2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit: At the top, after a refined climb

The name by itself suggests you’ve reached the pinnacle of Jeep’s lineup, almost requiring a Sherpa’s assistance to ascend all nine syllables

BY AARON COLE, Managing editor

The Jeep Grand Cherokee comes in six versions, none of which give away the price pecking order until you hit the top: the Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit.

2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit (Courtesy photo)

The name by itself suggests you’ve reached the pinnacle of Jeep’s lineup, almost requiring a Sherpa’s assistance to ascend all nine syllables.

The name is also apropos because like it, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit attempts to pack in everything luxury buyers are looking to acquire while still holding on to the Jeep prefix.

When it first launched for the 2011 model year, the fourth-generation Grand Cherokee was a large leap forward for the brand. Based on the Mercedes Benz M Class, the underpinnings of the Grand Cherokee stayed the same from the third generation, but with more content inside and better looks on the outside.

Based on who you want to believe, the Overland Summit was either the Jeep that Daimler never let the off-road company build or this was the Jeep that the market could bear and could help keep the brand profitable. Nevertheless, according to Jeep executives, the Overland and Overland Summit editions were so hard to find at dealerships that it required a waitlist, sometimes months on end.

The first point is believable because the older Grand Cherokee models felt a little detuned and Spartan compared to the more expensive M Class models brother Benz was turning out of American factories. In an attempt not to cannibalize sales, the old Grand Cherokee was underpowered and over-displaced and was set back years in engine and interior accouterments to accommodate its Mercedes platform mate.

On the other hand, it’s also believable that after Chrysler spun off from Daimler, Jeep — one of the few still-profitable nameplates — needed a profit-turning machine to help stabilize sales during the mother ship’s rebuilding era.

What buyers are left with in either condition is a unibody off-roading jewel that commands a high price (for Jeep) and delivers more than the previous generation could.

Starting at $46,995 in 4×4 (less $3,500 or so for 4×2) the supreme Jeep comes jam packed with standard equipment outside like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, selectable suspension control and 20-inch wheels at the corners. Inside, soft leather, a touch-screen entertainment system and heated and ventilated front seats.

About that selectable suspension control, on the 4×4 models, the Quadra-Lift suspension is nearly identical to the one found on a much pricier Land Rover LR4 and Range Rover models, with one key exception: it’s much more manageable. Tick the knob over to “Snow,” and the suspension gains 1.3 inches of ground clearance and engages the differential to provide more grip on the slippery stuff. Tick the knob over to “Rock,” and the suspension adds 1.3 more inches — for a total of 10.7 inches — and makes the Jeep more sure-footed than a mountain goat.

I hate to go here, and I will, but I’m guessing the Overland Summit’s off-road chops will be tested every day less than your ability to determine the area under a sine wave.

What will be tested, fretted and cross-shopped however is the Overland Summit’s ability to act like a normal crossover on decidedly unscary paved roads.

Not letting luxury SUV buyers who don’t descend down mountain faces slip away, the Overland Summit is available with the Jeep’s smaller 3.6-liter V6 engine and five-speed automatic transmission that returns 17 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway. When outfitted in that spec the Overland Summit can be a miserly luxury hauler compared to others in its class, but even equipped with a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 and six forward gears the Jeep still manages to return a respectable fuel economy figure.

Even with enough gumption to traverse the Rocky Mountains in a  straight line, the Overland Summit never really feels like it’s a bulldozer building a sandcastle. The handling on road is poised and confident without being overbearing and spine shattering.

In day-to-day activity, the Grand Cherokee is soft and malleable, even bordering on a little too comfy for normal activity for my taste. Cargo space in the back is ample enough to stock a small apartment in the back without folding down the 60/40 split folding rear seats.

Jeep has made public its plans to offer the Grand Cherokee in coming years with a diesel option, something they did during the last generation for one year and sold a handful of those examples stateside. With a little better mileage and a little more torque I’d say that the Grand Cherokee Overland Summit would be at the mountaintop of evolution for a brand that began in America.

As if the Summit name wasn’t a clue enough.

Reach Aaron Cole at 303-750-7555 or at acole@aurorasentinel.com

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