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2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited: Driven

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The Grand Cherokee's popularity with families was always a little puzzling. Decidedly old-tech in some respects, and clumsy-feeling on a curvy road, the old Grand was in many trims very compromised on the road in favor of the rare off-roading it might someday see. In recent years, Chrysler seemed to sidestep modernizing the Grand Cherokee in some respects, with the interior remaining too snug, and the ride and handling particularly unimpressive.

So that goes to say, I didn't expect a lot in taking the new 2011 Grand Cherokee out over Oregon's Coast Range and back, on narrow, winding forest roads, with damp and dry surfaces, rough patches, and logging trucks. Even though the jury's already out that the 2011 Grand Cherokee is much-improved, it couldn't be that much better, I thought.

Hefty, but under control

Well, I dramatically underestimated the new Grand. The main reason: It has very impressive body control. When you accelerate hard, the front end doesn't lift; the steering doesn't get light; instead, the Grand Cherokee just hunkers down, staying uber-composed, with the Hemi V-8 roaring up near redline and the automatic pulling off quick yet isolated shifts that have a quality (it's basically an M-B tranny). Overall, there's definitely a feeling you're hauling around a lot of weight, just doing it with poise.

Give the steering wheel a quick input and there's no longer the disconcerting moment of sidewall flex followed directly by suspension softness and secondary wallow; in the new Grand Cherokee the body feels well controlled, its center of mass feels lower than you'd guess it to be. The steering has a nice weighting (though numb feel), the body stays composed, and the Quadra-Trac II system has the finesse needed for sharp corners on a wet road. The suspension, overall, loads and unloads with a progressive, predictable feel that's unusual in a rugged utility vehicle.

Grand cabin, grand materials

The seating position in the 2011 Grand Cherokee is still high, as we're accustomed to, but there's lots of headroom and the driving position is much better. And the instrument panel is simple in layout, impressive in the details, with nice materials throughout the cabin and tight, rattle-free construction. In back, it's good news, too; the seating is at a natural height, with plenty of headroom and generous cushions. One minor letdown: the Grand Cherokee's cargo floor remains awfully high compared to car-based crossovers, leaving a bit less cargo space than you might expect if you go from, say, a Ford Flex.

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