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2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee: New Grand

Posted in Project Vehicles on August 1, 2010
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The '11 Jeep Grand Cherokee fills the silhouette of a crossover SUV.

And rightly so, because that's exactly what it is. We can't deny that it's certainly the most capable vehicle in that class. But what exactly does that mean and how capable is it really?

Jeep enthusiasts typically refer to the different Jeep models by acronyms (CJ, TJ, ZJ, WJ, and so on). Images of and info about the '11 Jeep Grand Cherokee surfaced over a year ago, but there was never an official acronym issued, until now. Unfortunately, the new acronym is about as unnoteworthy to the Jeep enthusiast market as the '11 Grand itself. The new Grand is still a WK, even though it shares more with the Mercedes M-Class than it does with the '05-'10 Grand Cherokee. Long gone are the days when the Grand Cherokee was a twin solid-axled enthusiast Jeep that enjoyed copious amounts of aftermarket attention in the form of lift kits, rocker guards, conversions, and so on. Much like its Mercedes counterpart, the '11 Jeep Grand Cherokee seems too sophisticated for such frills. But don't let its sophisticated side fool you into thinking it can't go off-road in stock trim.

We recently had a chance to get behind the wheel of the '11 Grand Cherokee on- and off-road in Moab, Utah. For the first time ever the next generation Grand Cherokee is less capable off-road than its predecessor-at least in our opinion. The pendulum seems to have swung more to on-road performance. But even though the new WK is the most refined Grand Cherokee ever offered, it's still able to tackle more difficult trails than the average WK buyer would ever consider attempting.

The standard WK interior no longer feels like a kid's plastic toy haphazardly glued together with paste. There is a lot of attention to detail and the components and finishes are superior to what's in the previous generation Grand Cherokee.

The '11 Grand is the first application of the 290hp flexible-fuel all-aluminum 3.6L Pentastar V-6. The new engine features an 11-percent improvement in fuel economy over the previous six-cylinder, delivering up to 23mpg. That's up to 500 miles per tank of fuel in the next-gen WK.

The 5.7L Hemi V-8 returns as an option and maintains the 7,400-pound trailer tow capability when properly optioned. The V-6 is rated to pull 5,000 pounds.

The new-gen WK is available with three different 4x4 systems, Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II, and Quadra-Drive II.

Quadra-Trac I uses a single-speed transfer case that delivers full-time four-wheel drive without any switches or levers to pull. Think of it as the street T-case. This is what most vehicles in the crossover category consider good enough.

Quadra-Trac II implements a push-button two-speed transfer case that uses a variety of sensors to determine if there is tire slip. When tire slippage is detected, as much as 100 percent of available torque is instantly routed to the axle with the most traction. We found that in some cases traction is not enough to move the Jeep forward without a little more throttle.

Quadra-Drive II utilizes the Quadra-Trac II transfer case and ups the ante with a rear electronic limited-slip differential (ELSD). The system instantly detects tire slip and smoothly distributes engine torque to tires with traction. The vehicle can also anticipate low traction and adjust in order to proactively limit or eliminate tire slippage. If you plan on using the Grand Cherokee off-road more often than the typical user you'll want the Quadra-Drive II system.

New to the Grand Cherokee is the optional Quadra-Lift air suspension system which features five manually- and automatically-controlled height settings. Normal ride height (NRH) provides 8.1 inches of ground clearance. Park mode lowers the Jeep 1.5 inches from NRH for roof rack loading and easy ingress and egress. Aero mode lowers the Jeep .6 inches below NRH; it is controlled by vehicle speed and adjusts for improved performance and fuel economy. Off-road I lifts the vehicle an additional 1.3 inches over NRH for added height in clearing obstacles. Off-road II lifts the Jeep 2.6 inches over NRH for a maximum of 10.7 inches of ground clearance.

In addition to the Quadra-Lift air suspension, the all-new Selec-Terrain traction control system lets the driver choose the off-road setting via a control dial in the center console. Selec-Terrain is not available for Grands with Quadra-Drive I, but is standard with Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive II. This feature electronically coordinates up to 12 different powertrain, braking, and suspension systems, including throttle control, transmission shift, transfer case, traction control, ride height, and Electronic Stability Control (ESC).

This is the heart of the new-generation Grand Cherokee 4x4 system. It's your transfer case shifter and Quadra-Lift ride control, among other things. Some users will certainly be confused and intimidated by the multiple settings and buttons. We suspect most '11 Grands that leave the dealer lot will remain in Auto mode.

The Sand/Mud setting allows traction control and Quadra-Lift to operate with sensitive response to wheelspin. Torque is also tuned for optimal performance. This is a good setting for an unsure driver in sandy or muddy conditions. It keeps you out of any major trouble by aggressively controlling wheelspin. In this setting, ride height is set to Off-Road I.

Even though it wasn't really designed for it, the Sport mode was by far the most fun to drive off-road. It's the best setting for an experienced driver looking for rally-car-like performance. We were able to lay the Jeep out sideways in loose corners with plenty of wheelspin. This setting lowers the suspension .6 inches, however we found it best to manually override the system and bump the clearance up to the Off-Road I setting. This combination gave us the clearance, wheelspin, as well as the ride we wanted off-road.

The Auto setting is a good choice for a new or unsure driver. It allows the Jeep to automatically adapt to any on- or off-road situation. It won't allow much tire slip so it's perfect for your mom, who doesn't want to mess with buttons and switches.

The Snow mode adjusts traction for best performance over snow- and ice-covered roads. It also forces the transmission to start from a dead stop in Second gear to avoid tire slip.

Rock mode raises the Quadra-Lift suspension to the maximum height. The differentials and throttle coordinate to provide low-speed control. For us, this was more of an emergency mode. If we were (or we expected to get) high-centered we'd roll the controller to Rock. Because this setting fully inflates the suspension, it caused some jarring over the rough stuff. It was not all that comfortable so we used it as little as possible.

Bottom Line
One of the German journalists on the trip commented that in his country they really didn't need off-road capability. There was no place to use it. On the street he thought the '11 Grand wallowed through corners and handled poorly.

We focused more on off-road capability for our testing. And although we were impressed with some of the technology, we're still left with a crossover vehicle that really doesn't belong in the hands of an enthusiast Jeep buyer. With things like hill decent control, a multi-mode 4x4 system, and four-wheel independent air-ride suspension the new generation WK is more refined than the old WK, or any Grand Cherokee for that matter. It's more street friendly and has more interior appointments. Off-road the new traction control system is less aggressive than the old system. The new Quadra-Drive II has one less limited slip differential to work with and it shows during articulated climbs. The old WK traction capability exceeded its ground clearance capabilities. You could literally drag and destroy the body and underside of the Jeep through anything as long as a couple of tires were on the ground. This new generation WK is better balanced. Its traction capability matches the ground clearance that's available.


  • Road-focused refinement with off-road capability
  • Numerous cool interior gadgets
  • Tow capacity of a 1/2-ton truck


  • Not as capable off-road as the previous generation
  • Multiple T-case and air-suspension settings can be confusing
  • Too refined and complex to be a true enthusiast Jeep

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