Driven: 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit 4X4 V-8

By Chris Martens

July 19, 2012

 —Austin, Texas
Jeep’s Overland Summit 4X4 is arguably the Grand Cherokee in maximum supremo form (outside of the entirely different SRT8, of course). As such, it’s the model with the nicest and most sumptuous interior, the beefiest engine/transmission combo, the full-tilt Quadra-Trac II 4WD system, the cool adapt-on-the-fly Select Terrain system, easy-to-adjust Quadra Lift air suspension, and all of the most choice luxury bits the company can provide. But in spite of all its finery, the Overall Summit 4X4 is also something many other SUVs can only dream of being: namely, a seriously off-road capable Jeep. Therein lays its beauty.
On one hand the Grand Cherokee offers plenty of utility to back up its SUV credentials. It is a big vehicle that provides generous space for five full-size adults, plus a capacious cargo area. Some manufacturers would probably try to make an SUV this size into a somewhat compressed-feeling seven-seater, but Jeep has taken the wiser path of sticking with five seats, while giving each passenger (and said passenger’s luggage and gear) a just-right amount of room. This would be a fine vehicle for longer road trips—especially for those who like to take occasional off-road excursions along the way.
[Click here to read our review of the Land Rover LR4 HSE Lux]
The interior of the Overland Summit edition is borderline posh and downright comfortable, with firm, nicely bolstered buckets up front. Our tester came upholstered in the amber-brown leather so often featured in Jeep television commercials, and it both looked and felt terrific in the flesh. Lovely Black Olive Ash wood accent panels completed the picture. If you’ve not checked out a Jeep product for many years, you won’t believe the extent to which the company has stepped up its game in term of interior fit, finish, and materials quality. While the Overland Summit edition may not have quite the hyper-luxurious, “Olde English”, Jaguar-up-on-stilts feel of an $80K-plus Range Rover, it is really very well done and a darned nice place to spend time behind the wheel.
2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit 4x4 V-8 interiorThis GC model sports an impressively long list of standard features. We found renewed appreciation for just how smoothly the luxury/performance add-ons were integrated into one cohesive overall package.
The Quadra-Trac II/Select-Terrain/Quadra-Lift suspension package makes a perfect example. From the cockpit, the driver sees a simple and intuitive suspension/terrain control knob with settings labeled “Rock,” “Sand/Mud,” “Auto,” “Snow,” and “Sport.” You simply dial-in the setting that’s appropriate for the application at hand and the system takes care of the rest; adjusting ride height, suspension firmness, and differential control setting to fit the context. With the simple twist of a knob, you can configure the Grand Cherokee to fit multiple mission profiles.
Jeep is certainly not the only SUV manufacturer to offer these kinds of adjustment (Land Rover provides roughly similar functionality on several of its models, as does the Ford Explorer), but what sets the Jeep system apart from competitors is the smoothness and intuitiveness of its control system (it’s the sort of system a neophyte could probably figure out without ever reading the owner’s manual).
We found the Auto setting worked well enough for day-to-day use, but that ride height felt a little too high and suspension settings a little too soft. Ride quality and damping were excellent (you’ll find none of the Jeep Wrangler’s I’m-buckboard-stiff-and-proud-of-it persona here). But for maximum driver involvement (on pavement at any rate), Sport is the setting of choice. With that setting, ride height is lowered considerably, suspension stiffness and road feel go up, and overall turn-in feel and steering responsiveness are improved.
Even in Sport mode the Grand Cherokee is a pretty tall vehicle with a relatively high center of gravity, so that you’ll want to approach vigorous cornering with due caution. But in Sport mode the Grand Cherokee offers a limited amount of body roll before taking a firmer set, when the big SUV demonstrated a surprising willingness to dig in and grip firmly. Note, though, that Sport mode automatically disables some traction control settings, meaning that if you pitch the SUV into a corner with too much abandon, the dashboard info center will send up a warning, displaying the word “Brakes!” to advise you to back things down a bit.
One of the neatest things about this Grand Cherokee is that it is not one of those poseur SUVs that will freak out if you actually dare to go off-road. On the contrary, the Jeep makes it easy to explore unpaved “paths less taken.” You can dial in a prodigious amount of ground clearance as you see fit and if you spring for Jeep’s Off-Road Adventure Package II, which was included on our tester, you’ll get a get a Grand Cherokee equipped with more protective skid plates than you can shake a stick at. If the going gets really steep, both 4WD Low settings and Hill Descent Assist functions are only a button push away. Our point is that while the Overland Summit 4X4 is a well-sorted performer on pavement, it is perfectly willing to go bashing around in the boonies if you are, though it of course does not provide the mountain goat-like off-road prowess of Jeep’s famous Wrangler Rubicon.
On the whole, we like the Grand Cherokee Overland Summit 4X4 a lot; it’s a Jeep for all seasons and one that can play multiple roles well, while coddling up to five passengers in the lap of near-luxury.
2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit 4X4
Engine: V-8, 5.7 liters, 32v
Output: 360 hp/390 lb-ft
Weight: 5210 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 13/20
Towing Capaity: 7400 lb
Base Price: $42,995