Riding Grand
Jeep's Grand Cherokee Overland
by Keith Burton
Photos by Bruce Smith

Luxury SUV's are all over the market these days with most every manufacturer offering a high-zoot model to appeal to upper crust customers. Jeep is no exception with their 2003 Grand Cherokee Overland. The big difference though with Jeep is that high luxury doesn't compromise Jeep's renowned off-road skills and that's a good thing.

Our Jeep Cherokee Overland came complete with most every option available including power everything, a leather and wood steering wheel, sunroof, leather, big 17-inch chrome wheels, and perhaps one of the most compact navigation systems we have seen an a vehicle. It is a slick package and despite the Jeep's familiar shape, it still drew favorable comments from total strangers while at parking lots, and thumbs up from drivers on the road.

The Grand Cherokee fits nicely in what many people like in size. Its wide stance provides plenty of shoulder room, and its short length provides for easy maneuvering in parking lots and you still get that higher view that SUV drivers like in traffic.

Chief among our likes is the High Output 4.7-liter V8 that produces 260 horsepower  at 5,100 rpm, and 330 lb.-ft.  of torque at 3,600 rpm, representing a 15-percent increase in horsepower and 12-percent increase in torque over the standard 4.7-liter Power Tech V-8 engine. The engine is mated to Jeep's 545RFE five-speed automatic transmission, which provides a second overdrive gear for increased highway fuel efficiency and quieter engine operation at highway speeds. We can tell you that the engine-transmission combination is smooth and powerful and provides snappy performance on and off road. The EPA rates the HO engine at 15mpg city/20mph highway.

The Grand Cherokee Overland also features Jeep's innovative full-time Quadra-Drive four-wheel drive system that, without any driver involvement,  keeps the vehicle moving even if only one wheel has minimum traction. The system also features a low range for serious off road conditions.

Somehow, Jeep has found just the right formula in their suspension. While capable of off-road use, the Grand Cherokee Overland has an extremely smooth and compliant ride over paved roads, which is much different than many other sporting luxury SUVs whose engineers seem to have chosen a stiff suspension for handling. Big bumps are absorbed by the Grand Cherokee without tossing passengers around, yet at the same time, the suspension is firm enough to keep the vehicle from wallowing. There is a real sense of control and competence in this vehicle that many others should try to emulate. For example, bumps that upset the Lexus RX330 we recently reviewed, have virtually no effect on the Jeep.

Inside, we liked the black text on white gauges that provide a luxury touch while at the same time are easy to read. Our Grand Cherokee also included electrically moving pedals, which with a tough of a button, raise and lower the gas and brake pedals to accommodate various size drivers. But the best part of the moveable pedals, is that it allows drivers of short stature to sit the correct distance from the airbag in the steering wheel, which minimize airbag injury if there was an accident.

Integrated within the radio display is a compact computer screen that doubles as a navigation display. Bright, and easy to see, we liked the fact that the display does not take up a large section of the center dash as in the case of most other navigation screens showing up in vehicles these days.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland also has control buttons in the steering wheel to control the radio and navigation screen, and a two-driver memory system to reset the power seats, mirror and electric pedals to the driver's preferred positions.

Competent handling and quick acceleration are the hallmarks of the Overland's, uh overland, performance. The steering is nicely weighted and smooth but there is a slight numbness just on center, but it is not distracting. The transmission shifts are quick, but do not produce any sense of jolt, even under hard acceleration. The brakes are smooth and linear in feel, but do require a bit more pressure than we expected.

Overall, if you are looking for an outstanding luxury SUV with real offroad abilities and that Hummer H2 is just too big, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland may just be your vehicle. It has a classic look that will age well, and very good fit and finish, which is evident now in most DaimlerChrysler products.

Now what will all this luxury cost? Our Overland stickered at a princely $41,750. But that price is right in the hunt for many similar luxury SUVs on the market.

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