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Review: 2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

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SEE ALSO: Jeep Buyer's Guide

Review by BRIAN MOODY The Car Place

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That old saying must be what Jeep had in mind when considering the Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland. The flagship of the Jeep line just got a little fancier - the Overland edition is Jeep's attempt to pack even more luxury into the aging Grand Cherokee while at the same time retaining the winning Grand Cherokee style and formula. While the Grand Cherokee is not a bad looking car by any means, the average man-on-the-street would be hard pressed to differentiate a 1999 model from a 2002 model.

Did someone say extra chrome? Well, if chrome equals upscale, then the Grand Cherokee Overland is the Cadillac of Jeeps. The Overland edition adds chrome wheels, plenty of chrome trim around the grille, chrome exhaust tip and, get this, chrome tow hooks up front. Overland badges and super soft leather seats that rival the best Lexus has to offer further add to the luxury theme. The Overland edition is not terribly different than a normal Grand Cherokee, and that is sort of the point - don't change what doesn't need changing.

A High Output V8 and sophisticated 4-wheel drive system are standard on the Overland.

Inside the Overland, wood pattern trim and yards of leather combine to make a very appealing cabin. Gauges look upscale and have a hint of Chrysler's 300M. Other luxury touches include adjustable pedals, CD changer, steering wheel mounted controls for audio and cruise control, and dual zone climate control.

The Grand Cherokee's seats are so soft they feel as if they belong in a living room rather than an automobile. The Leather is perfect and supple, and the seat itself feels as if it were stuffed with the fine feathers of baby geese. There are only so many ways one can say "soft" but the Overland's front seats are clearly among the best in terms of comfort.

Although not as soft and cushy as the front seats, rear seats provide plenty of room and are in keeping with the Overland's luxury theme.

While Jeep is not typically the first name that comes to mind when discussing ergonomics, the Grand Cherokee's dash has a functionality to it that offers a straightforwardness lacking in other cars that try to do too much with too little space. Power windows and mirror switches are located on the driver's door arm-rest, but are angled up, causing them to fall to hand much better than the usual flat arrangement. Steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls work well. The audio controls take a little getting used to as they are mounted on the reverse side of the steering wheel, while cruise control buttons are clearly marked on the driver facing side of the steering wheel. This set up is confusing at first, but turns out to be more intuitive in the long run.

Rear cargo space is adequate - there are both more and less spacious SUVs than the Grand Cherokee. An SUV like the Mitsubishi Montero offers cavernous, van-like storage space, but the Grand Cherokee, with its high load floor, is simply OK as far as cargo hauling abilities go. On the plus side, the Grand Cherokee Overland does offer a full size spare tire that is mounted inside the vehicle. Also, the spare tire and wheel are identical to the four mounted on the car. Surely this uses up what could otherwise be storage space, but owners will be grateful the first time they have to change a flat far from home.

On the road the Grand Cherokee doesn't offer quite the luxurious ride the plush interior might suggest. Open highway touring is smooth and somewhat serene while around town duties tend to reveal the Grand Cherokee's truck roots. Body on frame construction is great for off-roading, but less than perfect when pressed into service as the family station wagon. The Overland edition seems to be sprung a little softer than other SUVs and a very pleasant highway ride is the result. Handling is surprisingly nimble, although there is plenty of body roll when cornering. The Grand Cherokee's quick and precise steering is most likely responsible for the nimble feeling from behind the wheel.

Jeep's Quadra-drive system works well both on and off road. As the rear wheels begin to slip (whether it be on rain-slicked pavement or gravel trails off road), power is instantly sent to the front wheels. The Quadra-drive system has the ability to automatically send all available power/torque to any one wheel should the need arise. This system is almost impossible to upset and should provide a wide margin of safety for most drivers in most situations. Quadra-drive is available as an option on Grand Cherokee Limited and is standard on Overland.

The automatic transmission does not get confused with the Quadradrive system - they seem to go together very well. In normal, around town driving, the Grand Cherokee's automatic can feel a bit primitive; up shifts are obvious but not harsh. Downshifts, especially the 2-1 downshift when coming to a full stop is jolting.

Acceleration in the Overland is brisk. Standard fare under the hood is Jeep's 4.7-liter High Output V8 - this engine is good for 265 hp. The standard 4.7-liter offers 235 hp, which is adequate, but the extra 30 ponies in the Overland are readily noticeable. The HO engine also has a nice, deep exhaust note to it. Quick launches from a standstill prove the 4.7 HO to be a powerful engine, but it is also smooth, with a reasonably broad torque curve. The Overland offers virtual muscle car like power without all the noise.

Overall, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland may not be the best SUV on the market, but it does have its strengths. A muscular V8, very luxurious interior and exterior styling that never seems to look dated all make the Overland a worthy alternative to some bigger SUVs. The Overland does make some sacrifices along the way, but luxury is not one of those sacrifices. In fact, luxury is one of Overland's strong points - other high points include the wonderful 4.7-liter HO engine, roomy rear seat, and adequate rear cargo space.

On the down side, the Grand Cherokee can tend to feel a bit "trucky" around town and the powerful V8 is thirsty at the gas pump. MSRP for the plush Overland edition is just below $38,000. At that price, almost every conceivable option is standard equipment. Extra cost options include a tow package, chrome wheels, tire-pressure monitoring system, and a block heater.

It's no bargain, but the Grand Cherokee Overland does offer substantial off-road prowess combined with Lexus-like luxury. Those who seek the Grand Cherokee Overland's level of comfort have many options, but, as they say, there is only one Jeep.