Jeep just rolled out the brand new (and we mean brand spanking new) 2011 Grand Cherokee at the New York Auto Show. Based on Mercedes' ML-platform (wow, the old DaimlerChrysler relationship continues to pay dividends), the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee promises massive leaps forward in refinement, quality, interior volume, drivability, and panache.
Fans of Jeep who bemoaned the weak-kneed 3.7-liter V-6 may now rejoice: it’s finally being replaced by a clean-sheet design of 3.6-liters that boasts chain-driven dual overhead camshafts, variable-valve timing, and a proper 60-degree bank angle. Horsepower is 280, torque a stout 260 lb-ft (90 percent of the latter is available from 1,600 to 6,400 rpm, perfect for towers, off-roaders, and leadfoots alike). Despite the considerable power gains, base mpg remains at 16 and highway rises by two to 23 in V-6 two-wheel drive models, no doubt helped by an eight percent reduction in aerodynamic drag. The 360-hp HEMI 5.7-liter V-8 (360 hp, 390 lb-ft) is the only optional engine as of this writing; gone is the 4.7-liter V-8, but the 3.0-liter Mercedes-Benz turbodiesel V-6 will be offered for international markets.
The former-gen Grand Cherokee had already ditched a front live-axle; now the rear is gone as well. It makes sense, as the vast majority of SUVs are driven on-road most of the time, and eliminating the weight and compromised dynamics of a live axle by employing four-wheel independent suspension should pay dividends in on-road drivability. This new suspension is attached to a frame with 146 percent greater torsional rigidity than the outgoing Grand Cherokee (better, they say, than BMW’s X5 and Toyota’s Highlander).
To keep Jeep’s rabid core of off-road enthusiasts happy, they fitted the 2011 Grand Cherokee with an optional Quadra Lift air suspension that features Ranger-Rover like suspension raising, lowering, and leveling capabilities. Maximum ground clearance with this system is 11.1 inches, but it also can lower to nearly half that height for low-pro highway mode (the air suspension moves a total of 4.5-inches up and down). Three types of all-wheel drive are optional. Engineers claim the new suspension will yield significantly better on-road comfort and handling while keeping Jeep’s Trail-Rated standards intact. We did note that in max-height mode, there was a slight positive camber to both front and rear wheels, meaning the topped-out mode will be for off-roading only.
The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee’s 5.3-inch wheelbase stretch and 1.8-inch overall length increase mean an additional 6.2 cubic feet of room inside. The quality and feel of the interior is vastly better (how about a leather instrument panel?) than the outgoing model if not quite Mercedes- or BMW-trumping. Rear seats recline, and the front seatbacks are scalloped for maximum rear passenger comfort.