What's New for 2012
For 2012, the Jeep Grand Cherokee slightly improves its fuel economy and adds a couple of trim levels, including the posh Overland Summit and the return of the hot-rod SRT8 variant.
The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee reminds us of Rocky Balboa (the pre-Ivan Drago fight one), having made the transition from underdog to top contender. Prior to last year's complete overhaul, the Grand Cherokee offered rugged off-road capability but a substandard cabin, substandard passenger space and an underpowered but thirsty V6. But the 2012 Grand Cherokee, with its well-trimmed and roomier interior, powerful V6 and more refined performance and ride, is in fighting shape as a top contender among midsize SUVs.
The current Grand Cherokee shares components with Mercedes-Benz's ML-Class -- DaimlerChrysler owned Jeep during this vehicle's early development -- so its premium look and feel is no surprise. Drive a pre-'11 Grand Cherokee and the new one back to back, and the upgrades in cabin quality, performance and overall refinement are dramatic. And this year there's slightly better fuel economy (up 1 highway mpg for each engine) through improved power steering in the V6 and a revised six-speed transmission for the V8. This year also heralds the return of the road-burning Grand Cherokee SRT8 and its monster 470-horsepower V8.
Despite its manners and polish, however, the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee still upholds its reputation for off-road prowess. An optional adjustable air suspension ("Quadra-Lift") can vary the JGC's ride height from 6.6 inches for easy passenger and roof rack loading, to 10.7 inches for serious off-road work. Additionally, a drive-mode selector ("Selec-Terrain") can tailor the powertrain and suspension for specific types of terrain.
The midsize SUV segment is loaded with choices. Against the V6 and V8 models, there are Ford's Edge and Explorer, the Honda Pilot, Toyota 4Runner and Volkswagen Touareg. In contrast, the SRT8 has no direct rival; models such as BMW's X5 M cost thousands more and deliver no significant performance advantage. Overall, we think the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee is a solid choice, particularly if you'll take advantage of its V8 power and take it off road, making it a comeback of Balboa proportions.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee is a five-passenger midsize SUV that comes in Laredo, Limited and Overland trims. Each is available with 4x2 or 4x4 drivetrains.
Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, foglamps, cruise control, dual-zone air-conditioning, a tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. An optional package adds keyless entry/ignition, a power driver seat (including lumbar adjustment), satellite radio and a USB/iPod interface. The Security and Convenience package includes remote engine start, Bluetooth, a cargo cover, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a USB/iPod interface. A back-up camera, a power passenger seat, heated front seats, leather upholstery and a nine-speaker premium sound system (with satellite radio, HD radio, digital music storage and a touchscreen interface) are also available.
The Limited gets all the Laredo's optional equipment plus 18-inch wheels, additional chrome trim, bi-xenon headlights, rear parking sensors, a Garmin navigation system, automatic wipers, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, a power passenger seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, driver memory functions, heated front and rear seats and a leather-wrapped shift knob. The Limited model's options include a power liftgate, a power and heated tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, ventilated front seats and an upgraded navigation system with real-time traffic. Big 20-inch wheels are also optional.
The Overland gets all the Limited's options, plus the variable-height Quadra-Lift air suspension and special exterior and interior trim that includes a mesh grille, perforated leather seating and a wood/leather steering wheel. The Overland Summit tops it off with additional exterior chrome accents, unique 20-inch polished aluminum wheels, exclusive black olive wood cabin trim, a heated steering wheel, upgraded leather upholstery (with accent piping and unique stitching) and premium floor mats. The Overland Summit also features adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and blind-spot/rear cross-path detection systems. A rear-seat entertainment system is optional for the Limited, Overland and Overland Summit.
The high performance SRT8 comes with most of the Overland's luxury features along with an exclusive V8 engine, color-keyed grille/side sills/rear spoiler, 20-inch forged aluminum wheels, LED running lights, an adaptive suspension, performance-tuned steering, Brembo brakes, a limited-slip rear differential, paddle shifters, leather/suede sport seats and carbon-fiber cabin accents.
Optional on the 4WD Laredo and Limited is an off-road package that adds skid plates, off-road tires, tow hooks, a full-size spare and, on the Laredo, hill descent control and the Quadra-Trac II 4WD system. An upgraded off-road package adds to the above features an air suspension, towing equipment (also available separately), an electronic limited-slip differential and the Quadra-Drive II 4WD system.
Powertrains and Performance
Except for the SRT8, every 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee comes standard with Chrysler's 3.6-liter V6 good for 290 hp and 260 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard. Fuel economy with four-wheel drive is an estimated 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined. In Edmunds testing, a 4WD Overland V6 accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 9 seconds -- about a second or two slower than some rival V6 SUVs.
The optional 5.7-liter V8 produces 360 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque and comes matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. With 4WD it is rated 13/20/15 mpg. In our testing a 4WD Overland V8 did the 0-60 drill in 8.2 seconds. Properly equipped, the JGC can tow 7,400 pounds.
Rear-wheel drive is standard and there are three different optional four-wheel-drive systems. Only the Laredo can be had with Quadra-Trac I, which essentially functions as all-wheel drive. All can be had with Quadra-Trac II, which includes a two-speed transfer case, hill descent control and the Selec-Terrain system. The latter feature allows drivers to choose from five pre-programmed settings that best suit road or trail conditions. Optional on the Limited and Overland is Quadra-Drive II, which adds to Quadra-Trac II electronic limited-slip differentials on both axles. Optional on the Limited and standard on the Overland is the Quadra-Lift air suspension, which varies ride height based on driver input or automatically via Selec-Terrain.
The Grand Cherokee SRT8 packs a 6.4-liter V8 with 470 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque. All that thrust is sent to all four wheels via a beefed-up five-speed automatic. In Edmunds testing, an SRT8 blasted to 60 mph in just 5.1 seconds. That kind of performance in a heavy SUV doesn't come without considerable cost at the pump, as indicated by EPA fuel economy ratings of 12/18/14.
The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee comes standard with four-wheel antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. In Edmunds brake testing, the Overland V6 stopped from 60 mph in 125 feet, a good result for this segment. The SRT8 made the same stop in an impressive 112 feet.
In government crash testing, the Grand Cherokee earned an overall rating of four stars out of a possible five, with four stars for overall frontal crash protection and five stars for overall side crash protection. In testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Grand Cherokee received the highest possible rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side and roof-strength crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Grand Cherokee features a handsome cabin with a cleanly styled dash, tight seams, high-quality materials and consistent textures from door to dash. The overall quality doesn't surpass all of the competition, but it's now on par with the best.
Up front, the seats are comfortable and supportive, especially in the SRT8 with its more aggressively bolstered sport seats. Backseat riders likewise benefit from ideal cushioning and, unlike in older Grand Cherokees, will also find ample knee- and legroom. There are also 35 cubic feet available for cargo behind the rear seats; folding them flat provides about 69 cubic feet of maximum capacity, about the same as a Ford Edge but less than an Explorer or Pilot.
The navigation system is pretty much the same as in other Chrysler products. It works OK, but is a little disappointing when measured against cleaner, more user-friendly systems from Ford, GM and others.
On the road, the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee's suspension offers a comfortable ride while also providing a fair amount of cornering stability. The new Grand Cherokee basically rides and handles like any other modern crossover, an impressive feat considering its ample off-road ability. Off-road, the Grand Cherokee is pure Jeep: generous ground clearance, an advanced four-wheel-drive system, low-speed stability and climbing power.
Most folks will find enough power in the V6's spirited and smooth delivery and its five-speed automatic transmission. Those needing extra grunt or towing capacity won't go wrong with the V8, although its fuel thirst will certainly add up. And for an SUV, the SRT8 is otherworldly; along with blistering acceleration and strong braking, it's a relatively agile handler that could surprise more than a few sports car drivers.