- Upscale appearance
- Roomy, well-fitted interior
- All-wheel drive for all tastes
- Class-leading entertainment features
- The softer side of Jeep style?
- New V-6 engine booms
- We’d like more gears, please
The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is one capable, good-looking crossover—and a welcome sign of life from Chrysler.
The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee might be the best thing to emerge from the wreckage of the old DaimlerChrysler. When the companies divorced in 2007, Chrysler got custody of some of the pieces it needed to build a new sport-utility vehicle. It's the best Grand Cherokee yet—so much for broken homes.
Fundamentally, you wouldn't recognize the Grand Cherokee as a country cousin of a Mercedes. But as the Chrysler 300 owes some genetic material to the Benz E-Class, the Cherokee rides on some of the architectural goodness that underpins the Benz M-Class—with its own powertrains, interior,and styling, of course.
The combination of American flair and some German engineering does amazing things for the Cherokee, giving it a newfound feel that almost masks its considerable toughness. It's still an off-roading SUV—but with the vastly improved ride, steering, and soft-touch sophistication of a crossover. Its four-wheel-drive systems hit the sweet spot of usability for casual off-roaders, but on-road drivers get even more attention. This might be the first Grand Cherokee that feels better on pavement than off.
The Grand Cherokee also marks the debut of Chrysler's first new V-6 engine in a decade. It's good enough to make the optional V-8 an afterthought to anyone except the big spenders eager to inject some dollars into the Obama economy.
Chrysler's survived—and it's incredible the Grand Cherokee has turned out so well, considering all the corporate agita. It's even more impressive than it looks, driving and feeling better than some of the toughest competitors who've sailed through troubled times without all the Congressional circuses. Priced from about $31,000 to well over $40,000, the Grand Cherokee reclaims some best-in-class wins from a group of crossover utes that includes the Honda Pilot, the Ford Explorer, and the Volkswagen Touareg.
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee
The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee trades its old outlet-mall style for something a little more boutique.
The new Grand Cherokee has crossed a styling Rubicon. Can it ever go back to its formerly blocky self, now that it's been streamlined into something so square-jawed and elegant?
The last-generation ute wore heavy-handed panels, but they've nearly all been smoothed into fairly upscale territory. The Jeep seven-slot grille sits high on the front, flanked by smallish headlamps—the treatment's a little subdued and unadorned—but from there on back, the Grand Cherokee sports just the right proportions of metal to glass, with few unnecessary lines to fuss over. The boxed-in wheel wells are just right. From the rear three-quarter view, there's so much BMW X5 and Volkswagen Touareg in its stance and in its taillights, you might be able to swap badges and fool a few civilians. If you like, Jeep will chrome some trim and the mirror housings for a bit more flash—but it's still minimal compared to vehicles like the Cadillac SRX, even with optional 20-inch wheels. If we have one complaint about the look—and it's hard to muster—it's that it might be a little too derivative, a bit excessively refined compared to Cherokees over time.
Inside, the Grand Cherokee's even more of a resounding success. There's a chunky three-spoke steering wheel,a usefully arranged center stack of controls capped with inoffensive metallic-plastic trim, and on some versions, real wood trim on the dash, doors,and the steering wheel. Clean ergonomics are just part of the effect; the Grand Cherokee's materials don't repel your touch, like the feel of some other recent Chryslers. This is probably Chrysler's best interior, with the Dodge Ram pickup coming a close second.
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee
A much smoother operator, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee V-6 could use its inside voice a little more.
Two engines, a single transmission choice, three four-wheel-drive options, and conventional or air shocks all knit together to give the new Grand Cherokee the best road manners of any Jeep, on par with the Pilot and other leading on-road warriors—all while keeping its trailblazing bona fides.
The two engines are a new 3.6-liter V-6 and a returning 5.7-liter V-8. The 290-hp V-6 is Chrysler’s first new six-cylinder in more than a decade, and it catches up on all fronts with flex-fuel capability, variable valve timing, and much improved fuel economy from prior sixes. It’s a bit boomy in the Cherokee, especially when you’re pressing it hard to enter the freeway, but it’s powerful enough—even with a quick-changing five-speed automatic that really could use one or two more gears—to relegate the 360-hp V-8 to the horse-country set who need extreme towing capacity. The V-8 (a HEMI in all but name) feels and pulls better, but not by that much. Fuel economy checks in at 16/23 mpg for the rear-drive V-6 Grand Cherokee; 16/22 mpg for the four-wheel-drive V-6 model; and 13/19 mpg for the V-8 versions.
The Mercedes contribution to the Grand Cherokee’s upbringing is mostly invisible—it’s in the unibody architecture bolted and welded together to make the new Jeep roomier and far more structurally stiff than before, and it’s in the conventional or electronic air suspension fitted to make it handle better than ever. The suspension is independent all around (the prior generation had a live-beam rear axle), and it works with the stout new body to bring the Cherokee’s road manners into the crossover realm. No more boundy ride or vague steering—this Jeep will handle highways about as well as a Pilot, if not with the carlike ride motions of a Ford Flex. With the Limited and Overland editions, there’s an available Quadra-Lift air suspension that can raise the Cherokee from 4.1 inches to 10.7 inches off the ground—great for off-roading, and even more settled on-road.
For the times you want to explore new territory, the Grand Cherokee can be ordered with one of three four-wheel-drive systems. The basic Quadra-Trac I is a standard locking differential in the middle, with power split 50:50 front to rear. Quadra-Trac II can split torque variably from front to rear, as traction disappears at either end; Quadra-Drive II adds on an electronic limited slip differential across the rear axle so that the Grand Cherokee can respond even more intelligently to slipping and sliding. You’d want the most extreme choice for the most extreme duties, but our favorite is the plain base setup—it’s lightweight, simpler, and more than enough traction control for casual drivers.
On top of all this, Jeep grafts a Selec-Terrain system to the torque-splitting systems. Selec-Terrain lets you choose one of five traction-control modes according to driving conditions: Auto, Sand/Mud, Sport, Snow, and Rock. In concept it’s a lot like the system in the Land Rover lineup; in practice, the Jeep version requires you to intervene more with the gas and brake. It’s useful stuff—if you don’t already know to take it slow and steady when conditions aren’t perfect.
Lastly, with the rear-drive V-8 Grand Cherokee, Jeep claims a 7,400-pound towing capacity.
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Comfort & Quality
People and their things get a better deal in the new Grand Cherokee, and thoughtful details add to the narrative.
This time around, the Jeep Grand Cherokee's growth isn't all on the outside. Passengers get more interior space, thanks to a 5.3-inch boost in wheelbase, and the door openings and cargo area rise as well.
The Grand Cherokee's front seats strike us as pretty flat, with bottom cushions that might be a bit too short. The driving position is about ideal for taller adults, though, and the cabin is wide enough to keep legs from rubbing the door panels. (The center console's shaped well, too, so your knees won't rub against abrupt corners.)Most of the extra space goes to rear passengers, who got a sour deal in the old Cherokee. Now three adults might really fit across the second-row seat, and two will be flat-out comfortable—especially with the seatbacks reclined a bit,enjoying the additional four inches of legroom. Headroom's great for all, by the way.
The Cherokee totes about35 cubic feet of stuff behind the second-row seat (it offers no third-row seat,like the Touareg, but unlike the Pilot and Traverse). The tailgate has flip-up glass or you can raise the entire liftback; on the ritzy versions, the cargo area gets fine padding and trim bars. You can flip down the rear seats with a single lever, and on some versions the front passenger seat will fold flat,too—just in case that grandfather clock needs a new home. Our favorite storage detail: The removable dual bins hiding under the cargo floor, molded to fit around the spare tire. At first glance, they look right-sized for a six-pack on ice. We're just saying.
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee
The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee’s off to a strong start in safety, with a Top Safety Pick award.
We’re expecting good things from the 2011 Grand Cherokee in the crash tests yet to come from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The agency hasn’t tested the new Jeep yet, but the industry-funded Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has—and it’s named the Grand Cherokee one of its Top Safety Picks for 2011.
The Cherokee has the requisite list of standard safety gear, including dual front, side, and curtain airbags; traction and stability control; anti-lock brakes with integral trailer-sway control; and rough-road detection logic. Hill-start and hill-descent help are programmed into its stability systems, and active headrests are standard, too.
Safety options include parking sensors and a rearview camera; blind-spot detectors; adaptive cruise control; and a collision-warning system that senses when the SUV is approaching cars ahead too rapidly and sounds a warning.
Visibility is impressive in the airy Grand Cherokee. The hood’s shaped to give a good sense of the front corners, and the pillars are thin and let the driver gauge the rear quarters well.
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee
The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee’s ready to take on Comcast with streaming Web, wireless phone, and backseat TV options.
Like other recent Chryslers, the Jeep Grand Cherokee does the best it can with entertainment and luxury features—in fact, it does better than any crossover vehicle, as good as or surpassing the class-leading Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT.
First, the standards: Every Grand Cherokee comes with power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; a power driver seat; a tilt/telescope steering wheel; push-button start; and keyless entry. There's also an AM/FM/CD player with Sirius Satellite Radio hardware and USB connectivity.
Move up the trim grades,from Laredo to Limited and Overland, and you'll add on features like a power tailgate; 19-inch wheels; leather seating with a power front passenger seat;heated and ventilated front seats; a wood-trimmed steering wheel; heated rear seats; a power telescope/tilt steering wheel; xenon headlamps; and a panoramic sunroof that opens up the Grand Cherokee's interior and shows off its newfound style. There's also a premium sound system with 506 watts of power.
In the above-and-beyond category, Chrysler's Sirius BackseatTV streams three channels of kiddie TV into a pair of rear-seat screens—but there's also FLO TV, which streams up to 20 channels into the Grand Cherokee's rolling studio. Chrysler will fit on-the-go Uconnect Web to the Cherokee, so you can become your own wireless hotspot. These bleeding-edge tech pieces make the Cherokee's Bluetooth and navigation system options seem almost dowdy.
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee
The HEMI returns thirsty, and with only a five-speed transmission, the Grand Cherokee's no fuel-sipper.
Going primarily by fuel consumption, as we do here at High Gear Media, the all-new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is significantly greener than last year's model--if you choose the new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, that is. At a high of 16 mpg city, 23 highway with 2WD, the 2011 Grand Cherokee with the base engine gets 2 mpg better than the outgoing Grand Cherokee, though fuel economy with the Hemi V-8 is unchanged.
That said, most large V-6 crossover vehicles--some of them with three rows of seating--have fuel economy ratings that are a mile or two per gallon better than the Grand Cherokee. The reason? The Grand Cherokee's somewhat older-tech five-speed automatic might be part of it, as might be its more portly weight, near 5,000 pounds--perhaps the price of rugged off-road ability.