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First Drive: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Posted in Project Vehicles on October 1, 2010
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Photographers: Rick Péwé

With the introduction of the all-new Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chrysler Corporation moves into new territory on the luxury SUV scene. New territory? In a word, yes. The 2011 offering has been completely and handsomely redesigned and given an independent rear suspension to match the front underpinnings. Luckily though, there are still a few Jeep engineers left at Chrysler, so the Grand has not been neutered into a snow- and snob-sucking luxury SUV that can't get out of its own way on the trail.

In fact, the new Grand is Trail Rated. We took it on some good slickrock obstacles to make sure that Jeep had done its homework. We're pleased to report that the Grand is still...grand.

Starting with a completely new chassis and body, the Grand retains its 5.7L V-8, with MDS, now with 360 horses and 390 lb-ft of torque. However, the all-new and eagerly awaited Pentastar 3.6L V-6 with 290 hp and 260 lb-ft is the standard powerplant.

Coupled to the W5A580 tranny for the V-6 and 545RFE for the V-8,the Grand offers three transfer case options. Quadra-Trac I, of course, is an all-wheel-drive mistake without low range, although we are sure that plenty will be sold since it will deliver the best fuel economy and poorest off-road performance. The next version is the Quadra-Trac II, the standard offering, which gives you brake traction control at all four wheels. Finally, the downgraded Quadra-Drive II system is different from previous versions; the locking diff up front is gone. However, amazingly enough the system is so much better in sensing wheel slip that if you actually drive the beast it can get the job done. Rockcrawling, on the other hand, is still best left to a solid-axle vehicle, such as the Jeep Rubicon.

The Quadra-Lift air suspension works well for added off-road clearance, and the new Jeep Selec-Terrain system gives you a knob to alter driving parameters for different surfaces-12 different powertrain, braking, and suspension combos, to be exact.

Interior comfort is far better, as are the design and function of the cabin. Softer surfaces, better ergodynamics, and far fewer doodads make for a pleasant driving experience.

Even the outside is a far better interpretation of classic Jeep design, with trapezoidal wheel arches, a non-Mercedes seven-slat grille, round headlights, and a modicum of body clearance. However, the stylistically silly concept of slit side windows coupled to massive door panels seems far better off on a battleship than an off-road vehicle. Sure, to the uninformed it seems impressive and protective from the outside, but don't try and look outside except at the sky, and for goodness' sake don't attempt to stick your elbow out on the doorjamb without the seat being in the full-up position. Form follows function in a Jeep, except here.

In the end, the Jeep Grand Cherokee still reigns supreme, and new safety and technological features abound. Whether or not we like the intrusiveness of such items, many can be deselected for a far more real driving experience. And if you are a brain-dead phone yakker/tapper, set the adaptive cruise control on and text away.

The active head restraints, blind spot detection system, Park-Sense, forward collision warning system, stability control, trailer sway control, hill start assist, hill descent assist, active turn signals, electronic roll mitigation, express up and down front windows, and Smart Beam headlamps all promise to keep you dumb, safe, and cushy. But if you really want to drive, turn everything off and try a V-6 without all the goodies. We found it to be a welcome challenge to handle in the tough stuff.

Either way, the Grand is still grand. It has hit its mark in the 4x4 world and promises to age well, like a good wine. We'll give it a thorough thrashing in our 4x4 of the Year test, which is coming in our Feb. '11 issue. We can't wait!

Tech Specs
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
Price: $42,995
Engine: 5.7L V-8
Horsepower: 360
Torque (lb-ft): 390
Transmission: Five-speed 545RFE
Transfer case: Part-time two-speed (except Quadra-Trac I)
EPA Mileage (city/hwy mpg): 13/19

Curb Weight (lbs): 5,210
Wheelbase (in): 114.8
Length (in): 189.9
Width (in): 76.3
Height (in): 69.14
Seating Capacity: 5/6
Head Room (in, front/rear): 40.0/39.3
Leg Room (in, front/rear): 40.3/38.6
Max. Cargo Volume (cu ft): 36.3
Max. Towing Capacity (lbs): 7,400
Approach Angle (deg): 34.3 (no air dam)
Departure Angle (deg): 28
Ramp Breakover angle (deg): 23.1
Ground Clearance (in): 10.7

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