Before it was attached to a Jeep Grand Cherokee, the name “Summit” was best associated with a fleet of Mitsubishi products sold at Eagle dealerships in the ’90s. What a difference a couple of decades makes.
The Grand Cherokee has evolved into something of a do-no-wrong vehicle for Jeep, which is already the shining star of the FCA cluster these days, with a string of hits throughout the 2010s. Like the iconic Wrangler and storied Cherokee, the Grand Cherokee is now one of those names that needs no explanation. And Jeep is pulling out the stops to keep Grand Cherokee customers in Grand Cherokees.
The Summit is the current attempt to stop longtime Grand Cherokee buyers who’ve climbed up the ladder of options and trims from escaping to luxury branded crossovers. And it makes a convincing reason to stay with Jeep, which somehow has enough cachet in this arena to compete with rivals from Land Rover, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz – among numerous others.
FCA recently invited me to drive the revised 2017 Grand Cherokee Summit among other Jeeps outside of Los Angeles, testing some on mountain roads and others on the trails. The short story: the Grand Cherokee remains mostly at home on both.
For 2017, Jeep upgraded the Summit and tried to distinguish it even further from “lesser” Grand Cherokees. The grille is revised with a mesh-type insert in each one of the seven slats. New 20-inch wheels are sparkly, but not too sparkly. Like an understated ball gown, if that's not an oxymoron.
And inside, the Summit gets the top-grade leather as standard, with Nappa leather on the seats and leather on the dash top. Some of the center console plastics are no better than what you’d find on a $30,000 Grand Cherokee Laredo from the Avis counter, but at least it’s already higher grade than some of the Jeep’s mainstream rivals.
Summits get pretty much all of the Grand Cherokee’s options, save for a Blu-Ray rear entertainment system, skid plates and that diamond-patterned leather package. Opting for a 4x4 model also gets you Quadra-Drive II with the air suspension – which settles things on-road and raises the Jeep to crazy heights for off-roading.
But you’ll also have to choose which engine you’d like in the Summit. There’s the optional 5.7-liter Hemi V8 for about $2,000 more than the $52,000 starting price. Or the torquey and relatively thrifty 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 for a steep $5,000. Most, however, will have the standard 3.6-liter V6 with 290 horsepower, like the one I drove.
While it’s a fine engine and its noise is muted in part by the standard active noise cancellation, the Summit is far from energetic with this engine. Compared to turbocharged rivals, too, the Jeep feels every bit of its roughly 5,200 pounds. If you’re towing, spring for one of the other engines. But the Jeep is so good at moderate cruising speeds, even on somewhat twisty roads.
The Summit tops out around $66,000 and that sounds like an absurd amount of money for a Grand Cherokee. But it compares pretty well with an Audi Q7 or BMW X5 or even Volvo XC90 that are in the same price ballpark. All three of those offer third-row seats you probably won’t use. And none are as competent off the pavement as the Jeep. Maybe the forthcoming 2018 Land Rover Discovery will give it a run for its money, but for now, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit is both a good Jeep and a good luxury SUV.
And it vanquishes those old Eagles.
Photos: Zac Estrada/Carscoops