Friday, April 27, 2012

Jeep SUV's old-school charms succeed today

Sacramento, California – Sometimes you wonder: How is it that some motor vehicle models have a knack for sticking around, seemingly defying the odds?

And I’m not talking about the Ford Mustang or Chevy Corvette. The long-lasting appeal of those cars is obvious.

But what about the Jeep Grand Cherokee sport-utility vehicle?

The JGC’s roots date back to the early 1980s, and given the brutal competition in the five-passenger SUV market and wallet-crushing gas prices, you can’t be faulted for thinking that the Grand Cherokee is a vehicle that has perhaps outlived its time.

But here’s the thing: Some people still need SUV convenience, space and general versatility.

In my tester -- a 2012 Limited 4X4 edition with a $42,080 sticker and yeeesh! fuel mileage ratings of 16 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway – there was something to like. In truth, there was a lot to like.

My Deep Cherry Red, crystal pearl-coated ride was silky smooth at 70 miles per hour. The 3.6-liter V-6 with 290 horsepower actually felt stronger than advertised, bulling its way through freeway traffic and zipping around urban slowpokes. The engine created little noise in the cabin, however.

The rear cargo area was easy to navigate, even for an aging baby boomer like myself. Rear seats folded easily. The center cargo bar can be removed without injuring back muscles.

The standard list of interior perks is ridiculously long, with power seats, memory options and leather surfaces making if feel downright Lexus-like luxurious. Same story with the safety equipment, backed by a max federal five-star rating for the driver in frontal crash tests.

Because it’s a Jeep, it’s a hard worker. You can do some rough four-wheeling if you don’t mind scratching the bodywork, and the rear cargo bin has reinforced metal strips that enable you to slide heavy cargo around as needed.

For all those macho touches, however, this Grand Cherokee is elegant-looking enough that you should have no problem parking it at the country club.

SUV versatility? I should say so.

And keep in mind that the Limited 4X4 isn’t even near the top-line of seven trim levels. You want the full JGC experience, try the SRT8 4X4 version with a 6.4-liter V-8 putting out 465 horsepower. That one starts at nearly $55,000. Fuel mileage? Don’t ask.

Various auto “experts” have been writing Jeep’s obituary for years, yet this Grand Cherokee looks plenty lively to me. Much of what you get now was poured into the all-new package for 2011, and a solid reworking that was.

The SUV market isn’t what it used to be, and a glance at your local gas pump will tell you why. But for those who still need a nice-looking sport-ute that occasionally does some heavy lifting, this Grand Cherokee should be on your short list.

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