There are some test vehicles that we drive that are harder to part with than others. Our long-term Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit edition is one of those vehicles for me. Having owned two earlier model Jeep Grand Cherokees, I was familiar with this brand’s overall style, capabilities and amenities, which is why Jeep failed to win me over for a third purchase as their vehicles began to fall short of their competition’s interior improvements, road handling abilities and technical advances. That view has now changed. Enter the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit Edition.
Given the Grand Cherokee’s roomy interior, our “long-termer” quickly became my family’s go-to vehicle, easily accommodating three kids in the second row with its split seating. Having three kids and steadfastly avoiding the mini-van route, I anxiously anticipate the day when a great SUV with an actual third row seating option comes to market. The problem with a third row however, is the decreased amount of rear cargo space. This is not an issue with the Grand Cherokee, as the interior space is cleverly designed to be wide enough to seat five comfortably while providing loads of rear cargo space, with a convenient pull over cover to conceal valuables. I took advantage of the abundant 35.1 cubic feet of rear cargo space on several occasions – from stocking up on groceries to loading up with soccer equipment, and lugging around my camera equipment for on-location photo shoots.
During my time with our Grand Cherokee, my admiration for the Jeep brand was quickly beginning to return. Inside, you’re comforted by the subtle ruggedness of finely stitched leather, superbly complemented by brushed nickel trim and accents. The eight way driver and passenger seats makes finding an optimal seating position a breeze. Independent driver and passenger climate controls aid in creating that “just right” temperature for each occupant. The extra large panoramic CommandView, two-way sun/moon roof brings in more outdoor feel, while rear passengers can keep their keisters warm and toasty in the heated rear reclining seats. The steering column controlled entertainment systems are by far one of the best designed from Jeep and Chrysler. Behind the steering wheel quietly rests subtle controls for the entertainment’s volume and media functions, giving the steering wheel a very clean and uncluttered look, which unfortunately too many manufacturers are still struggling with.
Just as with its stable-mate, the Jeep Wrangler, the Grand Cherokee’s off-road abilities are nothing short of excellent. Granted, you may never find yourself conquering the rugged outdoors of the Oregon trails or the adventurous Rubicon trial as I have on previous Jeep experiences. Rest assured however, the Grand Cherokee is more than capable and ready to take you safely and securely from the concrete jungle to your favorite off-road playground without skipping a beat, thanks in part to its Select-Terrain system which allows you to choose from five specific traction modes: Auto, Snow, Sport, Rock and Sand/Mud.
Several advances have been made to keep you safe within the luxurious cabin. We’ve all seen those frightening car commercials where a sudden accident is about to occur, when the given vehicle’s safety measures kick-in aiding in the avoidance of an unwelcome outcome. Recently, I had the misfortune of experiencing one of those situations. While comfortably in route to the Bikers Choice Awards in Raleigh, North Carolina, an object unexpectedly fell from a vehicle in front me, forcing me to take immediate evasive action to avoid a truly dangerous scenario. Thanks to the Grand Cherokees’ Electronic Stability Control system, I was able to safely manoeuvre out of harm’s way without encountering excessive body roll or sway – it was as if I were in a sophisticated sports car with the finesse and moves of Kobe Bryant. But I wasn’t, I was in a 4,850 pound SUV, fully loaded with gear and equipment. Other noteworthy safety features include the optional Advanced Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control group that automatically adjusted my speed in order to maintain a pre-determined safe distance from the vehicle ahead of me. This feature proved to be very worthwhile in everyday use along with the blind spot monitoring system, which uses dual radar sensors to constantly monitor the driver’s blind spots employing a visible yellow warning light within the side mirrors.
Not being one to let an opportunity to drive escape me, I made it a point to log as much road time with our Grand Cherokee as possible. From Raleigh, NC Bikers Choice Awards to Lexington NC for a quick visit to Garwood’s Custom Cycles in Richmond, VA and to Pittsburgh, PA, then on to Capitol Raceway just outside our home base in the Nation’s Capital for various shoots turned out to be a piece of cake. You might think all this driving at today’s fuel prices would result in a ridiculous bill at the pump. On the contrary, the Grand Cherokee’s EPA estimated mileage is a respectable 13-mpg city and 19 mpg highway. Combine that with a 24.6-gallon fuel tank, and you’re ready to hit the open road with reasonable ranges per tank. Case in point, my trip to from Washington DC to Pittsburgh, PA was approximately 260 miles, with an additional 70 miles for a side trip to and from Beaver Falls, PA before the need for refueling ever arose. Long road trips are also great for charging all of one’s electronic devices, with multiple outlets, allowing you stay connected without losing power, you and your passengers can remain connected with all of those indispensable devices that everyone can seemingly no longer live without, including those that require an AC outlet which is located in the rear cabin area.
The biggest problem and probably my only complaint, is with the touch screen GPS/navigation system. In an age where technology is meant to simplify our lives, this system truly misses the mark. The user interface is poorly designed beyond belief. For instance, directly opposite the “input street name” prompt you will find the State in which you’re searching. Directly under that option you will find “input city name” prompt and again you will find the State following. Lastly, at the bottom of this window, the State option appears again. Redundancy can be a good thing, but in this case, it truly complicates matters causing confusion. It would seem to make more sense to input the street name opposite where you are prompted to input your desired street name. Additionally, if your desired street name happens to be a numbered street (e.g., 8th avenue) you will find a small obscure separate numerical input button rather than simply displaying that information within the same screen as the letters for spelling out your destination. On the PA photo shoot, this system easily added another 40 minutes of travel time and frustration due to signal and input problems. Fortunately, this issue has been addressed with other Chrysler vehicles that have Uconnect featuring the Garmin GPS navigation.
Our long-term Grand Cherokee came equipped with the optional Customer Preferred Package, consisting of 20-inch polished aluminum wheels, adaptive speed control, blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning, the Summit Edition group and a potent yet smooth 5.7 liter V8, all of which came to a grand total of $48,770. Certainly not a drop in the bucket, but when compared to larger full size SUVs, the inherent value with the outstanding utility, performance and luxury of the Grand Cherokee Overland Summit Edition is hard to ignore. GPS/Navigation system aside, the folks at Jeep may have just won back a once loyal customer.