So, you really want a Range Rover but your trust fund hasn’t recovered from the “bankocalypse?” What’s a guy to do? Well, you could take advantage of the British brand’s cliff-face depreciation curve and buy an off-lease Rover, but do you really want to test your reliability-fate with used wares from Old Blighty? The answer comes from the only other brand that has “off-road” coded into its near-luxury DNA: Jeep. Gasp! A Chrysler product you say? While Chrysler would not say the phrase “American Range Rover,” they did throw us the keys to the top-of-the-line Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit 4×4 so see what a refresh and stitched leather goodness could do for our soul.
The Grand Cherokee started life in 1993 as a mid-sized SUV attempting to slot between the full-size Grand Wagoneer and the smaller Cherokee. Since that time, like many cars in America, the Jeep has been getting bigger. Unlike many cars, the Grand Cherokee has been something of a social climber receiving newer trim levels with luxury features hitherto unseen in a Chrysler product. Now in its fourth generation the Grand Cherokee has grown by a foot in length, six inches in width and gained nearly a ton in curb weight. Despise the “Americansizing,” the Grand Cherokee’s exterior is well proportioned and elegant thanks to a redesign in 2011 that replaced the cartoonish front with a more attractive and elegant design. Further upping the luxury ante, Jeep bedazzled the Overland edition with chrome, even slathering the tow hooks in bling.
I have come to the decision that adding stitched leather to anything is a recipe for success. If you don’t believe me, hop in a Laredo trim Grand Cherokee then step inside an Overland. Even though Jeep improved the plastics in the 2011 refresh, the plebeian models receive a rubbery dashboard that collects dust and is difficult to clean. Meanwhile the Overland gets one of the best stitched dashboards I have had the pleasure to
fondle see. Seriously, the quality of the stitch-work is second to none in the luxury industry and the contrasting piping on the seats screams Range Rover. This is a good thing. The Range Rover parallel continues with an interior color palate that runs from black-on-black to a series of contrasting leather combinations culminating in the striking “new saddle” leather interior our model wore. Jeep has tossed plenty of real wood in for good measure and topped everything off with tasteful matte and shiny chrome trim. As you would expect from the “budget” Range Rover, all the creature comforts you could ask for are available including: radar cruise control with pre-collision warning to a heated steering wheel, cooled seats, automatic high beams and keyless go.
A common complaint with the first two generations of the Grand Cherokee was rear seat legroom. While the Grand Cherokee will never be mistaken for a limousine, rear leg room has improved and is no longer a problem point for most passengers. This increase in leg room came with a general increase in the Grand Cherokee’s dimensions. While this increase makes the SUV a bit less capable off-road in some ways, it pays dividends in passenger comfort, cargo room, and, my personal favorite: lumber capacity. If you own a WJ series Grand Cherokee you’ve probably noticed that it’s hard to get 8-foot long items in the vehicle, this is not a problem with the WK’s increased dimensions. While the Jeep still can’t swallow a 4×8 sheet of plywood, four-foot wide items will fit in the cargo area easily. As before, the rear tailgate features a glass section that opens independently allowing longer items to hang out the rear, this is a feature that is notably absent in the competition.
The positive impression of the Overland’s interior is tarnished once you get settled and reach for the infotainment system. Because Chrysler’s finances were in the toilet when the Grand Cherokee was refreshed in 2011, the infotainment systems from the previous generation remain with essentially no change. All but the base model of the Grand Cherokee get the same 6.5-inch touch-screen interface with the more expensive trims getting more software options in the system. At the top of the food chain, Overland models get “everything” which includes: Bluetooth, iDevice/USB integration, Sirius Satellite Radio and a backup cam. While the feature set is competitive, the system’s graphics are old school, the software operation is far from intuitive, voice commands are few and far between, call quality is mediocre and the system is sluggish. Expect this to change for 2014 as we’re told Jeep is jamming the snazzy new 8.4-inch uConnect system into the dash. If you’re a gadget hound, wait for the upgrade. On the bright side, the Jeep’s English competition has an infotainment system that is just as lackluster, just as ancient and just as infuriating.
As a nod to those interested in fuel economy, premium interior trappings no longer come bundled with a larger engine. As with all Grand Cherokee models, the Overland starts with the 3.6L V6 which produces 290HP at 6,400RPM and a respectable 260lb-ft of torque at 4,800RPM. Jumping up to the 5.7L V8 gets you 360HP at 5,150RPM and 390lb-ft at 4,250RPM. Attending the V8 party takes a toll on your fuel economy, dropping from 16/23 to 13/20 (City/Highway.) Compared to the Range Rover Sport’s 5.0L naturally aspirated engine, the Jeep delivers 15lb-ft more torque at the expense of 15HP and 2MPGs on the highway (13/18 MPG.)
The rumor mill tells us to expect both engines to get Chrysler’s ZF-designed Chrysler-built 8-speed automatic for the 2014 model year. Until then, the V6 is paired with a Mercedes 5-speed while the V8 gets Chrysler’s in-house designed 65RFE 6-speed transmission. Our 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. Four-wheel-drive Overlands also get Jeep’s variable height air-suspension dubbed “Quadra-Lift.” Jeep claims the system is one of the fastest acting in the industry and compared to the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport I’m inclined to agree. Going from the low ride height of 6.6 inches to the 10.7 inch “rock climbing” height takes around 30 seconds while lowering the Jeep takes a similar amount of time.
Out on the road the Jeep’s hard-core roots are obvious. In a sea of sharp-handling FWD crossovers, the Grand Cherokee sticks out as a marshmallowy soft traditional SUV with standard RWD, a longitudinal mount engine, and a stout 7,200lb towing capacity. This means that despite wide 265-width rubber, the Grand Cherokee will only carve corners in the off-road-incapable SRT8 variety. Still, that’s not this Jeep’s mission. Much like a Range Rover, the Overland’s raison d’être is to drive like a Barcalounger regardless of the road surface. Mission accomplished.
With 360HP and nearly 400lb-ft of twist on hand, you would think the Overland 4X4 V8 would be fast. You would be wrong, our Overland took 7.3 seconds to hit 60 putting it firmly in the “average” category. The first impediment to forward progress is the mass of the Overland which rings in at 5,264lbs (V8 4X4) without a driver. The second is the Chrysler 65RFE transmission under the hood. Compared to GM, Ford and ZF’s 6-speed units, the shifts are slow and soft, first gear isn’t as low as the Mercedes 5-speed the V6 uses and the ratios are somewhat oddly spaced for normal driving. While I expect the new 8-speed unit to deliver better acceleration for the V8 with its low 4.69:1 first gear, don’t expect 2014 to improve HEMI fiel economy by much as the 65RFE’s 6th gear is already a tall .67:1, the same as the Chrysler/ZF 8-speed’s final gear. While we were unable to 0-60 test a V6 Overland, the V6 doesn’t feel that much slower than the V8 and it saves 351lbs of curb weight. The transmission’s ratios and shifting are likely the reason the Range Rover Sport (which manages to be even heavier) is 4/10ths faster to 60 despite the similar power numbers from the engines.
The high curb weight of the Overland causes a few problems off-road for the big-boy Jeep limiting the amount of fun you can have at the off road park. If you see that Grand Cherokee Laredo in front of you barely making it through the mud, just turn around, he’s 632lbs lighter than you. If you see a Patriot playing in the soft-stuff, it’s 2,000lbs lighter. Still, this isn’t likely to be a huge problem for you as I have yet to see a new Grand Cherokee let alone an Overland at my local SVRA. That being said, like the Range Rover, the Grand Cherokee provides all the off-road hardware you’d need to tackle the Rubicon. On our short course at Hollister Hills the Jeep proved that it still has a serious off-road setup that never flinched regardless of which wheel we had up in the air. There is a great deal of debate about whether Jeep’s move to a four-wheel independent suspension in the Grand Cherokee was the right move or not and I must throw my $0.02 in the ring. It doesn’t matter but Jeep made the right business decision. I appreciate both sides of the argument but since most Grand Cherokee buyers think of their gravel driveway as “off-road,” Jeep’s focus on asphalt manners is the way to go.
Branding is important to many shoppers, but just how important is that Range Rover brand to you? If the answer isn’t $16,195, then the $51,500 (as tested) Overland Summit is your “frugal” alternative. Not only does the Overland deliver an honest-to-goodness similar experience for considerably less, it is a viable option for those that simply prefer buying an American brand, or those living in Middle America where you can’t find a Range Rover dealer. Like the Range Rover, the Grand Cherokee Overland is all kinds of crazy, it’s big, brash and heavy but coddles the driver in a leather cocoon. Like the Range Rover, nobody “needs” an Overland, yet I secretly want one.
Jeep provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.
Specifications as tested
0-30: 2.9 Seconds
60: 7.22 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.64 Seconds at 87 MPH
Average Fuel Economy: 15.2 MPG over 819 miles