The SUV craze died in the early 2000s, not only because the price of gas went up, but also because the old models just didn’t feel that good. “Crossovers” ride and drive well; a Ford Expedition did not.
But for those that still need (or want) an SUV, there are still a few have the rugged skills that elevate them past “crossover”. Two of my favorites of 2012 were the Jeep Cherokee Overland and the BMW X5 xDrive35d. Both have refined rides, good looks that stick to their roots, and off-road ability that will impress Big Foot.
This isn’t about lap times and how many dogs fit in back (2-14, depending on size). It’s about two of my favorite SUVs that haven’t forgotten who they are. And though the delta in price is thousands wide, they are quite similar.
The BMW X5 xDrive35d
One of the main reasons SUV-mania died was that gas prices rose while MPG fell. Diesel solves that. It’s the fuel of choice for trucks and heavy equipment for a reason: Big torque, long lifespan and frugal consumption.
The X5’s 3.0L diesel puts out 265hp, and 425ft-lbs of torque worthy of a big blue ox. That also makes it pretty quick. On-ramp, hill or passing? No problemo. The 6-speed auto is smooth and quick, and the suspension makes this more fun in turns than many cars. On the road it’s an excellent machine.
But off-road it’s really impressive. I drove this car over a rocky Nevada trail in the snow, and it never faltered. The torque was unstoppable, it held on like an eagle does to a rabbit, and the hill-descent mode is much smarter than I. Amazing.
As the frozen water fell and the world went quiet, I sat on a comfortable, heated chair that massaged me while the optional Bang & Oluffsen stereo caused avalanches. The cabin looks like a BMW, with lots of space. Fast on the road, confident off-road; how an SUV should be. Plus the MPG bested the EPA-advertised 26 by 2. I can’t think of a reason to buy an $80,000 Cayenne when this X5 exists.
Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
“So why buy the Jeep?” Well, many reasons, most of them punctuated by dollar signs. The X5 we tested was $60,000. Even if you get rid of the (IMO) needless options like sunroof, external cameras, and sound system, the X5 starts at $52,000.
The new 2012 Grand Cherokee resembles the stout 1995 my parents drove, but with some brawn and style added to keep with the times. Tough, but smooth. It’s The Rock wearing a suit. I think it looks great.
Starting at $43,000, even with similar options to the X5 (leather, adaptive cruise, and blind-spot warning) it barely hits $50k. The 3.6L Pentastar V-6 is buttery smooth, makes 290HP, and despite “only” 260ft-lbs of torque, strutted up a seriously steep off-road trail with ease. It also gets an impressive 26MPG highway. You’d to drive the X5 for eons before that 2MPG advantage paid off.
The interior suits what Jeep has become; upscale without looking fragile. If I had to choose one of these to drive forever, I feel like the Jeep would last longer. The stitched dashboard impresses. Style abounds. Though it’s not as fancy inside, that’s ok, because Jeeps aren’t about caviar and bow ties. The X5 started out as an SUV for people that want BMW-ness. The Jeep began as a vehicle people drove over boulders, occasionally wandering onto a highway.
Today, Jeep has given the Cherokee the on-road and interior quality that a discerning buyer wants, without taking away its guts.
The X5d is an exceptional thing, an efficient luxury truck that just happens to be fun to drive, with more rocks in its veins than you’d think. If you’re someone who absolutely must rely on a brand for identity, this car is without equal (the Cayenne diesel is close but doesn’t have the timeless looks).
But the Grand Cherokee offers keeps up with the 2012 BMW X5, and for less dough. And, when people get a BMW, they won’t be surprised by the quality of the interior, because they expect it. Not so in the Jeep. And who doesn’t like surprises?