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Jeep Grand Cherokee offers much more refinement

When it arrived on the scene nearly two decades ago, there was plenty of interest in the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Sales people were making a nice living off this rugged sport utility vehicle throughout much of the mid-to-late 1990s when sales were exceeding 300,000 per year.

However, when gas mileage became more of an issue and crossover SUVs came into vogue, sales of the less-refined Grand Cherokee dipped. Jeep was slow to make significant changes until a year ago when a major redesign made a dramatic refinement statement that Jeep hopes will send sales heading upward again.

The changes that came in 2011 shouldn't alarm loyal Grand Cherokee owners. One of its core traits remains - off-road features. The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee provides generous ground clearance (10.7 inches maximum) with its optional adjustable air suspension and another available upgrade is the sophisticated four-wheel drive system. The Grand Cherokee has climbing power and a drive-mode selector that makes it more efficient in taking on specific types of terrain.

For car buyers who care very little about off-road capability, the new Grand Cherokee should be appealing as well. It features a roomier interior, a more performance-laden engine, and the ride is much improved, with handling similar to crossover SUVs.

The Grand Cherokee base model is offered at a very reasonable $27,195 sticker price. Don't be fooled into thinking that this same bargain price also applies to the other three trim models, which rise significantly.

The standard powertrain for three of the trim models is an efficient 3.6-liter, V6 that produces 290 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The rear-wheel drive Grand Cherokee accelerates from 0-60 in approximately 9 seconds, which is slower than most rivals. Gas mileage has been improved to 16-23 mpg.

The lineup for 2012 also includes a new high-performance Grand Cherokee that may intrigue some car shoppers. But beware of the high price - the SRT8 goes for $54,670. And what are you getting for that major hike? A powerful SUV that features a 5.7-liter, V8 that elicits 360 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque, plus a sizable list of luxury features.

The SRT8 can tow up to 7,400 pounds, but note that its gas mileage (12-18 mpg) is less than traditional Grand Cherokees. The poor gas mileage isn't surprising because the SRT8 goes 0-60 mph in a very quick 5.1 seconds.

2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee

  • Performance: 3.6-liter, V6, 290 horsepower
  • Mileage estimate: 16-23 mpg
  • Price: $27,195 to $39,895
  • Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles; drivetrain 5 years/100,000 miles; corrosion 5 years/100,000; roadside assistance 3 years/36,000

Previous Grand Cherokees were devoid of a sophisticated interior and hard plastic was more the rule than the exception. The new models feature softer material and a more appealing look, including wood trim on all but the base model. The Grand Cherokee also provides comfortable seating for both front and back seat folks, and lots of convenient storage areas.

There are several negatives that should be noted. The Grand Cherokee has no third row, so the maximum seating is five people. The cargo space is fairly limiting, but the split back seats do fold nearly flat to greatly increase the cargo capacity. The optional navigational system has a tiny screen and is very unintuitive.

There are plenty of reasons to give the new Jeep Grand Cherokee a look. The base model comes at a great price and the other trim models feature that rugged off-road experience that can't be found these days in many SUVs.

Weidel on Wheels author Jeffrey Weidel is an award-winning writer from the Sacramento region who has reviewed automobiles for more than two decades. He can be reached at
Follow him on Twitter at @jeffweidel.

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