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2011 4x4 of the Year: Jeep Grand Cherokee

Posted in Project Vehicles on February 1, 2011 Comment (0)
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Photographers: Frank Kaisler4 Wheel & Off-Road Staff

The new Grand Cherokee has some big shoes to fill. Almost every time a Grand Cherokee has been in our test it has taken home the crown. While other 4x4s were good here or there, Grand Cherokees have always been well-rounded wheelers.

The new Grand Cherokee WK is different inside and out. In fact, other than the engine and transmission, this is a brand-new Jeep. Based on a more rigid Unitbody chassis, this Grand is the product of a company that has been through much turmoil in recent years. Development began under multiple ownership, all while the price of fuel fluctuated rapidly. We only mention this to help you understand the final product and the major redirection it represents from previous Grands.

Underneath you'll notice the lack of any solid axles. Previous WKs had independent front suspension (IFS) but retained the much-loved solid rear axle. The new Grand has plenty of capable skidplates, tow points, and easily removable front air dams, giving it off-road attributes second only to the Raptor.

The exterior looks either impressed or depressed the judges. Some felt it looked cookie-cutter, while others recognized the squared-off wheelwells and seven-slot grille as part of the Grand's heritage. The air suspension offers multiple height settings, and the Grand looks best in its highest mode.

The interior is basic and beautiful. Our test model was a Laredo, not the most luxurious model but perfect for a 4x4 that will see dirt.

In the rocks, with the air suspension raised to the highest setting and the terrain controls turned to Rocks, we were hoping for the best, but the traction just wasn't there. Unlike previous Grands, which had both front and rear differentials that would automatically lock at the slightest sign of wheelspin, the current Jeep has a locker only in the rear; the front is a brake-based traction control. Brake-based traction control is not as good as a locking differential. We like the Mopar rock rails and the plastic bumpers that pop back into place after encountering boulders. We don't like the mad wheelspin and low ground clearance.

In the hillclimb the Jeep didn't fare much better. Again, tire spin was more common than traction, and torn treads were shared with the Rover.

Finally we headed to the desert washes, and out of nowhere our old Grand showed up. The full independent suspension soaked up the high-speed testing, surpassing even the Raptor. We quickly realized that when raised to its highest setting the Grand's suspension would top out and ride rough, but dropped to normal driving height it would soak up everything and run speeds that would make flat-billed prerunner drivers jealous.

In the sand we were having fun with the big 5.7L V-8 (no longer called a Hemi, though technically the same engine). We did run hot after the air dam flexed into the fan and stopped it from spinning, but this was easily fixed, and the fun continued.

The '11 Grand Cherokee was destined to be a luxo-ute designed for fuel economy, but luckily the engineers kept much of the off-road ability of the ZJ, WJ, and prior WK. Unfortunately we feel it didn't get the fine tuning it needed (or front locker) to sustain its good name. The air suspension rides good when low, but Jeep owners want to ride high, and this needs to be sorted out. Hopefully Jeep can overcome these issues, as we believe this WK could be really grand some day.

The Good
•High-speed fun
•Value
•Contemporary looks

The Bad
•Needs a front locker
•Needs better ride at full height
•Needs more traction

SPECIFICATIONS
GENERAL
Manufacturer Jeep
Model Grand Cherokee Laredo
Base Price $32,215
Price as Tested $40,615
Options as Tested Mopar rock
rails (PN 82212157), $824

ENGINE
Type V-8
Displacement (L/ci) 5.7/345
Bore & Stroke (in) 3.92x3.58
Compression Ratio 10.5:1
Fuel Req. (octane)/Capacity (gal) 89 recomended, 87 OK/24.6
SAE Peak Horsepower 360 @ 5,150 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 390 @ 4,250 rpm

TRANSMISSION
Type 4-speed automatic
Model 545RFE
Ratios First: 3.00:1; Second: 1.67:1
(1.50:1 kickdown); Third: 1.00:1;
Fourth: 0.75:1; Reverse: 3.00:1

TRANSFER CASE
Type 2-speed, full-time
Model MP 3022
Low-Range Ratio 2.72:1
Center Locking Differential Yes

AXLES
Front Type Conventional
Front Diff Open
Rear Type Conventional
Rear Diff Closed
Hubs Full-time, non-disconnecting
Ratio 3.45:1
Traction Aid Brake Locking
Traction Control (BLD, front);
Electronic-Limited Slip Control
(ELSD, rear)

SUSPENSION
Front Short and long arm
independent (SLA), four-corner air
suspension, stabilizer bar
Rear Multi-link, four-corner air
suspension w/ load leveling, upper
links for tension and camber plus
separate toe link

STEERING
Type Power-assisted
rack-and-pinion
Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 3.75/18.9:1
Turning Circle (ft) 37.1

WHEELS
Size (in) 17x8.0
Material Cast-aluminum

TIRES
Size P245/70R17
Brand Goodyear Fortera HL

BRAKES
Front 13x1.3-in vented discs
w/1.9-in dual piston
pin-slider caliper and ABS
Rear 13x0.55-in solid discs
w/1.9-in single piston
pin-slider caliper and ABS
60-0 (ft) 144.56

ACCELERATION
Standing 1/4-mile
(seconds @ mph) 15.27 @ 86.31

WEIGHT (lb)
Curb Weight 5,450
Advertised GVWR 6,500

MILEAGE (mpg)
EPA Estimate (city/hwy) 13/19
As Tested 13.47

DIMENSIONS (in)
Wheelbase 114.5
Overall Length 188.5
Overall Width 85
Overall Height 69.75
Front/Rear Track 64/64.5
Front/Rear Overhang 34/39.5
Min. Front Ground Clearance 7.5

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