The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee gets the upscale refinement and engineering it has deserved since its arrival in 1992. With design help from past owner Mercedes, the new model finally is a world-class SUV. Call it a Mercedes “on the cheap.”
The 2011 Grand Cherokee shares its basic carlike platform with the new Mercedes ML, with such things as an all-new independent suspension, big disc brakes and a plush ride.
The new rear suspension lets the spare tire be stored in the vehicle, not underneath it.
This rigidly built Jeep looks much like its predecessor, with Jeep’s classic seven-slot grille, round headlights and trapezoidal wheel arches. But it’s the most luxurious Jeep ever. It is sleeker and more aerodynamic, with an upscale interior never found in this model.
The new Jeep has a sportier, ground-hugging appearance. The wheelbase is up 5.3 inches, which provides an additional 4 inches of rear-seat knee and leg room, and it’s about two inches longer than the previous model. It’s also three inches wider for better handling and packaging. Cargo room has been increased.
The 2011 Grand Cherokee comes in Laredo and Overland trim levels with rear- or three “go-anywhere” four-wheel-drive systems, a new Jeep Selec-Terrain system with five terrain settings and a new Jeep Quadra-Lift air suspension.
Few Grand Cherokee owners ever use their vehicle for off-road driving, but Jeep insists that the Grand Cherokee must have good off-road abilities to help keep it “special.”
Power comes from a new 3.6-liter V-6 with 290 horsepower or from an optional ($1,495) 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 producing 360 horsepower. The V-6 should be fine for most Grand Cherokee buyers, providing good 65-75 mph passing.
However, the V-8 has more pulling ability and provides swifter acceleration in this heavy SUV. Both engines work with a five-speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted.
Estimated fuel economy is nothing special, 15 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on highways with the V-6 and 14 and 20 mpg with the V-8.
List prices, without a delivery charge, range from $30,215 for the base Laredo V-6 to $43,710 for the top-line Overland with the V-8.
I tested Grand Cherokee Overland with the V-6 and Quadra-Trac four-wheel-drive system.
This handsome, well-equipped vehicle stands higher than cars so it calls for a little extra effort to get in and out. But larger front door openings (1.9 inches wider and 2 inches higher) and rear door that open 78 degrees (compared to the previous model’s 67 degrees) allow better access to the interior.
The exceptionally quiet cockpit looks as if from a luxury car, with a curvaceous new dashboard, easily read backlit gauges, rich materials and elegant appointments. And there’s plenty of room front and back, although the middle rear-seat position is too stiff for comfort. That’s a good place for the center fold-down rear armrest, which contains two cupholders.
Also, sound system and climate controls are small, and the shifter partially blocks the cupholders.
Front seats provide good support, and there’s a large covered front console bin and roomy glove compartment. A huge dual-pane sunroof is among many options, which can considerably raise list prices. Newly available is a power liftgate.
There are more than 45 safety and security features, including electronic stability control, side-curtain and seat-mounted side air bags, adoptive cruise control and a forward collision warning system.Advanced technology/connectivity/infotainment features include Bluetooth hands-free calling and streaming audio.
My test Grand Cherokee’s steering was quick, but felt rather spongy. The ride was smooth and handling was good, although this Jeep’s weight could be felt in quick maneuvers. The brakes were controlled by a pedal with a smooth, linear action.
The spacious cargo area can be enlarged via rear seatbacks that flip forward and sit flat. The hood glides up on a single strut to reveal easily reached fluid filler areas.
The new Grand Cherokee has been and immediate success. It has considerably more competition than it once had. But then, after all, it’s got the legendary Jeep name going for it.
Dan Jedlicka, the former car reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times, has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his articles, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.