2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
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Story and photos by Russell Purcell

Jeep is one of those unique brand names that have become more influential in the marketplace than the vehicles that carry its logo. With a history of producing off-road vehicles that dates back prior to WWII Jeep could be considered the forefather of the modern sport utility vehicle.

The Grand Cherokee Overland is the patriarch of this clan, and although it features all the amenities of a fine luxury car, it retains the ability to take it to the limit when the going gets rough. This is what sets it apart from most of its rivals, both foreign and domestic, as the Grand Cherokee in any form, is equally at home on the highway as it is crawling along a rock strewn ridge.

The Grand Cherokee has been in showrooms since the early nineties (1993) but its convenient size, big power and all round capabilities add up to a combination of traits that still make it attractive in an ever-expanding field of SUVs. The outer dimensions and general appearance have basically remained the same over that period, although minor styling revisions, additional equipment and a gradual move upscale have kept the vehicle popular.

Off-Road Warrior

2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

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The Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland comes standard with Jeep’s Quadra-Drive four-wheel drive system. This outstanding full-time all-wheel drive system is available as an option on Limited, Rocky Mountain and Laredo models as well. It is comprised of two components – Quadra-Trac II and Vari-Lok. Quadra-Trac II is an updated version of Jeep’s extremely durable transfer case that will self engage the high-range of the 4X4 system if it detects wheel slippage due to adverse road conditions. During normal driving it behaves much like a standard rear-wheel drive vehicle, in that it sends the majority of the engine torque to the rear axle. Partnered with the Vari-Lok progressive axles this tag-team will keep you out of trouble. In slick or muddy conditions, the two components of this dynamic system work together to smoothly transfer torque to whichever wheels are still maintaining grip, either rear to front or side to side.

The Quadra-Drive equipped Grand Cherokee is as happy off-road as it is on a paved highway. This puts it more in line with the other veteran builder in this category – Land Rover. Complete with multi-channel ABS brakes and dual airbags, occupants will feel secure whether tearing up the highway or traversing a windy logging road.

Quadra-Drive should keep things in check over everything from rain-slick pavement to snow blanketed side streets, but for serious play the driver can manually select 4-Low. With a little planning, a steady foot and a competent navigator, the Overland should be able to satisfy the more rugged needs of all but the most serious off-roader.

A rounded leading edge and tail offer the Grand Cherokee Overland excellent approach and departure angles, however, painted bumper shrouds are susceptible to damage. A gray ABS plastic center guard upfront, side rails and a basic skid-plate package (to protect vital driveline components from impact damage) combine to offer some protection, but real off-road warriors may want to choose a lesser trim level, or even look at a Rubicon. Cars equipped with the trailer hitch also risk extra scraping as the receiver can get hung up on rocks or other hazards.

On The Highway

I had the opportunity to take a drive from Vancouver to Kelowna, B.C. and back in the Overland while acting as chauffeur for my house-shopping parents. Past experience forewarned that this trip (of about 400 kilometres each way) was a test for any vehicle, as high altitude, steep angle extended climbs and brake-testing descents were known to eat up everything from turbo-charged Audis to overloaded semis. The Overland gobbled up kilometre after kilometre of pavement, taming the dreaded Coquihalla Highway with ease. Triple digit speeds, a full load of passengers and warm late summer temperatures could not strain the muscular 4.7-litre high-output V8. In fact, I never saw the tachometer pass 3,500 rpms! Awesome.

For 2003, the Grand Cherokees were fitted with reduced pressure shocks, making the ride quality even more comfortable, while improving road feel. Long sweeping corners induced subtle body roll, but even with the high-centre of gravity that comes with SUV design, the Jeep never felt unsettled or squirrelly. It would be an interesting exercise to replace the all-terrain tires with a sporty, low-profile model, just to see what this potent package can really do.

Acceleration is brisk from a standstill, as the 4.7 litre Power Tech V8 in the Overland packs plenty of punch. The throaty rumble of the performance exhaust will have potential opponents lining up to race you from stoplight to stoplight. The comfortable cockpit and quiet ride cause you to lose track of the rising speed as power comes on very quickly, but oh, so smoothly with the aid of the slick 5-speed automatic transmission. This engine slid under the hood of the Grand Cherokee for 2003, and when compared to the previous V8 offering- which was of bigger displacement (5.9-litre) – the new unit is more powerful, much quieter and more fuel-efficient.

Big ABS-equipped brakes will ensure that you will be able to safely reign in the 265 ponies and bring this 1975 kilogram beast to a halt without too much effort. I failed to notice any hint of fade during my week at the wheel, even during a long day of off road adventures or during the long descents on the Coquihalla.

Compact on the outside, but roomy on the inside

2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
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While not a large vehicle, the Grand Cherokee platform offers an amazing amount of interior space for such a compact package. Seating is very comfortable for 5 adults and there is sufficient headroom in all seating positions, as well as ample hip and legroom. However, the rear doors are a bit narrow for fuller-sized adults like me. A wide array of interior lights and grab handles ensure that ingress and egress will pose little drama. The 10-way power driver’s seat features a nifty setting that automatically lowers the unit while sliding it rearward making pilot access a breeze.

The rear cargo area is accessible via a large, easily hoisted hatch that swings up and out of the way with ease, and lift over height is very reasonable for a vehicle of this stature. Over the course of my week with the Overland a bevy of cases, golf bags, groceries and other precious cargo (yummy Okanagan Valley fruit) was stowed quickly and efficiently. The last pieces plunked on top by lifting the rear glass, a feature that I am always happy to see on this type of vehicle.

Second row seatbacks fold forward in a 60/40-split configuration, and when in this position offer a virtually flat floor and 2030 litres of cargo room. If more room is required, the vehicle comes equipped with a standard roof rail system which is ready to accept a variety of racks or carriers, and a heavy-duty towing setup can be ordered as well.

Luxuries Abound

The Overland comes equipped with very stylish 17-inch high-polish alloy wheels and a matching full-size spare. I was relieved that Jeep designers had chosen not to mount the spare unit on the rear of the vehicle, as it would detract from the Grand Cherokee’s aerodynamic good looks. I was even more relieved to find it tucked away in a clever storage cubby underneath the cargo area floor, as there is nothing more annoying (or dangerous for that matter) than attempting to remove a chassis mounted spare wheel from a precariously-perched, stranded vehicle if the need ever arose.

Safety advancements like ceiling-mounted side curtain air bags and an advanced tire pressure monitoring system have found their way into the Grand Cherokee line up, the former standard on the Overland, while the latter is available as a low-cost option.

Firm but supportive leather-clad sport buckets up front keep you planted while remaining comfortable enough to allow your passenger to catch a nap on longer trips. The rear bench features adjustable headrests and proved comfy as well. Front units feature heated cushions, but surprisingly the rear ones do not. Power adjustments can be made via side-mounted controls on both front seats, while the driver can further personalize his comfort by adjusting the pedals at the touch of a dash button.

2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
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All the power-operated goodies are present – windows, locks, mirrors, sunroof and seats- as well as other popular luxury appointments like leather seating surfaces and wood-grain trim pieces. A well thought out ‘Vehicle Information Centre’ is mounted unobtrusively in an overhead console, providing easy to follow instructions and controls for many of the alarm and power equipment functions. However, it has to be the stellar infrared dual-zone climate control system that got my attention on cold mornings. Supplemented by the heated front seats this infinitely adjustable set up promotes the Grand Cherokee Overland to Whistler Express status. All aboard! I was surprised to find that rear passengers do not have the luxury of independent HVAC controls, as most of this vehicle’s competitors, as well as its own corporate siblings, offer this at this price point.

Do you like to listen to good music while you travel? Well audiophiles will like the Infinity Gold sound system that punches out a healthy 180-watts of power through six channels. An AM/FM head unit is accompanied by both an in-dash cassette unit and CD player, all easily controlled with steering wheel mounted controls. There is also a cartridge style 10-disc remote CD changer housed behind a panel in the cargo area.


The Grand Cherokee remains an excellent choice for consumers that desire a comfortable all-round vehicle but for whom parking is a concern. Its compact stature makes it suitable for most modern garages and condo parking stalls, while also giving it everyday handling and driving dynamics more akin to a passenger car. Stepping up to the Overland package gives you a luxurious cabin and performance levels usually reserved for sporty sedans. In short, the Grand Cherokee Overland offers the best features of a car and the dynamic nature of an SUV, making it the perfect vehicle for a single car family or for someone looking to simplify their life by downsizing from two cars to one.

A convenient size, more than sufficient power, luxurious trimmings and legendary off-road capabilities make the Grand Cherokee Overland a vehicle worth considering, especially if your taste for adventure takes you where other SUVs fear to tread.

Technical Data: 2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

Base price $53,270
Price as tested $54,990
Type 5-passenger mid-size SUV
Layout longitudinal front engine, four-wheel drive
Engine 4.7 litre V8, SOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 265 bhp @ 5100 rpm
Torque 325 lb.-ft. @ 3600 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Curb weight 1975 kg (4355 lbs.)
Wheelbase 2691 mm (105.9 in)
Length 4613 mm (181.6 in)
Width 1845 mm (72.3 in)
Height 1786 mm (69.4 in)
Cargo volume 1085-litres (38.5 cu.ft.) with rear seat up; 2030-litres (71.7 cu.ft.) with rear seat folded
Ground clearance Front -233mm (9.1 in); Rear -233 mm (9.13 in)
Fuel consumption City: 15.4 l/100 km (18 mpg)
  Hwy: 10.7 l/100 km (26 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km; Powertrain warranty 7 yrs/115,000 km

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