Tough Beauty

The fortunes of the Jeep brand continue to rise. About half a million Jeeps are sold annually now, and the upgrades have been poured on like liquid silver. The upper-crust Grand Cherokee Limited model we tested could easily be parked at the most sniffish of country clubs, and yet it wouldn’t be out of place in the rougher part of the forest or the city.

Whereas its crosstown rival, the Ford Explorer, is now going heartily toward a more sumptuous manner, the Grand Cherokee has a slightly firmer feel. The four-wheel-drive system is both capable and unobtrusive. It tracks well in the curvy stuff and has a direct sort of responsiveness. One interesting option is the Quadra-Lift air suspension, with which your Jeep rises higher out in the brambles, then squats lower for curbside loading or highway cruising.

The normal V6 engine—aided by an eight-speed automatic—averages 23 mpg, good enough so that customers are bypassing the thrifty diesel option. If towing was part of the plan, one would go for the burly Hemi engine. If lightning-strike acceleration was the desire, then put in an order for the outrageous, 707-horsepower Hellcat version. And keep your lawyer’s card handy.

The stitched-leather interiors far exceed the cabins of Jeeps from a decade ago and can be had in cool color schemes, like the striking black-and-dark-sienna-brown combo. You get two rows of seating and a lot of luggage space. Three-row models will not be available until the planned-for return of the Wagoneer.

Speaking of Jeep models, the funky-clunky, more elemental Wrangler model is still a huge, sentimental favorite these days. “Fifty percent of the Wranglers I’ve sold have gone to Wall Street guys,” says Josh Summers, sales rep at SCAP Jeep in Fairfield. Yet for all the entertaining, return-to-youth vigor of a Wrangler, our money would be on the glistening Grand Cherokee. Against its European competitors, it might actually be less money, too, which makes it all the more beautiful.

Base price: $39,585
As tested: $46,415
Drivetrain: 295-hp, 3.6-liter V6 w/four-wheel drive
EPA Mileage Ratings: 18/25 mpg



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