The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland is almost too nice to take off-road — but I did, anyway.
I went to pick up the archivist from the local county archives to do a little snooping around, with the goal of finding a couple of near-forgotten graveyards and taking the Jeep off-roading. The archivist, who we’ll call Larry, hopped in and was almost afraid to relax in the Grand Cherokee’s lush leather seat embroidered with the historic Overland logo. He sheepishly asked, “How much would one of these set you back?”
When I handed him the window sticker, he tripped over $48,000 several times.
“My God, that’s like buying a house!” he finally exclaimed.
Before you laugh, consider that Larry’s well into his 60s. Also consider my parents’ three-bedroom home on a large corner lot cost roughly 75% of that when it was built just 30 short years ago. Indeed, even today the Overland’s MSRP as-tested would probably buy you a modest home in some quarters of my particular section of Tennessee. At the very least, it would pay off more than half my remaining mortgage — and that’s saying something, given that mortgage has 27 years remaining on its term. If anybody ever tells you pay rates are low in Tennessee, they’re right, for the most part. But cost of living is low — and for most counties, so are taxes. It’s all relative.
We descended upon our first forgotten cemetery — the same place I took the Toyota 4Runner earlier this summer — only to be met by a log truck attempting to travel the gravel road leading to the pasture where the graveyard sits up on a weed-choked knob. The gravel road is at best one-and-a-half very narrow lanes in width, and we had little choice but to take to the ditch in giving the truck a wide enough berth to make it by. The Grand Cherokee didn’t even stutter as we slowly plodded our way through the mucky ditch to let the truck pass. Its passenger-side tires clawed their way back up to the gravel road surface with aplomb.
We then entered the pasture only to discover that we would not be blazing any trails through untamed weeds. Sitting on a flatbed trailer at the bottom of the knob was a man who presumably had just cut the field with a bush hog, leaving 12-to-18-inch vegetation rather than the five-foot-tall stuff I had plowed through in the 4Runner a few weeks earlier. Nevertheless, and despite the Jeep’s star performance in the ditch just moments earlier, I felt it proper to make use of one of the Grand Cherokee’s coolest features: Quadra-Lift Air Suspension (QLAS). I punched a button twice in the center console to extend the QLAS and give the Jeep its maximum ground clearance, a setting Jeep calls “Off Road II” on the dashboard when activated. Then, I selected low-range four-wheel drive operation using another center console-mounted button. The digital dashboard informed me I needed to shift into neutral to allow the transfer case to engage low range. I did, and it did. As we started rolling, only the faint sound of grass tickling the underside of the Jeep could be heard.
We meandered our way to the top of the knob and, from the comfort of those leather seats, eyeballed the gate of the cemetery before we decided it best not to tempt poison ivy or possible snakebite and drove back down the knob listening to Lyle Lovett and His Large Band playing “All Downhill from Here,” fittingly. It was at this time I attempted to engage what appeared to be a hill descent control mode by pressing a button in the center console that would seem marked for such a feature, but I’m not sure it worked. The Grand Cherokee pretty much free-wheeled down the hill to the base of the pasture, where the man on the flatbed was watching our antics with some degree of curiosity. It must have been strange to see us come down in such a relative hurry after our slow, steady ascent. That said, I’m sure the system would have worked properly if I had bothered to RTFM, as my computer programmer friends often tell me.
We repeated this exercise — sans hilly terrain — a few minutes later at a cemetery that held some of Larry’s kinfolk. The flatter pasture land leading to this cemetery allowed me to carry a bit more speed on the grass, and I got to feel how the Grand Cherokee’s suspension handled the imperfections below the green stuff at around 15 MPH. Believe me, that was plenty fast on a surface as varied as this, which included what I’m sure was a small sinkhole I did not see before deciding off-road testing at those kinds of speeds was appropriate. Nay, not just appropriate, but necessary. I again hit the button twice to raise the Grand Cherokee to it’s tallest before driving into the pasture, telling Larry to watch the edge of the hood carefully.
He did, and said at first, “Are you sure we’re not going down?”
We weren’t, even though the QLAS system makes it appear that way when first activated because it apparently raises the back end up first. Then, as the front end started to raise, Larry noted he could see it coming up. He seemed appreciative of the Grand Cherokee’s extra ground clearance on-demand, but still remarked he would never spend as much as a house to buy a car — and even if he did, he would never take something this expensive and luxurious off-road. With what appeared to be highway-biased tires, I’m glad we didn’t have a lot of rain to turn the second pasture into a mudhole. But for all I know, the Grand Cherokee wold have handled the worst I could imagine.
It is a Jeep, after all.
Disclosure: Jeep provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.