Jeep’s 2012 Grand Cherokee, which – in Jeep parlance – is the ‘Most Awarded SUV Ever’, is one very attractive package. And beyond its athletic stance, relatively short overhangs and oh-so-buff sheetmetal is the innate all-season/all-road capability we’ve come to expect from Jeep’s top-of-the-line offering. A week after piloting a hard-loaded Laredo, however, we were most struck by its level of refinement when compared to our ’06, a Hemi-equipped Limited that’s been in the family since new. While the new 2012 is a much better SUV, a week’s worth of driving begged the inevitable question: Is it a better Jeep?
Our test vehicle could not have been ‘turned out’ any better. Its Mineral Gray exterior blended beautifully with its black leather-trimmed buckets, creating an upscale visage fully appropriate to the $41K sticker. Perhaps the most significant key to the Laredo’s visual impact was the fitment of 20-inch alloys shod with 265/50 all-season rubber.
The largest numerical add, however, to the Laredo’s $29,165 base was the Customer Preferred Package 26X, which combines a mind-numbing collection of features with a $5,300 suggested retail. From leather-trimmed buckets to 6.5-inch touchscreen display to 40 GB Hard Drive and UConnect, this Laredo hits all the right notes for those wishing to plop down and plug in. And the integration of what is essentially high-end luxury with high-tech technology is almost seamless, leaving the driver and his/her passengers wanting very little beyond what’s already there.
In contrast, our 2006 Limited is swathed – after a fashion – in leather, but you sit on the seats rather than in the seats. And while behind the (thankfully smallish) leather-wrapped steering wheel, you aren’t looking at an instrument panel incorporating urbane features with an upscale look; instead, the 2006 represents a relatively rudimentary exercise in design and execution, despite emanating from the collaboration between Daimler and Chrysler.
Both Grand Cherokees are built atop a reinforced unibody platform. Our ’06 was the first Grand Cherokee to offer an independent front suspension (really…), while the chassis used in 2012 is the first to offer an all-independent suspension. With Jeep’s new Selec-Terrain system, the off-road mavens on the design staff have maintained Jeep’s iconic off-road capability, but have used technology to do it. Ours is a much simpler take on the challenge, but the ‘06 gen lacked nothing in the way of innate capability that two inches of lift couldn’t or wouldn’t rectify.
Under the hood, the 2012 boasted the much-ballyhooed (really…) 3.6 liter Pentastar V6, a powerplant boasting 290 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Despite comparing well numerically to our ’06 Hemi with 330 horsepower, the feel from the petal was decidedly different. I wouldn’t describe the 2012 as lethargic, as it could certainly get out of its own way and anyone else’s. But six years and some 60,000 miles later our Hemi accelerates with unparalleled ease. And while not generating the 16/23 EPA estimate the 3.6 V6 is capable of, the Hemi’s 14/19 thirst won’t penalize you to the degree a $40K window sticker will.
Of course, you can spec your 2012 or 2013 with an evolved version of our Hemi and receive both a tad more horsepower and a tad better efficiency. And within the context of 4,600 pounds of Laredo, there’s probably much to recommend it. We weren’t, however, put off by any apparent lack of grunt. Rather, it was the new Laredo’s surplus of refinement that may have been off-putting. In their pursuit of a better SUV the Jeep guys may have actually created a less-than-better Jeep; more bells-and-whistles won’t – necessarily – ring everyone’s bell or blow everybody’s whistle.
If bigger (a table of dimensions follows) is truly better, what did we gain when sitting behind the wheel of the 2012? To be sure, backseat passengers enjoy a few more inches of legroom, but that’s partially achieved by a slight reduction in front seat legroom. And despite a five inch bump in wheelbase, over three inches in overall width and another three inches in overall length, the end result is less passenger volume in the ’12 and only slightly more cargo volume.
As we said our goodbyes to the newest Grand Cherokee we were left to think that we’d go home from this dance with the one that ‘brung’ us. In virtually every subjective category the new Jeep is the better SUV; we just don’t think – after admittedly a brief review – it’s a better Jeep. For that we may wait for the Wrangler redesign, still some four or five years off. It, too, may be bigger and better than the Wrangler on today’s showrooms, but that’s OK; it should still be smaller and more efficient than either our ’06 or its intended replacement.