Our time with the 2011 Four Wheeler of the Year award-winning Jeep Grand Cherokee went by faster than expected. When we first received our Grand a year ago, we set out to answer the question of whether or not it was too upscale for the trail and if it possessed the qualifications to wear a seven-slot grille.
Admittedly, the new Grand might not be the wheeling juggernaut its predecessors were, as Jeep clearly traded some off-highway capability for everyday comfort. The new Grand Cherokee dropped its solid rear axle for an all-independent suspension layout with the optional Quadra-Lift air system that can raise or lower the vehicle based on the terrain. A new Selec-Terrain knob tailors the vehicle’s various systems for the landscape and includes a Sport mode that make the Grand Cherokee a blast to push through twisted up ribbons of asphalt, leaving some to wonder if the Grand has strayed too far from the trailhead.
The fact is that the Grand remains one of the most capable vehicles in its class, and one of the few left that offers real tow hooks, a two-speed transfer case, and full skidplates. And after a year of living with it in our garage, we can tell you that the Grand never failed to get us wherever we wanted to go in the dirt, although it wasn’t as supple on the trail as it was on the road. With the air suspension set at its maximum ride height (Off Road II), the Grand could be downright harsh, so we generally left it in normal ride height on the trail and accepted the compromise of increased wheel travel over increased ride height, knowing we could lift it up if needed.
When not on the trail, the Grand was a favorite road trip machine of the staff and their families, with a smooth, hushed ride and seamless power coming from the 360hp 5.7L Hemi V-8. Despite our penchant for speeding and leaden loafers, we achieved a test-best 19.63 mpg. The suite of advanced technologies, such as adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, heated and cooled seats, allowed the Grand effortlessly pile on the miles. It is a vehicle you can drive all day and not feel tired and add in a 7,400-pound tow rating and it’ll drag most of your trail toys wherever you want to take them.
The rear VES was a source of joy for our kids in the backseat and a source of frustration
Our staffers often filled the logbook with comments about the roomy, luxurious interior, and tight chassis, but a few minor annoyances, such as the rattle from the entertainment system, a Bluetooth system that needed an update to play nice with our phones, and a suspension creak, all fixed under warranty by Don-A-Vee Chrysler-Jeep in Placentia, California, detracted from the otherwise exceptional experience.
On a side note, we did have one odd, unexplained incident. A staffer activated remote start and forgot about the running Grand, which was found eight hours later, still running in the parking lot. A surprise to us, the vehicle’s remote start didn’t time out and turn the engine off.
Our only unscheduled service stop this quarter came when we picked up another nail in a rear tire. Our tire was patched free of charge by the professionals at America’s Tire in Huntington Beach, California.
Overall we really enjoyed the Grand while it was in our fleet. While we wouldn’t endorse it as our only trail rig, we can see it appealing to families and those that need a primary vehicle that still has the ability to take them on a backcountry adventure. Even in its newly refined state, we’d say it still has the chops to wear the seven-slot grille and easily takes it places the brand hasn’t seen before.
Report: 4 OF 4
Previous reports: Dec. ’11, Mar. ’12, Aug. ’12
Base price: $41,910
Price as tested: $47,750
Four-wheel-drive system: Full-time, two-speed
Miles to date: 14,125
Miles since last report: 3,119
Average mpg (this report): 14.33
Test best tank (mpg): 19.63
Test worst tank (mpg): 11.41
This period: Tire repair, free
Test problem areas: Bluetooth (warranty), rear shock mount (warranty), rear entertainment module, (warranty)
What’s Hot, What’s Not
Hot: Easy to live with, roomy, fun to drive, technology, capable
Not: Ride can be harsh in the dirt, low mpg in the city, VES rattles
“Took it over a particularly nasty section of trail and had no issues whatsoever.”
“Somehow the remote start activated and the Grand has been running in the parking lot for the last eight hours.”
“Braking is outstanding.”
“The suspension swallows up pavement at normal ride height, but the top-out in Off Road II is unreal in rough terrain.”
“Used the Grand as a photo car at KOH and it went everywhere with no problems.”