Chrysler Group and Jeep have been awfully quiet the last few years. As Chrysler endured two ownership changes in two years and government-backed bankruptcy during the economic meltdown, Jeep made no new product news. It's been a cause for concern among industry wags. How, after all, can Chrysler in general and Jeep in particular survive with no new products? Well, Jeep has fired its first product salvo under Fiat ownership, and it's a good one. The Grand Cherokee is all-new for 2011. With an attractive new design, an important new engine, improved interior space, and a strong body architecture, this new Jeep bodes well for the future of the brand.
Photos courtesy of Chrysler Group LLC
An all-new Grand Cherokee
#10. It's in a class by itself
Traditionally, the Jeep Grand Cherokee has played in the highly competitive midsize SUV segment. Featuring a unibody design, which is shared with the next-generation Mercedes ML and GL Class SUVs, the new Grand Cherokee has amazing off-road capability and a pleasingly competent on-road character. No other vehicle in its class can compare. The closest competitors in terms of capability are Land Rover, Mercedes and Porsche offerings that cost much more. While we're glad that inefficient, off-road capable Explorers and TrailBlazers have faded away since nobody drove them off-road anyway, it's good to see the Grand Cherokee return better than ever. Many Grand Cherokee owners do use its off-road capability. There is certainly room for one midsize SUV off-roader.
New Grand Cherokee Price Drop
#9. The model lineup stays the same, but prices drop
The 2011 model lineup starts with $30,215 rear-drive Laredo ($32,215 with four-wheel drive), then progresses to Limited and Overland. Every model is offered with rear-wheel drive or a choice of three four-wheel-drive systems. Jeep says prices have dropped $500 to $2600 while content has increased by $2000-$6000. To be fair, though, the outgoing model had a lot of room for incentives baked into its list prices.
Standard equipment on the Laredo includes six airbags, electronic stability control with trailer sway control, Hill Start Assist, cloth upholstery, dual-zone manual climate control, power driver's seat, keyless access and starting, AM/FM/CD stereo with Sirius satellite radio, automatic headlights, and 17-inch alloy wheels. The Limited model ($36,320 rear-drive, $38,820 four-wheel drive) adds rear park assist, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, memory for the driver's seat and mirrors, iPod adapter, sunroof, Bluetooth cell phone link, rearview camera, bi-xenon headlights, and 18-inch wheels. The Overland ($38,715 rear-drive, $41,120 four-wheel drive) gets a navigation system, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, ventilated front seats, power liftgate, and 20-inch wheels.
New and familiar engines
#8. It has a great new V6, and the V8 ain't bad, either
The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee marks the debut of the new 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. This is the engine Chrysler Group has needed for quite some time. A thoroughly modern engine, it features dual overhead cams, variable valve timing, and flexfuel capability. More importantly, it is competitive in terms of power and fuel economy. Jeep says it gets 11 percent better fuel economy than the outgoing 3.7-liter V6, while making 38 percent more horsepower and 11 percent more torque. The numbers are 290 horsepower, 260 pound-feet of torque, and EPA fuel economy ratings of 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway with rear-wheel drive and 16/22 with all-wheel drive. The other engine choice is the carryover 5.7-liter Hemi V8. It makes 360 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque and delivers EPA fuel economy numbers of 14/20 with rear-drive and 13/19 with four-wheel drive. The V6 can tow up to 5000 pounds (1500 more than last year) and the V8 can pull 7400 pounds.
The Hemi has always made the Grand Cherokee an SUV hot rod, and that continues for 2011. The better news, though, is that the new V6 is quite capable. It provides willing response from a stop and has plenty in reserve for passing. Power is delivered smoothly, and we never found ourselves wanting more. Given the Hemi's fuel economy penalty, we'd opt for the V6. We wouldn't have said that last year.
#7. It is offered with three four-wheel-drive systems
The base four-wheel-drive system, offered only with the V6 engine, is called Quadra-Trac I. It is a full-time all-wheel-drive system with a constant 50/50 front/rear torque split. It does not have low-range gearing. The next step up is Quadra-Trac II, which is offered for all models and both engines. It adds low-range gearing and Hill Descent Control, and it can send up to 100 percent of the torque to the axle with grip. The top system is Quadra-Drive II. It works like Quadra Trac II but adds an electronic limited slip rear differential that can send power side to side on the rear axle to the tire with grip.
The new Grand Cherokee is also offered with two Off-Road Adventure packages. Package I comes with Quadra Trac II, as well as skid plates, front tow hooks, on/off-road tires, and Jeep's new Selec-Terrain system (more on that later). Package II is offered with Quadra-Trac II, or Quadra-Drive II when ordered with the V8. To Package I it adds a 7- and 4-pin wiring harness and a Class IV trailer hitch. With the V8, it also gets heavy duty engine cooling, a 220-amp alternator, and a 3.09 axle ratio.
#6. It has some cool new off-roading features
The Grand Cherokee adds two new off-roading features for 2011. Quadra-Lift is an air suspension with five modes. Normal mode uses the standard ride height, which has 8.1 inches of ground clearance. Park mode lowers the vehicle 1.5 inches to make it easy to get in and out. Aero mode lowers the vehicle 0.6 inches at highway speeds to aid aerodynamics and improve fuel economy. Off-road 1 lifts the vehicle 1.3 inches to help it clear obstacles, and Off-Road 2 raises it a total of 2.6 inches for even more off-road ground clearance.
Selec-Terrain interfaces with the traction control system, as well as many other vehicle systems to help tailor vehicle performance to the terrain. It also has five modes: Sand/Mud, Snow, Rock, Sport and Auto. Auto mode runs with a standard 40/60 front/rear torque split, but power can go to the axle with grip at any time. Sand/Mud mode runs with a 50/50 torque split, adjusts the traction control to allow more wheelspin, and puts Quadra-Lift in the Off-Road 1 setting. Drivers must engage low-range gearing to use Rock mode. It raises the vehicle to its full 10.7 inches of ground clearance (Off-Road 2), enables Hill Descent Control, locks the center differential for a constant 50/50 torque split, and uses an off-road program for the stability control to allow more wheelspin and suspension articlation. Snow mode starts the transmission in second gear from a stop and uses a 50/50 torque split that isn't locked. Sport mode lowers the vehicle 0.6 inches (Aero) at all times and adjusts the shift schedule to hold gears longer.
#5. It's Trail Rated
Jeep says any Grand Cherokee with an Off-Road Adventure package qualifies as Trail Rated for its off-road traction, ground clearance, maneuverability, articulation, and water fording. To further aid off-road capability, the Grand Cherokee comes with a removable front air dam. When removed, the vehicle has a 34.3 degree approach angle. The departure angle is 29.3 degrees and the breakover angle is 23.1 degrees. Those numbers are all two-three degrees better than last year, and they combine with the myriad of off-road systems make the Grand Cherokee a veritable billy goat off-road.
We had the opportunity to put the vehicle through its tough-terrain paces at California's Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area. There, it performed admirably, clearing tough breakovers, digging into sandy surfaces, maneuvering through tight quarters, and climbing over rocky outcroppings. A 60-degree downward slope was barely a challenge for the Hill Descent Control, as the Jeep moved so slowly down the hill that we actually wanted it to speed up.
Hobbyists will buy the Grand Cherokee to go off-road on a regular basis, and families will find its abilities useful for camping, fishing, and any other outdoor activity.
#4. It's a pleasure to drive on the road, too
Jeep has done a lot to improve the Grand Cherokee's road manners. It starts with the body structure, which Jeep says is 146 percent stiffer than last year, and continues with a new independent rear suspension, which keeps ruts and bumps that disturb one side of the vehicle from transferring that motion to the other side. The Quadra Lift system's Sport mode also enhances on-road dynamics by lowering the center of gravity. The result is a midsize SUV that drives like a crossover and a sporty one at that.
We drove the Grand Cherokee on the twisty roads surrounding San Francisco, and found it fun to hustle the vehicle through turns. The steering is responsive and direct, with a bit of weight to it, and body lean is impressively controlled, especially in Sport mode. Many vehicles of this size can flop around in turns and resist driver inputs. The Grand Cherokee responds willingly and is actually fun to drive hard. The ride quality is also always smooth and forgiving, though Sport mode adds a bit more road feel.
#3. The interior is a vast improvement
Jeep and Chrysler Group in general have been guilty of building plasticky, cheap-looking interiors in the last few years. The Grand Cherokee marks a departure from that practice. The new model has an attractive interior that is several steps upscale. It uses solid, soft-touch materials, real wood accents, and thoughtful bits of chrome trim. The layout is easy to understand and the controls are all within arm's reach. It's a much nicer place to be than last year's cockpit.
Buyers can also opt for higher levels of luxury, with such niceties as leather upholstery, heated and ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel, and a power tilt/telescoping steering column. Entertainment features are also plentiful. Available features include rear DVD entertainment, FLO TV with 20 channels, Sirius Backseat TV with three kids' channels, an iPod interface, UConnect Web that turns the vehicle into a model 3G "hot spot," and a hard-drive radio that can store up to 2400 songs.
#2. Space inside is better than ever
In redesigning the Grand Cherokee, Jeep increased the wheelbase by 5.3 inches. The majority of that extra length adds rear seat legroom, which improves from 35.5 to 38.6 inches. That's important because even some kids had trouble with rear legroom in the last model. With the rear seats up, there is an impressive 35.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row. The rear seats fold down as well, opening up 68.7 cubic feet of space, a modest 1.3 cubic feet more than last year. The load floor is nice and flat, and space is improved further by a fold-flat front passenger seat that will allow loading long items, such as surfboards.
Best Grand Cherokee
#1. It's hands-down the best Grand Cherokee ever
The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is better than the outgoing model in a myriad of ways. The new V6 is a vast improvement in power and fuel economy, making Jeep competitive with the other fine V6s offered by rivals. The additional rear seat space makes the vehicle more useful for families, and the improved interior ambiance makes living with the Jeep far more palatable. The improved, almost sporty road manners make the vehicle more fun to drive. And the lower prices make it more of a bargain. Families won't like the fact that it lacks a third-row seat, and both engines are still pretty hard on gas. But for a family that truly lives an active lifestyle, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is a natural choice.