2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Review
See Also: Jeep Buyers Guide
See Also: E-Carmony: Is The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Your Perfect Match?
WITH CAREY RUSS
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4x4
Remember the early 1990s? The SUV was the Next Big Thing in automotive popularity, but "SUV" in those days meant gussied-up four-wheel drive utility vehicle, a body-on-frame truck with pretensions to civilization, or maybe even luxury.
Enter the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Conveniently mid-sized for easy maneuverability in town or on the trail, it was built with a car-like unibody structure for solidity and rigidity. But don't think of that original Grand Cherokee as a proto-crossover -- its structure was sturdy enough for heavy towing and serious off-road use. It was a Jeep, after all. And it showed that an SUV could be civilized, comfortable, and completely capable off or on pavement.
There was room for improvement, of course. Grand Cherokee, Version 1.0 was on the small end of mid-sized inside, especially inside. And while its solid-axle suspension was ruggedly capable on the most difficult off-road trails, most examples saw most use in more benign environments. So with each redesign, it grew a bit, and became ever more civilized without loss of Jeep off-road ability. By the time the third generation debuted for 2005, it even got independent front suspension.
There is an all-new fourth-generation Grand Cherokee for 2011, and it is the most-changed yet. Instantly recognizable, even though it's a touch larger yet and shares no sheetmetal with any ancestor, it's also the first Grand Cherokee to have fully-independent suspension. The optional 5.7-liter "Hemi" V8 continues, but an all-new 290 horsepower 3.6-liter "Pentastar" twin-cam aluminum alloy V6 replaces the old 210-hp 3.7.
The newest Grand Cherokee really is completely new in the structural and suspension departments, with architecture shared with ex-partner Mercedes-Benz's ML. Looks like Chrysler got something good in the divorce, and yes I too am wondering what new partner Fiat thinks about that. No cause for complaint about the result - offered in Laredo, Laredo X, Limited, and Overland trim levels with two- or four-wheel drive, the 2011 Grand Cherokee is the best yet.
I say that after a week with a well-equipped 4WD Overland. Can Chrysler build a truly good vehicle? If this is any indication, absolutely. Fit and finish and materials are comparable to anything in the mid-level luxury SUV/crossover class, and there is refinement never before seen in a Jeep. Space, too - the rear seat is not the penalty box. With the 360-horsepower 5.7-liter V8 under the hood, power was never a problem, and the engine was not as thirsty as expected. At 16mpg overall, it was comparable to or better than any previous V8 Grand Cherokee tested, with much more power and performance. With products like the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chrysler looks poised for a comeback.
APPEARANCE: Conservatively stylish, simple but interesting, the new Grand Cherokee is unabashedly a two-box vehicle that proudly wears its considerable heritage. Like its predecessors, a trademark "shield" -- a seven-slot chromed grille flanked by round headlights under plastic fairings -- graces the front. In the current style, lower body cladding is absent, well, except for some discreet functional protective bits around the lower perimeter. Prominent wheel arches and character lines grace the sides; a dropped center section distinguishes the hood. Befitting its luxury status, the grille, side window trim, side protective strip, tailgate garnish, door handles, and mirrors are all chromed. Protective skid plates are found under the important mechanical bits, and also improve aerodynamics. But even with that off-road specification, the new Grand Cherokee looks as ready for the office as it is for the trail.
COMFORT: With materials, fit, and finish far better than any previous Jeep, the 2011 edition is the best Grand Cherokee ever, inside. In Overland trim, it's a true luxury vehicle. Leather is used for both seating and dash and door panel trim as well as the steering wheel rim, with the stitched IP top especially noteworthy. Trim is real wood. The front seats are both heated and cooled, good for unpredictable Fall days, and their comfort and support levels are first-rate. The usual suspects are power-adjustable, even the steering wheel, which has cruise, phone, and auxiliary audio controls. The main instruments are easily visible in all lighting, and at Overland level a navigation system and CD/DVD disc, hard drive, Sirius satellite radio, AM/FM, and auxiliary input audio system, both controlled via a touch screen and hard button interface or voice are standard. The interface is simple and intuitive. Interior storage spaces are found throughout. The five-inch increased wheelbase means over three inches more rear legroom and a couple inches more in the luggage compartment. The rear seat folds 60/40 when necessary, and a metal scuff plate and protective strips protect the load floor. Underneath that lurks a full-size spare tire, a good thing for off-road flats. Or on-road. At Overland level, a power liftgate is standard, and all models have "flipper" separately openable liftgate glass.
SAFETY: The new Grand Cherokee is an IIHS "Top Safety Pick", and has over 45 standard or optional safety features. Notable is the blind-spot monitoring system on my test car, which illuminates red triangles in the outside mirrors and/or chimes when another vehicle is detected in the side blind spots. A backup camera vastly improves rearward vision, especially close and low, and the sonar ParkSense® rear assistance system also helps. Four-wheel disc brakes with Electronic Stability Control with Electronic Roll Mitigation, Hill-Start Assist, and Trailer-Sway Control are standard, with Hill Descent Control available. A full complement of airbags are found in all Grand Cherokees.
RIDE AND HANDLING: The new structure and longer wheelbase help comfort and stability as much as they increase interior space. The new, fully-independent suspension, with a short-and-long arm design in the front and multilink in the rear, is tuned moderately softly for comfort, but good damping keeps it in check and ensures secure handling. The Quadra-Lift air suspension system allows the driver to change ride height by up to 4.1 inches to cope with road or trail conditions. The Selec-Terrain™ system allows the various electronic and mechanical systems in the drivetrain to be varied for the best response to sand or mud, snow, rock crawling, or on-road sport-oriented driving. Or to vary automatically as the system sees fit. With ground clearance between 8.6 and 10.6 inches, few everyday hazards will be of concern. And although it has grown a bit, the 2011 Grand Cherokee is still small enough that it is parked, not docked.
PERFORMANCE: With 290 horsepower, the new 3.6-liter V6 is undoubtedly more than merely adequate to motivate the 2011 Grand Cherokee. But for real acceleration, towing grunt, or effortless climbing ability, the optional 5.7-liter V6 is hard to beat. Offering 360 horsepower at 5150 rpm, with a massive 390 lb-ft of torque at 4250 and plenty all the way down to idle, it gives the 5200-lb (in V8 4x4 trim) Grand Cherokee a 7-second 0-60 time and a 7200-lb towing capacity. It's American Tradition with a few twists - a sturdy cast iron block with cross-bolted main bearings and aluminum alloy heads with pushrod-operated overhead valves, two per cylinder, takes care of tradition. Hemispherical combustion chambers are tradition only at Chrysler. Variable valve timing aids power and efficiency, and the Multi-Displacement System improves fuel economy by seamlessly changing operation between high-powered V8 when needed, as in accelerating, passing, or towing, and frugal four-cylinder when cruising at a steady speed. EPA estimates are 13 mpg city, 19 highway; I saw 14 in mostly city driving, with an improvement to 17 after 100 miles of highway. Call it 15 to 16 average, as good or better than previous, much less powerful, Grand Cherokees that I have driven.
CONCLUSIONS: The new Jeep Grand Cherokee is the best one yet.
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4x4
Base Price $ 41,120 Price As Tested $ 46,235 Engine Type 16-valve pushrod overhead valve V8 with variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation (opt) Engine Size 5.7 liters / 345 cu. in. Horsepower 360 @ 5150 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 390 @ 4250 rpm Transmission 5-speed automatic Wheelbase / Length 114.8 in. / 189.8 in. Curb Weight 5210 lbs. 4470 V6 2WD Pounds Per Horsepower 14.5 Fuel Capacity 24.6 gal. Fuel Requirement 89 octane unleaded mid-grade gasoline recommended, 87 octane unleaded regular permissible Tires P265/50 R20 Goodyear Fortera HL Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS standard Suspension, front/rear independent short-and-long arm, independent multi-link Ground clearance variable, 8.6 to 10.6 inches Drivetrain longitudinal front engine, multi-mode dual-range four-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 13 / 19 / 16 0 to 60 mph 7.0 sec (est) Trailer towing 7200 lbs. Payload 1590 lbs. OPTIONS AND CHARGES 5.7-liter MDS VVT V8 engine package - includes: heavy-duty 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, dual bright exhaust tips $ 1,495 Advanced Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control package - includes: Blind spot monitoring and rear cross-path detection, adaptive speed control, forward collision warning $ 1,295 Rear Seat Entertainment Center - includes: rear seat overhead video system, SIRIUS Backseat TV with 1 year complimentary service, power single-panel sunroof $ 1,495 Engine block heater $ 50