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August 2009 4x4 Truck & Auto News - Drivelines

Posted in Features on August 1, 2009
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All-New Grand Cherokee
In the past a headline like this would have generated a lot of excitement around our offices. We have been big fans of Jeep's Grand Cherokee, awarding it our 4x4 of the Year trophy just about every time it entered the competition. This time, though, any excitement has been tempered by a healthy dose of skepticism. We're not worried that beleaguered Chrysler may go under before this '11 model is introduced (though there is that terrifying possibility). No, what has us shaking our heads are some of the big changes Jeep is introducing to the Grand.

Do the words "four-wheel independent suspension" set your hearts afire? Nope, not ours, either. But that's what you'll find beneath this latest Grand. In Jeep's words: "The all-new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is built on a proven rear-wheel-drive unibody platform sharing the same underpinnings as the Mercedes-Benz ML." In Editor Pw's words, it's "the end of the Grand, the Jeep, and Chrysler."

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OK, so the boss may be prone to hyperbole. Independent suspension notwithstanding, it sounds like there's some interesting technology aboard the new Grand, including a Quadra-Lift air suspension with two off-road height settings that give the Jeep as much as 11.1 inches of ground clearance (normal ride height is 8.1 inches). The Jeep also receives a new Selec-Terrain traction-control system that electronically coordinates up to 12 of the vehicle's dynamic systems (throttle, gearing, stability control, and so on) to optimize traction in a variety of terrain types, including sand, mud, snow, and rocks.

The familiar 5.7L Hemi V-8 will be an option for the new Grand, but the standard engine will be an all-new 3.6L, dual-overhead-cam, flex-fuel V-6 rated at 280 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque (see accompanying story on the next page for more details). We were hoping to see a diesel engine on the options list, but, for now at least, it's available only overseas.

Three transfer cases will be offered, including two full-time 4WD boxes: the Quadra Trac II and the Quadra Drive II with a rear electronic limited slip diff. Notice that the front limited slip is no longer offered, even though the term Quadra Drive II is used. We guess they can't count. The Selec-Terrain traction control will be standard equipment with both 4WD transfer cases.

The new Grand Cherokee will go on sale "early next year," says a Chrysler rep, meaning it won't qualify for this year's 4x4 of the Year test. We'll bring you a full drive report as soon as we can. Keep your fingers crossed that the suspension isn't as bad as Pw fears.

U.S. Women Finish Rally
Emily Miller, a member of Rod Hall Racing, and co-driver/navigator (and Olympic skier) Wendy Fisher were the only U.S. entrants in the recent Rallye Aicha des Gazelles, which started in France and finished in Northern Africa. The race is different from other competitive rally events in that all the entrants are women and the teams are not allowed to use GPS to navigate. Driving an Isuzu D-Max pickup truck, the Miller/Fisher team finished 21st overall (out of 119 teams) and fifth out of 85 first-year racers. To read blog entries about the team's endeavor, log on to

Pentastar V-6 Debuts
The '11 Grand Cherokee gets a new standard engine when it goes on sale next year, a 3.6L V-6 named Pentastar that's good for 280 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. The all-new powerplant is built on a 60-degree aluminum block and fitted with aluminum cylinder heads topped by overhead camshafts. Variable valve timing (VVT) helps the engine produce 90 percent of its peak torque between 1,600 and 6,400 rpm.

Jeep expects the Pentastar to improve fuel economy 11 percent over previous Grand Cherokee V-6 engines. In addition, the Pentastar will eventually replace seven V-6 mills in Chrysler's various models, improving the entire lineup's fuel economy by 8 percent and raising Chrysler's corporate average fuel economy numbers by 2 mpg. The Pentastar is flex-fuel capable, so it can run on either regular-grade gasoline or E85.

The Pentastar will be built in Trenton, Michigan, with a second plant in Saltillo, Mexico, coming online for the '12 model year.

Tellico Closed
The U.S. Forest Service announced that it has "temporarily" closed the Upper Tellico OHV trail system in North Carolina while the agency evaluates the area's long-term future. The issue is water quality. An environmental assessment shows that "the Upper Tellico OHV Trail System has extensive damage and contributes unacceptable levels of sediment into the Tellico River and its tributaries," said National Forests in North Carolina Supervisor Marisue Hilliard. "The Forest Service is not meeting its own standards and North Carolina state water quality standards because visible sediment from the OHV trails is reaching the Tellico River and its tributaries in hundreds of locations."

We put temporarily in quotes because the environmental assessment recommends permanent closure of the trail network to rehabilitate the area. Sadly, these temporary closures often turn into permanent ones, removing many of our beloved 'wheeling areas.

There will be a meeting to discuss the closure and alternative plans on Saturday, June 28, in Murphy, North Carolina. We've seen a number of chat-room threads talking about a massive show of support to keep the area open; log onto for the latest on that movement. To find out more about the meeting in Murphy, call Candace Wyman, Upper Tellico Project Coordinator, at 828.837.5152, extension 113. Or go to the website of the Upper Tellico OHV Area ( Another online resource you can visit is

Now That's Heavy-Duty!
Looking for heavy-duty or military-spec vehicles or driveline parts? Boyce Equipment has 50 years in the truck business and stocks all kinds of cool hardware, from Dana 60 and 70 axles to complete 1 1/4-ton Dodges and GMC 6x6s. Boyce does axle conversions too, right up to and including 2 1/2-ton planetaries. Boyce is located in Ogden, Utah, and can be reached at 800.748.4269.

This Just In
* Yamaha has started a free repair program for three versions of its side-by-side Rhino in cooperation with the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC). According to the CPSC, more than 40 deaths have been attributed to the Rhino 700, 660, and 450 models, most of them due to rollovers. Yamaha is offering to upfit these Rhinos with wheel spacers and remove the rear sway bar, which will reduce the chance of rollover and improve vehicle handling, says Yamaha. If you own one of these Rhinos, Yamaha recommends you not operate it until your local dealer has made the modifications.

* Poison Spyder Customs has changed hands. Clifton Slay wanted to "simplify his life" and was going to close down the hardcore parts business, but a meeting with rockcrawling competitor and 'wheeling enthusiast Larry McRae at last year's SEMA Show set the wheels in motion for McRae and his wife, Cheri, to take over the business. "Our goal is to build on Poison Spyder's solid foundation and continue the Heritage in Hardcore," said Cheri. "With my husband's history in the rockcrawling industry and his passion for hardcore 'wheeling, Poison Spyder seemed like the perfect fit." Clifton will serve as a consultant and help the McRaes during the transition.

* Off-road and NASCAR racer Robby Gordon has entered into a product development and marketing agreement with Polaris. The three-year deal has Robby promoting Ranger RZR side-by-sides and pitching new product ideas at Polaris for future vehicles and accessories.

Earth Watch
* Tread Lightly! is holding its second annual charity auction on eBay to raise funds for the organization's outdoor ethics programs. More than 175 products have been donated for the auctions, including a custom-built '07 Wrangler from BDS Suspensions and a Grizzly 550 ATV from Yamaha. You have to act fast, though, as the auctions end June 11.

* Blaming the "current economic climate," BFGoodrich is scaling back its Outstanding Trails program for 2009. The tire maker, in collaboration with Tread Lightly! and the United Four Wheel Drive Associations (UFWDA), will continue to recognize some of the nation's finest trails and support local clubs in their efforts to keep those areas open for recreational use, but just two trails will receive recognition this year: the Barnwell Mountain Recreation Area north of Gilmer, Texas, and the Fordyce Creek Trail in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains.

* New legislation will push the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) numbers higher for the '11 model year. The average light-truck mileage standard moves up 1 mpg, from 23.1 to 24.1 (average CAFE standard for cars will rise from 27.5 to 30.2 mpg). But in a new wrinkle, each manufacturer will have its own mileage target to hit based on the average of its vehicle's "footprint" (basically a measure of the vehicle's size using each wheel as a corner). So makers of small trucks, like Honda, will have a higher CAFE average to hit (25.4 mpg) than GM (23.3 mpg), for example. Industry estimates peg the cost of this new technology at $1.46 billion. And guess who pays for that, folks?

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