2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Walk Around

Every inch of sheetmetal was new for 2011, although it's still quite easy to identify as a Grand Cherokee. Although fancier versions have more liberal chrome and polish (except for the SRT8) the basic shape has sufficient character that we prefer the simpler entry model appearance.

The lines are more fluid than before, and are 8.5 percent more aerodynamic, with a Cd of 0.37, lowered from 0.40 after 250 hours in the wind tunnel. (Note aerodynamic resistance also includes frontal area, so the taller, wider Jeep will not be as sleek as a typical car.) This brings better economy, with less wind noise. It has a wider stance and shorter nose with less front overhang, giving it a subtle look of substance.

And it definitely has substance. This latest generation, starting with the 2011 models, is wider and longer, but most of the added length comes between the wheels for better handling and more interior space.

The seven-slot chrome grille is defined by six chrome slats over the black slots, while the headlamps sweep like winglets out from the top corners. Smooth frontal fascia with black airdam, recessed to lessen drag, and tidy small foglamps in trapezoid pockets. Aerodynamic bellypans run the full length of the chassis, chasing fuel mileage.

The sides have big rectangular concave sculpting, as if it's a place where Jeep meets BMW, and slightly trapezoidal wheel arches, a distinctive if still subtle touch. The side glass is straight and unaffected, with black B pillars, darkly tinted glass and bright trim.

Jeep says the rear styling gives a nod to the 1963 Wagoneer that started it all, and it's true (although we wonder how many besides us will remember Mom's '63 Wagoneer in high school that we snuck to the drag strip in the next state, one Sunday afternoon, and ripped off crowd-pleasing 4-wheel-drive holeshots).

The backlight balances the slope of the windshield, although, retro touch notwithstanding, the entire rear view looks like that of a thousand other full-size SUVs. That's because function rules, as it should; when SUV rear-end styling gets fancy, visibility is often lost. The taillamps are big and extend into the liftgate, with four backup lights whose beams improve the video view of the rear back-up camera, a detail where some cars are lacking.

There's an aerodynamic body-colored spoiler, level with the roof and over the sloped liftgate, and it looks good. We also like the flipper glass window in the liftgate, which has a convenient opening handle. The vehicle locks with the press of a button on the door handle, as at the tailgate.

The body-colored parts in the Laredo (mirrors, door handles, ding strip) look better than the chrome trim on the upscale Overland, whose 20-inch wheels with five thick spokes just look big and bright and unimaginative. Far more Jeeps will be Laredo models (65 percent, expects Jeep) with 17- or 18-inch wheels, which look better.

The SRT8 model has unique touches from the window-line down. A painted grille is flanked by bi-xenon headlamps and LED running lights, while a gaping maw below the bumper feeds cooling air to engine and brakes. The bulging hood has a pair of air extractors forward and you needn't worry about rain or snow given the copious amounts of hot air generated below. Clean wheel arches help cover foot-wide tires and menacing wheels, while extended rocker panels channel air and runoff. A deep rear bumper and substantial exhaust ports highlight the rear end.


No Jeep has ever felt this high-quality inside (especially when it gets rolling). The interior was totally redesigned for 2011, headlined by four more inches of legroom in the rear seat, with 19 percent more cargo space. The Grand Cherokee would make a good family vacation vehicle.

A fold-flat front seat is standard, adding to the 68.7 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats flat. The rear seats recline 18 degrees, and with the added legroom, life is easy back there. There's also an abundance of storage pockets and bins, including two bins under the cargo floor. A new rear suspension allows the spare tire to be stored inside the vehicle under the cargo floor, as opposed to underneath it.

The front door openings are 2 inches wider and 2 inches higher, and the rear doors open 78 degrees compared to 67 degrees on the previous (pre-2011) model. That increased convenience is just one of the many details that made the 2011 Grand Cherokee such an improvement.

We found the leather seats in our Laredo X test model to be just right, almost sigh-inducing, with excellent bolstering, not to mention total adjustability with lumbar support. We haven't examined the cloth seats, but Jeep has always done good rugged cloth. The stitching on the Overland Summit's leather dashboard straddles the fence between subtle luxury and Cowboy Cadillac.

The instrument panel features clean white numbers and needles and clear lighting. The tachometer adds a blue area, from 800 to 2500 rpm, a reminder of the best fuel-mileage range.

The three-spoke steering wheel tilts and telescopes, and includes cruise control with audio buttons at the back of the spokes. The Overland steering wheel is wood from about 10 o'clock to 2, and, with the internal heating elements, makes a very thick wheel perhaps better suited for yacht helm duty.

The LED lighting in the cabin works well, to erase the yellow harshness of the old days. There's an optional giant dual-pane panoramic sunroof that opens wide to the sky. So you can see the stars, maybe better than you can see out the rear window through the rearview mirror. The sloped backlight and rear headrests pinch the space for visibility.

The location and operation of things on the center stack, such as the electronic switchbank and HVAC controls, is all good. Except for the position of the shift lever, which does not lend itself to manual shifting in the Sport mode, because your elbow hits the center armrest. You have to cock your elbow high and bend your wrist too much. If you do much shifting like that, you'll be screaming for paddles on the steering wheel.

The SRT8 comes with a special steering wheel with paddles. The SRT8 also comes with sport seats to keep you in place working them. Gauge graphics are revised for the SRT8 and the electronic vehicle information center adds functions not found on other Grand Cherokees such as performance parameters.

Underway, the Grand Cherokee cabin is very quiet, even with the throttle floored, even over rough pavement. There are three layers of noise insulation, adding to the weight but the quiet is impressive.

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