2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee + SRT8

Power-packed SRT8 joins 2012 Grand Cherokee lineup as the fastest, most advanced SUV in Jeep history

Early in the 1990s, Chrysler's Jeep division pondered a premium version of the traditional off-road vehicle. In 1993, the first Grand Cherokees went on sale. Redesigning for 1999 made them bigger, with either a six-cylinder engine or relatively small (4.7-liter) V-8. As the latest season gets underway, the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee is in the second year of its third generation.

Called "all-new" when redesigned for 2011, the Grand Cherokee gained a thriftier 3.6-liter V-6 engine. Chrysler/Jeep claimed more than 45 safety and security features for the 2011 model, including standard Electronic Stability Control. Blind Spot Monitoring/Rear Cross Path detection and forward collision warning were available, too.

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2012 Grand Cherokee Updates

For 2012, the V-6 promises slightly improved gas mileage with four-wheel drive: 16 mpg in city driving and 23 mpg on the highway (up from 16/22 mpg). Two-wheel-drive V-6 Grand Cherokee models get a fuel-economy estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of 17-mpg city/23-mpg highway (compared to the previous 16/23 mpg). Electro-hydraulic power steering is newly standard on V-6 models, while V-8 versions get a revised automatic transmission.

Four regular Jeep Grand Cherokee models are available: Laredo, Limited, Overland, and Overland Summit. Each comes with a standard 3.6-liter V-6 that produces 290 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 260 pound-feet of torque at 4800 rpm. All but the Laredo can have an optional 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 with Multi-Displacement System, generating 360 horsepower at 5150 rpm and 390 pound-feet at 4250 rpm. Fuel economy with the V-8 is 14/20 mpg with front-drive, or 13/20 with 4WD (up from 13/19)-quite a difference from the V-6 estimates. A five-speed automatic transmission mates with the V-6 engine, but the new automatic for Hemi-equipped Jeep Grand Cherokees lets the driver choose from six speeds when shifting in manual mode.

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SRT8 Street and Racing Technology Jeep

For the enthusiast crowd, Jeep has a treat ready: a brand-new SRT8 edition from Chrysler's Street Racing and Technology team. Rather than a mere 360 horsepower, the 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 in the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 whips up a wild 470 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque. Chrysler claims that an SRT8 can accelerate to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. What Jeep calls Performance Pages give instant feedback on such details as steering input, horsepower/torque, 0-60 time, and g-force. SRT8 models ride on 20-inch forged aluminum wheels and contain seats upholstered with Nappa leather and suede.

Each 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee can have a Select-Terrain system with five settings, to yield peak performance and traction on various terrains: Sand/Mud, Sport, Auto, Snow, or Rock. A Quadri-Lift air suspension also provides five settings: Normal Ride Height (8.1-inch ground clearance); two off-road settings (up to 10.7-inch clearance); Park; and Aero.

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Three 4WD Systems Offered

In their current, enlarged form, Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs are 189.8 inches long, riding a wheelbase of 114.8 inches. That's 5.3 inches more than the previous generation, which translates to 4 inches of additional legroom in the back seat. Grand Cherokees also are 3 inches wider than they used to be, with bigger front door openings. Rear doors open to 78 degrees, to ease entry and exit.

Jeep's "classic" seven-slot grille is flanked by round headlights, ahead of trapezoidal wheel arches. Laredos have 17-inch wheels and Limiteds 18-inch, but 20-inch tires are standard on Overland and SRT8 models, and optional for the Limited. Depending on model, a Grand Cherokee can have one of three four-wheel-drive systems: Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II, and Quadra-Drive III.

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Driving Impressions and Interior

For years, Jeeps have surpassed other Chrysler products in solidity and refinement. Yet, even the top Jeep has fallen short compared to import-brand rivals-in the past. The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee comes across as refined and solidly built, emitting a sense of assurance. Initially, the V-6 engine seems appropriate; but when pushing hard on the gas pedal, not much happens. There's a sensation of trying to push considerable weight, and the vehicle feels heavy.

Jeep Grand Cherokee handling ranks a trifle above the norm. Even though an Overland's suspension is not especially compliant and less absorbent than some, the ride is satisfying on most surfaces. Well-made, comfortable seats provide helpful support for thighs, if not as much for backs. Front-seat occupants get plenty of space all-around. Visibility is quite good, too. Passengers must step up to get inside, but it's easier than some. Back seats are reasonably comfortably and roomy. Because the floor tunnel isn't all that tall, the center rear position beats many vehicles.

As for the SRT8, performance is just as stunning as the numbers suggest. Does anyone need that much vigor in an SUV? Of course not. Picking an SRT8 over a regular Hemi V-8 model is sheer excess, ready to give bragging rights. While handling is tight, its stiff suspension can deliver some nasty jolts at times. Steering may feel jittery on certain harsh or undulating pavements.

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2012 Grand Cherokee Pricing

No 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee is cheap. A rear-wheel-drive Laredo with V-6 stickers for $27,820 (including destination charge). A four-wheel-drive Overland commands $40,320, while the new SR8 lists for a hefty $55,295. Adding a Hemi V-8 to one of the regular models costs $1,695 ($2,195 for the all-wheel-drive Overland). www.jeep.com

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