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car review

2013 Jeep Grand CherokeeBob English/The Globe and Mail

A fuel burn average of 15.3 litres/100 km, after a week spent driving Jeep's 2013 Grand Cherokee Overland 4x4 on a couple of four-lane highway trips, rural Ontario roads and on forays into town traffic, is a number most might find daunting.

If you need a big, sturdy vehicle that lives up to the Jeep brand's go-anywhere any-time reputation, while coddling you in a leather and feature-laden interior, the price of fuel for this SUV is the only serious negative I can come up with to dissuade you from buying one. Environment Canada's fuel economy guide suggests gas would be about $3,000 a year, based on its ratings of 16.9 litres/100 km city and 10.2 litres/100 km highway.

Well, that and perhaps the $50,095 being asked for the fully-laden, 5.7 litre Hemi V-8 engine equipped Overland 4x4 model, or the out-the-door $58,970 price tag of the optioned-up test vehicle.

Although that's not unreasonable for what you're getting. Whether measured by length, width, height, volume, the kilogram or the electronics warehouse-full of gadgetry, leather and real-wood trim it's packed with. And if you've already stepped over the fuel economy number hurdle without your enthusiasm being tripped up and falling on its face, those figures aren't likely to frighten you either.

You can be a little more sensible by opting for a Grand Cherokee Laredo E, with 290 hp, 3.6 litre V-6 (13.0 litres/100 km city and 8.8 litres/100 km highway), priced at $37,795. And there's a Laredo X and a Limited between it and the 5.7-litre Hemi engined Overland, and a $56,445 SRT, with 6.2-litre, 470 hp Hemi above it. But the Overland hits the performance and luxury sweet spot.

My introduction to the Grand Cherokee was watching then-Chrysler head-honcho Bob Lutz smash one through a Cobo Hall window to make a suitably grand entrance to its 1992 Detroit auto show launch.

Back in those days SUVs, particularly those wearing a Jeep badge, were unabashedly capable of bashing through just about anything man or Mother Nature could throw at them. And they'd done this with sheer brute-force and relative mechanical ignorance, but the new Grand Cherokee accomplished it with arguably more style than its contemporaries, and a little more sophistication, which helped it to score a number of industry awards.

Step ahead a couple of decades to the present generation, introduced in 2010 as a 2011 model, and you find a vehicle that remains true to its off-road-roots and heavy-hauling capabilities, but which automotive Darwinism has seen evolve into something that's almost a new species. And which has added still more honours to a list of laurels that have made the Grand Cherokee the most award-laden SUV ever.

Little has changed with the 2013 models because they will be replaced in the new year by 2014 versions, which will have received a mostly styling makeover, although an eight-speed automatic will likely be added. It's safe to assume there will be good deals out there on current models.

The latest major redesign didn't mess with the mid-size SUV concept that has served the Grand Cherokee so well. The styling was brought up to date without losing any of its "Jeep-ness" and it is a little longer and wider. Major improvements were made to the five-passenger cabin's ambiance level with a redesign that improves its looks, feel (with the addition of soft-touch materials), function and equipment level.

Its mechanical evolution made a major leap forward too, having moved from the prehistoric live axles at both ends of the original, to just the one at rear and now to an all-round independent setup. This improves ride and handling without hurting its off-road or towing abilities. It's rated to haul 3,266 kg.

The test Overland's spec sheet is impressive, listing Quadra-Trac 4WD and air-lift suspension (which can raise ground clearance 105 mm), the 5.7-litre Hemi V-8, which makes 360 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque and comes with a six-speed automatic. There's all sorts of off-road gear, ranging from skid plates and limited slip differential to tow hooks, and electronics that assist you to conquer steep slippery hills. Other driving "aids" include adaptive cruise control, blind spot and cross path detection and forward collision warning, front and rear park assist.

The luxury stuff list includes leather upholstery and wood trim, power liftgate, power heated and vented front and heated rear seats, heated wood and leather steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, voice activated navigation, a touch screen display and a high-level audio system.

That's quite a laundry list, but a big part of what puts the Grand in this Cherokee.

The test unit's Deep Cherry Red Crystal Pearl Coat paint looked as good as that description makes it sound, adding to the vehicle's visual impact. Inside, the steering wheel rim is perhaps overly thick, but the black dash-top, brown leather on the comfortable seats, wood veneer and chrome highlights look classy.

The cargo area has 990 litres of space behind the rear seat and 1,950 litres with its seatbacks folded. The rear bench seat is a bit too, well, bench-like to be comfortable.

Around town that big engine just loafs, making lazy V-8 noises, but put your foot into it and it remembers its Hemi-legend status and accelerates this 2,288 kg (two-and-a-half-ton) vehicle with all the alacrity you'll ever require.

Not surprisingly, it feels massive to manoeuvre. Heavy rate springs and firm damping are obviously required, which results in those inside being moved around by bumps, but also contribute to a level of control that's impressive. Big it may be, but it doesn't feel clumsy.

Circumstances may have forced many out of big SUVs like the Grand Cherokee and into smaller, more efficient crossovers but for many, they remain the vehicle they'd be driving if they could.

Tech Specs

2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Type: Sport Utility Vehicle

Base price: $50,095; as tested: $58,970.

Engine: 5.7 L DOHC, V-8.

Horsepower/torque: 360 hp/390 lb-ft

Drive: All-wheel-drive

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 16.9 city/10.2 highway

Alternatives:Audi Q7, Ford Explorer, GMC Acadia, Volkswagen Touareg, Infiniti JX, Lincoln MKT, Volvo XC90