Review: Off-Road Champion 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee takes a Family on Holiday Road Trip

2012 jeep grand cherokee overlan summit
2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit – hiding in a Barn in Farmington, NM

It’s no secret that the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4×4 is one of the most capable SUVs when it comes to off-roading.  We took this Overland Summit model on a Thanksgiving highway road trip to test how this mountain goat behaves on the pavement.  We wanted to find out if this SUV can be a comfortable long range cruiser.  After all, many great off-road trails can only be reached after many miles or many hours on the highway.  Can the Grand Cherokee conquer the tarmac as easily as it can the dirt?  This Jeep had a surprise for us.

2012 jeep grand cherokee overland summit
2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit (in Rugged Brown Pearl) – at the summit of Wolf Creek Pass, CO

When I saw this latest generation of the Grand Cherokee from afar, my first impression was that it’s not a very large vehicle.  But it is deceiving, and it feels bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside.  Once I got in and saw the rear legroom and the cavernous trunk area, it was immediately clear why it is at the top of the Jeep food chain.  I like the overall exterior design.  It’s clean, elegant, and has the boxy shape that is worthy of a Jeep.  I think it’s just missing LED lights front and rear as it would finish off the design nicely.  (Thankfully, LEDs are coming on the refreshed 2014 model next year.)

2012 jeep grand cherokee overland summit new saddle interior leather
This Overland Summit leather interior is called “New Saddle”. I still refer to it as “Baseball Glove”.

My test Overland Summit version is the top of the line model with virtually every interior option you would expect in a luxury SUV.  I especially liked the “New Saddle” leather interior with dark piping and nice stitching throughout.  I could try to list all the available features that come standard and included in the Customer Preferred and Off-Road Adventure II packages, but it would take too long.  Let me just highlight the features we enjoyed the most of our trip.

First, we could not do without the huge CommandView Panoramic moonroof.  What better way to enjoy the spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery of two-lane highway (hwy 285) from Denver, CO to Farmington, NM.  Of course, the moonroof also comes with a power shade, so the kids were able to take their naps just fine.  I enjoyed the comfortable driver seat and the Adaptive Cruise Control.  Jeep’s Adaptive Cruise worked very well.  It’s has three distance settings, like systems from other makers.  And it’s able to slow the vehicle down to about 20 mph and then accelerate to the preset speed.  This is especially handy on a two-lane highway when cars ahead merge in or slow down to turn.  If you use Adaptive Cruise when descending mountain passes, remember to shift the transmission into lower gear.  If you don’t, the system will eventually downshift for you to maintain set speed, but it will not do so right away.  So downshift yourself and further protect your brakes.

2012 jeep grand cherokee command view panoramic monnroof
Jeep CommandView panoramic moonroof

The heated front and rear seats were a nice touch, and so was the heated wood and leather steering wheel.  Both, the leather and the wood sections are heated.  But perhaps, the best feature of all was not on the inside.  It was the Jeep’s Quadra-Lift Air Suspension.  Is there anything better than riding on a cushion of air?

This Jeep had the most comfortable ride of any vehicle I have tested this year, granted this was the only one with Air Suspension that I sampled.  Yes, it rode better than the comfy Lexus RX350 that I tested just 10 days prior.  You have to step up to the Grand Cherokee Limited model and above to get the air ride option.  And I say it’s worth every penny.  If you plan to never go off-road, then get the air ride for comfort.  And if you like off-road trails, also get the air ride.  It has 4 adjustable height levels: Park, Normal, Off-Road 1, and Off-Road 2.  The Off-Road levels give you extra ground clearance and confidence to tackle the rough stuff.  By the way, the suspension automatically goes into mysterious “Highway Aerodynamic” mode at or above 65 MPH.

2012 jeep grand cherokee pentastar v6
This 3.6 liter VVT V6 produces 290 hp and 260 ft-lbs of torque.

This is not a Sports SUV and it does not pretend to be.  The steering feel is good, but not great.  And it does lean in high speed corners.  What do you expect from a 4,800+ lbs off-roader?  My test car did not have the optional Hemi V8 motor, but this turned out to be just fine on our highway cruise.  The familiar Chrysler 3.6 Pentastar VVT V6 makes 290 horsepower and it did just fine hauling this beast over numerous Rocky Mountain passes, including the steep Wolf Creek Pass.  In this application, it’s backed up by a 5-speed automatic transmission.

Now comes the surprise.  This trip totaled 760 miles round-trip and this Jeep delivered 26.0 MPG on the way there and 26.9 MPG on the way back (for an average of 26.45 MPG – all highway).  The average speed was around 60 MPH in both directions – the weather cool, sunny, and dry.  I already knew that the 3.6 V6 does good of fuel, but I thought that the 5-speed would let it down.  Not so!  The 5th cog is geared precisely for highway cruising.  The motor turns just 2,000 RPM at 70 MPH.   I also drove it around town in mixed city/highway environment, and it produced 20 MPG average.  This is well above the EPA ratings of 16 MPG city and 23 MPG highway.  What gives?  There is one possible explanation.  The whole trip was at high elevations, anywhere between 5,300-10,000 ft above sea-level.  The air is less dense.  Less oxygen = less power = less fuel used.  Still, I am very impressed.  I got nearly identical MPG average in my 2005 Audi 3.2 Quattro on this exact trip.

Jeep is aiming high up the luxury scale with this Overland Summit model.  My test car stickered for $48,195.  Hence, it’s aiming at formidable opponents from other premium brands.  I think it stacks up quite nicely.  My test Jeep had selectable terrain 4×4 system, power liftgate, hill descend and hill start assist, rear park assist, and many other high-tech and comfort goodies.

Starting Retail Price City/Hwy MPG HP / Lb-Ft Passenger Volume cu-ft
2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland $43,395 16/23 290/260 105
2013 Audi Q5 3.0T Premium $43,900 272/295 101
2013 BMW X5 xDrive35i Premium $55,200 16/23 300/300 102
2013 Cadillac SRX Premium $50,555 16/23 308/265 101
2013 Infiniti FX37 Limited $53,300 16/22 325/267 102
2013 Land Rover Range Rover $79,425 375/375
2013 Lexus RX350 $40,720 18/24 270/248 100
2013 Lincoln MKX AWD $41,395 18/23 305/280 108
2013 Mercedes-Benz M350 xDrive $49,770 18/23 302/273
2013 VW Touareg VR6 Luxury $49,430 17/23 280/265 104

On the TFLcar scale of:

  • Buy it!
  • Lease it!
  • Rent it!
  • … or Forget it!

I give this test Jeep a Buy It! I knew this Jeep was great off-road after taking it four-wheeling.  Now I know it’s also great on a road trip.  Considering the great fuel economy, the comfortable ride, the off-road capability, and the luxurious features – this one is hard to beat.  Even at $48,195 – this is a luxury SUV bargain.  I say Buy It, but in any case I highly recommend you get the Quadra-Lift Air Suspension.

Please enjoy this TFLcar video as Roman, Nathan, and I mashup this Jeep against two over crossovers.

Andre Smirnov
Andre Smirnov


Andre Smirnov is a life-long automotive enthusiast, writer, and software engineer. On the weekends – you may find him at a car show, an auction, watching a race, or tinkering with a car in the garage. When not working or spending time with the family – he often scours the internet and other media for various automotive, mechanical, and computer related information.