2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
March 30, 2012

The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee only gets better this year with the addition of the SRT8's thundering HEMI V-8.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee is one of the most familiar SUV nameplates in the business, but unlike some other vehicles that shall be named later, and often, it hasn't walked the crossover plank. It's still a rugged piece of equipment that can get as dirty and deeply entrenched in mud and ruts as you'd like--or as tightly wedged in the pickup lane at middle school.

Redesigned in 2011 from a platform shared with old business partners at Mercedes-Benz, the Grand Cherokee doesn't look much like its distant cousin, the M-Class, on the surface, or in its cabin. The classic Jeep seven-bar grille sees to that, though it's faired in more effectively than ever. The Grand Cherokee's proportions have been fixed from the last generation's short, squatty look, lifted and smoothed in all directions--and if you get the chance to park next to an M-Class, it's immediately obvious the two share some DNA. That's also clear once you step inside the Grand Cherokee and spy the relationship of hard points like gauges and air vents, but the Jeep's styling is completely its own. It's also some of the best we've seen in a string of very successful Chrysler cabins; the materials are almost uniformly expensive-looking, the controls are logically placed.

The combination of American flair and some German engineering does amazing things for the Cherokee, giving it a newfound feel that almost masks its considerable toughness. It's still an off-roading SUV—but with the vastly improved ride, steering, and soft-touch sophistication of a crossover. Its four-wheel-drive systems hit the sweet spot of usability for casual off-roaders, but on-road drivers get even more attention. This might be the first Grand Cherokee that feels better on pavement than off, though the most advanced versions can still clamber over boulders and logs like they're about to be made into fur coats.

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The Grand Cherokee also sports Chrysler's first new V-6 engine in a decade. The 290-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 teams up with a fairly dated five-speed automatic that's better than average, but still a relic from its wrecked marriage. Together, the powertrain combines for some resonance and boom at midrange speeds that could use some attention, but good passing strength and adequate fuel economy. This drivetrain's good enough to make the optional 360-hp HEMI V-8 an afterthought to anyone except the big spenders eager to inject some dollars into the Obama economy, though the HEMI's available air suspension and advanced all-wheel-drive systems are the equal of anything you'll find in a pricier M-Class.

Oh, did we forget the SRT8? The 470-hp HEMI addition to this year's lineup gets tight suspension tuning, flatter handling, its own cosmetic touches, even a layer on its touchscreen to measure its 0-60 mph times, estimated in the five-second range. Do want, even at the heady $60,000 entry price.

The Grand Cherokee may not offer up the third-row seating or funky-flexible interior of some bigger crossovers, but it has two extraordinary performance vectors that few SUVs can offer--few, other than the Porsche Cayenne or the BMW X5 or of course, the M-Class, the trio of utes it stacks up against most directly, even at its cut-rate price. That makes it an extraordinary value, one that earns top safety scores and our admiration--for hanging on to some classic SUV traits while blazing some new trails in driving fun and sophistication.

 


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2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Styling

More boutique than mall, the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee speaks to a more upscale clientele.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee has left its mall past behind. With better proportions and better detailing, it's a more boutique-inspired look in its current generation, even with the square jaw and Weber-grade grille that's carried it through SUV trials and tribulations for more than two decades. Last year's redesign corrected the blocky design disaster that had emerged before Chrysler's bankruptcy, replacing it with a sophisticated, smoothed-over look that ventured deeply into upscale territory. The traditional seven-bar grille still calls out Jeep's brand heritage, but it's tipped back and faired in, surrounded by smaller than usual headlamps, and unadorned by the wreaths and stars and roundels that stamp themselves on the front ends of the big-SUV competition. This one could use some of that visual meat. The details are finessed to near-perfection all the way around the rear end, though there's a strong resemblance to the VW Touareg and the BMW X5 from the rear quarters--intentional or not, it's still aimed in the right psychographic direction. If we have one complaint about the look—and it's hard to muster—it's that it might be a little too derivative, a bit excessively refined compared to Cherokees over time.

Inside, the Grand Cherokee's even more of a resounding success. There's a chunky three-spoke steering wheel,a usefully arranged center stack of controls capped with inoffensive metallic-plastic trim, and on some versions, real wood trim on the dash, doors,and the steering wheel. Clean ergonomics are just part of the effect; the Grand Cherokee's materials don't repel your touch, like the feel of some other recent Chryslers. This is probably Chrysler's best interior, with the Ram pickup coming a close second.

 

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2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Performance

We wish the V-6 would use its inside voice a little more--but we're not so strangely attracted to the SRT8's HEMI holler.

If you're in the market for a five-seat SUV with strong performance and off-roading possibilities, there's sure to be a Grand Cherokee that fits. We're mixed on the utility of the middle version of this sport-utility vehicle, but sold on the basic and intergalatic versions offered up for sale this year.

Jeep mixes and matches a V-6 or two V-8s, a five-speed automatic, a trio of four-wheel-drive systems, and steel or air suspensions to make the Grand Cherokee the best-behaved Jeep yet. It's on a par with the likes of the VW Touareg on the road, while it keeps its trailblazing bona fides intact.

At the starting gate, there's a 290-hp V-6, a six-cylinder that marks Chrysler's first from-scratch piece in more than a decade. It's a catch-up powerplant that incorporates variable valve timing, flex-fuel capability, and lots of fuel economy tricks and tweaks, all adding up to a fairly smooth midrange performer that gets a bit boomy in this application, especially when it's pressed hard on freeway entrance ramps. We think it's strong enough, even with its dated five-speed automatic, to leave the burbling, torquey, 360-hp 5.7-liter V-8 option to those who might need extreme towing capacity. The V-8's a HEMI in all but name, and it pulls and sounds like one, but it's not such a huge improvement in everyday driving that it's worth the immense fuel-economy penalty. The V-6 version ekes out 17/23 mpg in rear-drive V-6 versions, or 16/23 mpg for the four-wheel-drive model; the V-8 musters only 13/20 mpg, with standard four-wheel drive.

Then there's the Grand Cherokee SRT8, so distinct it's nearly a separate vehicle (in fact, Chrysler's trying to elevate the SRT vehicles into a brand all their own). The SRT8 starts with a Cherokee outfitted with a 6.4-liter HEMI that barks out 470 horsepower, and channels it through a five-speed paddle-shifted automatic to all four wheels. Chrysler claims a 0-60 mph time of 4.8 seconds, a quarter-mile time in the mid-13s, a top speed of 160 mph, and braking from 60-0 mph in 116 feet. How it gets there isn't a huge mystery: big displacement is tempered with cylinder deactivation to quell some of the appetite for gas destruction, but the SRT8 still only manages 12/18 mpg, or as Chrysler happily whistles past the dinosaur graveyard, 450 miles on a single tank. It's a glorious, vain, attention-getting piece of performance art, and you'd be a fool not to want one for the obvious reasons, and a fool to want one with gas approaching $5 a gallon.

Further beneath its skin, the Mercedes contribution to the Grand Cherokee’s upbringing is more invisible. The Jeep's unibody architecture is stiffer and sounder than ever before, and that enables the steering and steel or electronic air suspensions to do their jobs more precisely than ever. No more live axle: the latest Cherokee's suspension is independent all around, and it gels with the steering to create crossover-like road manners. No more boundy ride or vague steering: the Grand Cherokee handles pavement about as well as a Honda Pilot, if not with the carlike ride motions of a Flex. With the Limited and Overland editions, there’s an available Quadra-Lift air suspension that can raise the Cherokee from 4.1 inches to 10.7 inches off the ground—great for off-roading, and even more settled on-road.

For the times you want to explore new territory, the Grand Cherokee can be ordered with one of three four-wheel-drive systems. The basic Quadra-Trac I is a standard locking differential in the middle, with power split 50:50 front to rear. Quadra-Trac II can split torque variably from front to rear, as traction disappears at either end; Quadra-Drive II adds on an electronic limited slip differential across the rear axle so that the Grand Cherokee can respond even more intelligently to slipping and sliding. You’d want the most extreme choice for the most extreme duties, but our favorite is the plain base setup—it’s lightweight, simpler, and more than enough traction control for casual drivers.

On top of all this, Jeep grafts a Selec-Terrain system to the torque-splitting systems. Selec-Terrain lets you choose one of five traction-control modes according to driving conditions: Auto, Sand/Mud, Sport, Snow, and Rock. In concept it’s a lot like the system in the Land Rover lineup; in practice, the Jeep version requires you to intervene more with the gas and brake. It’s useful stuff—if you don’t already know to take it slow and steady when conditions aren’t perfect. Lastly, with the rear-drive V-8 Grand Cherokee, Jeep claims a 7,400-pound towing capacity.

SRT8s, of course, get their own tuning, with adaptive air suspension and a "Selec-Track" governing body that controls it and the stability control, transmission shift programming, transfer-case torque management, electronic limited-slip management, throttle and cylinder-deactivation controls, all split among five modes: automatic, Sport, Tow, Track and Snow. It's also working in concert with Quadra-Trac to ship torque around--all to one rear wheel if need be--to balance out traction on the SRT8's 20-inch, 45-series Pirelli all-season run-flats or optional P Zero summer tires. The sacrifice? SRT8s can tow only 5000 pounds while they turn in about 0.90g of grip. You'll never be able to compare an SUV driving experience to this one again unless you sample a Cayenne Turbo or an ML63 or an X5 M--it's flat, sharp, full of raucous engine noises, maybe a little agitated in its Track ride motions, fully tweaked for a great time.

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2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Comfort & Quality

Thoughtful details complement the comfortable seats and spacious cabin inside the Grand Cherokee.

With a longer wheelbase and a more effective use of space, the current Jeep Grand Cherokee provides more interior space for passengers and cargo. The much improved fit and finish amplifies the upscale feel, and adds invisible dollar signs to the Jeep's pricetag.

When it was redesigned for the 2011 model year, the Grand Cherokee gained 5.3 inches of length in between its front and rear wheels. The stretch in wheelbase enabled designers to increase leg room, in front and back, and to draw wider doors, for easier entry and exit. Climb into the Jeep's front seats and the extra width is noticeable, though you'll also notice the base seats can seem fairly flat, with bottom cushions that may seem too short for bigger drivers. Most drivers and passengers will find a great seating position, though, and the cockpit is wide enough to keep those up front from making contact with either the center console or the door panels.

Most of the added space is devoted to making rear-seat passengers more comfortable. In the old Grand Cherokee, the knee and shoulder room were tight, for such a large, tall vehicle. Now three adults have a good shot at sitting in the back seat comfortably; two will be quite happy, with plenty of room to slouch and fold down the center armrest. The seatbacks recline for even better comfort, all the better to enjoy those four additional inches of leg room.

The Cherokee totes about 35 cubic feet of stuff behind the second-row seat (it offers no third-row seat, like the Touareg, but unlike the Pilot and Traverse). The tailgate has flip-up glass or you can raise the entire liftback; on the ritzy versions, the cargo area gets fine padding and trim bars. You can flip down the rear seats with a single lever, and on some versions the front passenger seat will fold flat, too—just in case that grandfather clock needs a new home. Our favorite storage detail: The removable dual bins hiding under the cargo floor, molded to fit around the spare tire. At first glance, they look right-sized for a six-pack on ice. We're just saying.
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2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Safety

The IIHS calls the Jeep a Top Safety Pick, and options include the latest safety technology.

The latest Grand Cherokee has been a top scholar in in crash tests, earning very good grades from both agencies.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Grand Cherokee four stars, with a five-star score for side impacts. In rollover resistance, the rear-drive Jeep rates only three stars, more typical for SUVs than crossovers, while four-wheel-drive Cherokees are rated at four stars.

The industry-funded Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) calls the Grand Cherokee one of its Top Safety Picks for the 2012 model year, a repeat from its 2011 performance.

The Grand Cherokee comes with all the usual standard safety equipment, all the required airbags and stability devices, as well as trailer-sway control, hill-descent control and hill-start assistance. Active headrests are standard as well. 

Among its worthwhile safety options are a rearview camera and parking sensors; blind-spot monitors; adaptive cruise control; and a collision-warning system that warns drivers when vehicles in the lane ahead are approaching rapidly.

The airy Grand Cherokee provides drivers with great visibility. The hood’s shaped to give a good sense of the front corners, and the pillars are thin and let the driver gauge the rear quarters well.
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2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Features

Wireless internet on the go, Nappa leather and performance telemetry--they're all options in the Grand Cherokee.

An amazing array of luxury and infotainment features are available in the latest Jeep Grand Cherokee, putting it on par with the other best-in-class utes and crossovers, the Ford Flex/Explorer/Edge triplets and the Lincoln MKT/MKX.

All Grand Cherokees come standard with air conditioning; cruise control; power windows, locks, and mirrors; a power driver seat; push-button start; a tilt/telescope steering wheel; and keyless entry. The base audio system includes an AM/FM/CD player with USB connectivity and satellite radio.

Trim levels step up from Laredo to Limited and Overland, adding features along the way, such as 19-inch wheels; a power tailgate; leather seating with a power front passenger seat;heated and ventilated front seats; heated rear seats; a wood-trimmed steering wheel; a power telescope/tilt steering wheel; a panoramic sunroof that opens up the Grand Cherokee's interior; xenon headlamps; and a premium sound system with 506 watts of power.

In the above-and-beyond category, Chrysler offers Uconnect Web to the Cherokee, so you can become your own wireless hotspot. These bleeding-edge tech pieces make the Cherokee's Bluetooth and navigation system options seem almost dowdy. Sirius Backseat TV and FLO TV, former streaming-video options, have been deleted. Who needs them, with iPads so ubiquitous?

A special mention goes to the Grand Cherokee SRT8. It has its own standard features, from cosmetic touches like paddle-shift controls; power tilt/telescope steering; leather-trimmed and heated steering whee; leather and suede seats; carbon-fiber interior trim; metallic pedal pads; and a vehicle information center in the gauges. There's also Performance Pages, which displays functions like 0-60 mph times, braking distances, and quarter-mile times, for those places and times that let you exercise the SRT8's massive tires and HEMI horsepower. Options on the $60,000 SRT8 include a dual-pane sunroof, a luxury package with leather trim and a power tailgate, and a harman/kardon 19-speaker, 825-watt audio system. SRT8s also come with a free day of driving instruction at one of a handful of selected tracks around the country.

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2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Fuel Economy

No matter which Grand Cherokee you're in, it could use more gears and better fuel economy.

Chrysler did its best to goose the Grand Cherokee's fuel economy when it revamped the sport-utility vehicle in the 2011 model year, but it's still at the low end of the gas-mileage ratings--and the addition of the ripping SRT8 model really hasn't helped matters at all.

The EPA has the final say on ratings submitted by manufacturers, and it affirms Jeep's ratings for the V-6, rear-drive Grand Cherokee at 17/23 mpg, a 1-mpg improvement over the ute's 2011 figures. Adding four-wheel drive lowers the numbers to 16/23 mpg, still a 1-mpg improvement on the highway cycle.

Stepping up to the V-8 edition and its standard four-wheel drive drops fuel economy to 13/20 mpg. Those figures are also 1 mpg better on the highway than the 2011 model year.

Finally, though we heartily approve of its slamming performance, the SRT8 gets dismal fuel economy of 12/18 mpg.

That said, most large V-6 crossover vehicles--some of them with three rows of seating--have fuel economy ratings that are a mile or two per gallon better than the Grand Cherokee. The reason? The Grand Cherokee's somewhat older-tech five-speed automatic might be part of it, as might be its more portly weight, near 5,000 pounds--perhaps the price of rugged off-road ability. 
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January 5, 2016
2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4WD 4-Door Overland

Great vehicle

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Comfortable, powerful, tons of features, very capable but fuel economy is pretty bad with the 5.7. That said the mpg isn't so bad when you consider its power and weight. I guess one way or another you pay for... + More »
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May 14, 2015
2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4WD 4-Door Laredo

Good 4 WD for Australia conditions

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Good car for daily around town, or roomy SUV for the long highway commutes to work. The quadra lift suspension is handy. Plenty of power from the V 6 diesel for towing anything from the jet ski to camper... + More »
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April 13, 2015
For 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee

perfect combo of suv for dd and off road plus trailer hauling !

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second one use as daily driver thru Canadian winter and hunting/fishing trips on back roads/ trails - also haul a race car and trailer in the summer - does it all very well - only gripes poor mileage and lousy... + More »
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