It's too bad I don't have a single tomboy gene in my body or I might have fallen head over heels for the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee. But the Grand Cherokee's off-roading skills and extreme weather-handling capabilities were lost on me thanks to my lack of daredevil tendencies and suburban Los Angeles lifestyle.
For families surrounded by concrete jungles rather than natural terrain, the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee can be a lot more SUV than is needed on a day-to-day basis, but its stylish looks and powerful engine will win more than a few families over.
After its 2011 redesign, the Grand Cherokee seemed to be new in every way: new engine, new looks, new attitude. I was surprised by how upscale it seemed upon saddling in; after all, there's quite a beast -- a 290-horsepower V-6 -- beneath that hood. With its good-looking makeover and impressive performance chops, the Grand Cherokee is sure to appeal to both Mom and Dad. If your family is one that battles snow, sleet and hail, you'll definitely appreciate the various driving modes the Grand Cherokee has to offer, too.
On the streets of L.A., I had a different driving experience. With the SUV's large frame and all that power, I felt like that proverbial bull in a china shop. It felt too bloated when I drove down one-way streets or needed to parallel park. I certainly had no problems with acceleration and keeping up with the speed of traffic in the Grand Cherokee, but it was never smooth. It was difficult to find the right balance when moving forward without lurching ahead or stopping abruptly.
A base Grand Cherokee starts at $28,120 (including a $925 destination charge), but my test car, a Limited 4X4 trim with the optional Preferred Package and Media Center, cost $42,080.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee's makeover included some sharp-looking exterior changes. I'm probably in the minority but I think it looks too pretty for pools of mud. My test car's bright silver metallic paint paired with lots of gleaming chrome made it look more sophisticated than the typical off-roader. With looks like the Grand Cherokee's, it's just as suitable for the valet lane as the passing lane heading up a mountain.
The five-seater is tall, and some may need a little boost getting in and out of it. Consider it par for the course when it comes to the Jeep experience. It's got considerable heft to it as well, so the kids will most likely need help getting the doors open and shut along with a little step-up. However, that height really helps when it comes to getting them in their child-safety seats.
The cargo area is large and everyone in the family should be able to pack just about as much as they'd want on the next road trip. For heavy-duty hauling, the cargo area is enormous when the seats are folded down. I was a disappointed that the power liftgate was a $1,495 option on my upgraded trim level; after all, what mom wouldn't appreciate a little extra help when packing the snowboard and the baby gear.
EPA estimates for the Grand Cherokee with a V-6 engine and four-wheel drive are 16/23 mpg city/highway or 17/23 mpg with a rear-wheel-drive Grand Cherokee. It seems fair considering its 3.6-liter V-6 with 290 hp and off-road capability. My numbers were a little lower than average during my weeklong test drive, which was expected. I was grateful the Jeep only required regular unleaded gasoline. For those looking for more power, the Grand Cherokee has an optional 5.7-liter V-8 engine that gets 14/20 mpg with rear-wheel drive and 13/20 with four-wheel drive.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times
As a mom who prefers resorts to campsites, I found the Jeep's interior to be more luxurious than expected. With quality finishes and lots of features, the Grand Cherokee won't disappoint the more discerning members of the family.
I loved the second row's standard heated seats, just like the front, and the optional rear entertainment system, which is always a sought-out feature for families. I was particularly impressed with the voice-activated Uconnect system; many cars offer voice recognition these days, but they're often more frustrating to use than helpful. The Jeep's system was accurate; it understood the majority of my commands without error and made all my hands-free calls and iPod searching a breeze!
One of the most family-friendly features is the cabin's spaciousness. The seats are comfy, and legroom is ample; even with rear-facing child-safety seats, no one should feel cramped, whether riding in front or the back. There are four cupholders (two in the front and two in the backseat's center armrest), a sizable storage bin in the front row's center console and netted pockets on the front row's seatbacks. Backseat passengers also get their own air vents for maximum comfort.
I do have a small complaint about the optional leather upholstery: It seemed as though thousands of crumbs (and sand ... and dirt) from my young daughter and her snack cup found their way into the many crevices of the wrinkled-looking gathered leather. I suppose it's nothing a good vacuum couldn't handle, but for a vehicle that implies such an active lifestyle, I wish the interior could better withstand the daily grind of tiny passengers.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee has garnered Top Safety Pick status, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. To earn this safety nod, a car must receive the top score of Good in front, side, rear and roof-strength crash tests. In tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 2012 Grand Cherokee received an overall crash-test rating of four stars of five.
The Grand Cherokee has standard rear-wheel drive, active head restraints for the front row, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, an electronic stability system with anti-roll control and traction control, a backup camera with rear parking sensors, and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows. The Grand Cherokee also offers optional features such as four-wheel drive, front parking sensors, a blind spot warning system, a rear cross-path detection system and collision alert.
Child-safety seats fit well in the Grand Cherokee. As a frequent carpooler with passengers requiring rear-facing child-safety seats, I had no problems fitting two of them in the backseat. The two sets of lower Latch anchors are among the more difficult to access because they're positioned deeply between the seat cushions. Fortunately, the seat cushions aren't so stiff that accessing them gets frustrating.