace mechanical devices that off-road geeks like me pour our time, money, and effort into, could they? To find out, I took it to my favorite wheeling location!

After a 30 minute drive (with air-conditioning, heated seats, a sunroof, great stereo, very comfortable suspension) I pulled onto the rutted sand track that marks the entrance and engaged sand/mud mode on the Jeep's 4x4 knob. The air suspension raised and a light lit on the dash. This was the point of no return; was I really about to take a brand new $50,000 car mudding?

Of course I was! I spent about two hours playing in mud pits, sandboxes, and technical tracks with downed trees and stumps. Overall, I was blown away by this Jeep's performance, both on and off the pavement. It drives down the road in perfect comfort, and then proves surprisingly capable in the woods. I won't hesitate to say that this is a real Jeep, if only because some clever programmers worked on it.

However, this Jeep isn't perfect. My biggest complaint is the lack of suspension travel, as the Jeep repeatedly lifted one (or both) wheels in the air. Also, while all the computers can move the Jeep over most obstacles, they aren't as consistent, or as predictable as real lockers, solid axles, and low gearing. I'd call them a good substitute, but not a replacement, for real off-road equipment. My last complaint: where is the rocker-panel protection? It's my opinion that a $50,000 vehicle called the "Overland Summit" should have at least minimal rock sliders.

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Comments
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billinte
billinte New Reader
5/31/12 10:56 p.m.

Tom, I think you are missing the point of this Jeep. It is not nor does it pretend to be a hard core off roader. Leave that to the Wrangler and enjoy this Jeep for what it is. I owned a 86 CJ-7 for 19 years. It was great at doing the things that it was built to do (going off road) and not so good at doing things that it was not built to do.

thatsnowinnebago
thatsnowinnebago Dork
6/1/12 1:58 a.m.

No low-range? Really?

ReverendDexter
ReverendDexter UberDork
6/8/12 12:51 p.m.

Sounds like it's "capable enough", but still not really worthy of a Jeep badge. That being said, it's probably perfect for the people that actually buy these things.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Associate Editor
12/10/13 12:00 a.m.

Jeep's newly redesigned Grand Cherokee has certainly ruffled some feathers. Off-road enthusiasts cite the fully independent suspension and plush interior as signs that Jeep has lost its way. However, car enthusiasts praise this redesign as a sign of Jeep's revival, and it has certainly won many awards.

So, which is it? Is this a car or a truck? Jeep's revival or a sign of the company's imminent demise?

To find out for ourselves, we recently sampled Jeep's newest Grand Cherokee in its highest trim level (aside from the SRT8), Overland Summit. This package slathers fancy wood, leather, chrome, speakers, sensors, and lights all over the place; it also adds a few items that one might actually use on an overland expedition, like skid plates, tow hooks, a rear electric limited-slip differential, and slightly off-road oriented wheels and tires.

Like what you read here? You can get a whole magazine full of these types of articles delivered to your home or shop 8 times a year. Subscribe now or visit the Grassroots Motorsports online store for back issues.
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