July 28, 2010
Just In: All-new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee
We've finally managed to put our hands on the long-awaited redesigned 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Anticipation has mounted for some important reasons: The new model is Chrysler's first post-bankruptcy product, the first launched under Fiat's stewardship, and the first to feature the new Pentastar V6. Also, the Grand Cherokee is one of the few American vehicles you see routinely in the far corners of the world, so it's important for Chrysler's global reputation and profitability to get this thing right.
The new Grand Cherokee shares a platform with the Mercedes-Benz ML and, as such, it employs unibody construction (which it always has) and a fully-independent suspension. Initial development dates back to the days when Chrysler was known as Daimler-Chrysler and was a division of Mercedes-Benz.
The SUV landscape has shifted since the Grand Cherokee was introduced back in 1992. The Grand Cherokee used to be a mainstay of the market, and it competed with only a handful of big sellers in the class. But these days there are many more automakers competing in this segment and the bulk of mid-sized SUVs sold are car-based. Today, the Jeep now competes against a wide array of entries, ranging from the Nissan Murano to the Lexus RX and perhaps offers a less flashy alternative to BMW X5 and Mercedes ML intenders.
We bought a typically equipped mid-trim Laredo V6 4WD. With the 26X package (leather, power seats, and auto climate control), a supersized sunroof, and a trailer tow package, our SUV came to $39,010 -- not inexpensive, but in line with its new peers. Past Grand Cherokees were known to have low-rent interiors, but even our fairly basic 2011 version has a soft-touch dash, tasteful leather and wood, solid-feeling controls and nicely-tailored seats.
Initial impressions? The new Grand drives like no Jeep ever has. On the road it feels stable and planted, and it has a firm, yet compliant ride. Handling is responsive, with restrained body roll. The cabin is quiet. And that new 280-hp, 3.6-liter, Pentastar V6 is smooth and refined, but the new engine has its work cut out for it hauling the GC's hefty 4,900 pounds around. The 5.7-liter (Hemi) V8 is still available and boosts the tow rating from 5,000 to a maximum 7,400 pounds.
Our car also has the Quadra Trac I AWD system, which needs no driver intervention and lacks low range. The system relies on traction control to minimize wheel spin in slippery situations. It's fine for light off roading, which is all most owners will ever encounter. Those planning to go farther off the beaten path can select the alternative Quadra Trac II system that offers low range, hill descent control, and a "Selec-Terrain" system similar to Land Rover's effective arrangement. It's a $950 stand-alone option. There's also an optional air suspension to further improve off-road capability.
We're looking forward to fully testing this new, substantially evolved Grand Cherokee. With more agility, comfort, and refinement, it has moved away from being a utilitarian, discount product. It now feels like a vehicle that can compete on equal footing with its sophisticated peers, whether car-based or off-road ready. Time and testing will tell.