published Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Test Drive: Jeep Grand Cherokee smooth, solid

The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a snazzy ride.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a snazzy ride.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

FAST FACTS

Model: Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo E 2X4

Exterior color: Deep Cherry Red Crystal Clear Coat

Engine: 3.6 liter, V-6

Horsepower: 290

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 23 mpg highway, 17 mpg city

Dealer: Moss Motors (South Pittsburg, Tenn.)

Price (as tested): $29,920

Jeep's Grand Cherokee has always been a pace car in the race to build a better SUV.

Since arriving on the scene about 20 years ago, the midsize Grand Cherokee has gone through four generations, with the most recent redesign coming in 2011.

Earlier this week, we hitched a ride in a Deep Cherry Red Grand Cherokee -- outfitted in base Laredo trim -- from Moss Motors in South Pittsburg, Tenn.

For under $30,000 -- $29,920 to be exact -- our Grand Cherokee had all of the smooth, solid virtues baked into the vehicle without the expensive icing, making it one of the most value-packed SUVs on the road.

For those who don't need to go offroad or require all the bells and whistles, the base Grand Cherokee is a pocket-book friendly option that looks and feels like a much more expensive car.

STYLING AND COMFORT

The Grand Cherokee maintains some of the visual bloodlines of the model, namely a dramatic chrome grille that gives the SUV a masculine face. Simple lines and gently rounded corners give the Grand Cherokee an ageless design that looks both classic and modern.

Seventeen-inch painted aluminum wheels are attractive, but give Jeep credit for not following the trend toward bigger 19- and 20-inch rims and lower aspect-ratio tires which make an SUV sexier but cause a harsher ride.

Inside, the cabin contains a collection of rich materials, including ultra-comfortable fabric seats, top-notch plastics on all the touch surfaces and an uncluttered, functional dash.

Our tester included the $2,000 Preferred (option) Package which bundles together a power driver's seat, keyless entry, push-button start, roof rails and a one-year subscription to SiriusXM radio.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

Two words come to mind when describing the Grand Cherokee's ride: smooth and solid. In a segment where more sales are made to soccer moms than lumberjacks, those are important character traits.

On our test drive on Interstate 24 near South Pittsburg, the Grand Cherokee's 3.6-liter V6 seemed more than adequate. Making 290 horsepower, the engine has plenty of low-end torque to make the SUV quick off the mark.

Cabin noise isolation was similarly impressive, delivering one of the quietest rides I have experienced in a mid-size SUV. Our tester came with rear-wheel drive, but four-wheel-drive is available in all trims. For those looking for more towing capacity, a 5.7-liter V8 -- which can pull 7,400 pounds -- is also available.

BOTTOM LINE

When it comes to five-passenger, mid-size SUVs, the Grand Cherokee has all the bases covered, and it comes with a five-year, 100,000-mile power train warranty. Gas mileage is 23 mpg highway, 17 mpg city.

With more than two decades of research and development guiding Jeep engineers, the Grand Cherokee is a solid value in a comfortable package -- a superb everyday car for small suburban families.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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