2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit

Sunday, January 23, 2011; 9:00 AM

Note to Chrysler: You've done a darn good job here. Don't rest. The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is the best ever made. But it's not yet absolutely better than all of its competitors. When you do that - and if you do it at an affordable price - we'll celebrate. Keep working.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Both the 2011 Ford Explorer XLT (four-wheel drive) and the 2011 Dodge Durango Crew (rear-wheel drive and also made by Chrysler) beat the Grand Cherokee Overland Summit in handling on dry, paved roads. They are lighter, more nimble and more maneuverable. But the Grand Cherokee Overland Summit clobbers the competition off-road. It's the one you want in the rough. Paved-road acceleration is excellent.

Head-turning quotient: Stately, attractive, rugged without adolescence - the adult's SUV.

Body style/layout: The Grand Cherokee is a front-engine midsize sport-utility vehicle of unitized-body construction. It has four side doors and a rear liftgate. It is available with rear-wheel drive or with a choice of three four-wheel-drive systems. There are three Grand Cherokee trim levels - base Laredo, midlevel Limited and luxury Overland.

Engines/transmission: A 3.6-liter, 24-valve Pentastar V-6 with variable valve lift and timing (290 horsepower, 260 foot-pounds of torque) is standard. It is linked to a five-speed transmission that can be operated automatically or manually. A 5.7-liter V-8 (360 horsepower, 390 foot-pounds of torque) is optional.

Capacities: There are seats for five people. Cargo capacity is 68.3 cubic feet with rear seats folded and 36.3 cubic feet with rear seats up. With the V-6, the four-wheel-drive Overland can be equipped to tow 5,000 pounds. The V-8 version can be equipped to tow up to 7,400 pounds. Fuel capacity is 24.6 gallons. E85 (85 percent ethanol alcohol and 15 percent regular unleaded gasoline) is recommended for best emissions performance. I used 87-octane gas without problems.

Mileage: Mileage was affected by wintry weather, uphill climbs and congestion idling. I averaged 21 miles per gallon in mostly highway travel.

Safety: Standard equipment includes four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated front, solid rear); emergency braking assistance; anti-lock brake protection; side air bags; rear head air bags; electronic stability and traction control; selectable terrain suspension; and dusk sensing high-intensity-discharge headlamps. Protection from all safety systems is enhanced by use of seat belts. Buckle up!

Price: The base price on the 2011 Grand Cherokee Overland Summit with four-wheel drive and standard Pentastar V-6 is $41,910. Dealer's invoice price on that model is $39,423. Price as tested is $42,690, including a $780 destination charge. Dealer's price as tested is $40,203.

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