The first season of NBC's Fashion Star has ended...
I'm so glad Jeep avoided the thankless trap of being all things to all folks - unlike another to-be-unnamed automaker, which has since acknowledged its error - subsequently sacrificing quality and a sterling rep.
Rather, the vaunted manufacturer has remained true to its legendary rough-hewn roots, even as it continues to add a plethora of creature comforts. This is still a Jeep, man, corroborated by unabashed flashes by passing motorists of the famed two-fingered salute. This "secret handshake" happened frequently, several years back, when I owned a basic Wrangler, and indeed happened recently, while testing the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4x4. I don't believe that that proud tradition would continue had the storied brand been watered down.
So yes, Jeep's Grand Cherokee has kept its venerable off-road aptitude while proffering a cornucopia of epicurean and techie goodies. That's a helluva balancing bit, and Jeep simply kills.
Wanna pack the sport-ute with a bunch of stuff, as I did, and do a bit of crawling in the wilds of western Michigan?
Wanna comfortably take the fam day tripping?
Wanna suit up and treat an employee to a fancy lunch?
It's all good.
And, it looks good.
Glad Jeep hasn't much toyed with the ride's exterior; I happen to like the classic contours. Grand Cherokee is handsome, but not paternal. Modern, but not trendy, its stance propped by 20-inch aluminum wheels. I feel slightly claustrophobic without a sunroof, so I particularly love Jeep's Command View Dual-Pane Panoramic feature. What's more, the power liftgate has a handy flipper glass. Night driving is aided by bi-Xenon headlamps with auto leveling.
Interior-wise, it's hard to imagine, for the money, what else one would anticipate. Front and backseat passengers alike can have their bums heated; front-row folks have vented seats as well. And there is plenty of head and legroom in this five-passenger whip. Comfy, leather-trimmed front seats are adjustable eight ways, and offer four-way lumbar adjust. The rear seat folds and reclines.
There's also what is one of my all-time fave amenities, since I dwell in "cold" Michigan: a heated steering wheel, a gorgeous wooden one, at that, and leather wrapped to boot. There is more cargo room here - 68.7 cubic feet - than in the previous model; between the sunroof and overall space, the vehicle has a generally airy feel. My least fun driving activity - ah, backing up - is aided here by a rear backup camera and park assist system. There are enough cupholders and places to put things.Navigation and UConnect Voice Command with Bluetooth capability are standard, as are nine primo speakers with a 506-watt amp and subwoofer.
Let's get to the driving. Grand Cherokee is offered in two-wheel and four-wheel drive systems with four trim levels: Laredo, Limited, Overland and SRT8. Except the latter, all trims are propelled by a 290-horsepwer, 3.6-liter six-cylinder mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. The V-6 can be upped to a 360-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 Hemi powerplant and six-speed auto tranny.
This is one solid ride, evident as soon as you turn the wheel. It feels like $45-thou-plus, and then some. And I've been in them all. Steering and handling are what one would expect from a vehicle of this lineage. And when it comes to off-roading and uneven-terrain driving, the gold standard is this package: Quadra-Trac II four-wheel drive and Quadra-Lift Air Suspension, which features full-time load leveling and improved off-roading. Toss in Hill Descent Control, and you're good to go. And top side, Cherokee is genteelly powerful, with a smooth ride and loads of oomph, both in passing and general tooling.
My test car came with $1,395 worth of options, including advanced warning and adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross path detection and forward collision warning.
Did I mention a 16-city / 23-hwy fuel economy and excellent government safety ratings?
Oh yes, it is very much still a Jeep Thing.
Something about which I am thankful.