Too refined for the trail?
The Jeep Grand Cherokee received a major overhaul for the 2011 model year, which included a new platform based on the Mercedes-Benz ML, a new 3.6L V-6 engine, a new fully independent suspension, and more refinement. It narrowly beat out the Land Rover LR4 last fall to become our 2011 FWOTY champion, and now we have taken delivery of our Natural Green Pearl long termer to put it through the Four Wheeler gauntlet for an entire year. With a definite increase in luxurious pretentions, we want to find out if that means a corresponding decrease in trail ability.
Known as the WK2, the ’11 Grand has grown slightly in overall size and now features a 5.3-inch-longer wheelbase than the WK, bringing it to a rear-seat friendly 114.8 inches. With the WK2 comes a new suspension philosophy to the Grand, not only does it have independent suspension at all four corners, but it also adds the optional Quadra-Lift air suspension system that can raise and lower the Grand over a total of five positions and 4.5 inches, increasing ground clearance to as much as 10.7 inches on-the-fly.
Adding to the technology packed in to the Grand is Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system, which allows the driver to tailor various Grand Cherokee systems to the terrain the vehicle is traversing. The Auto, Sport, and Snow modes are best for everyday use, while Sand/Mud, and Rocks are intended for the trail.
Our long term Grand Cherokee Overland came to us with a base price of $41,910, which included Quadra-Lift, Quadra-Drive II and Selec-Terrain, as well as a leather-slathered interior with heated and cooled front seats and navigation system that includes Sirius satellite radio, Sirius Travel link and the UConnect Bluetooth system that can be paired with your phone for both calls and streaming music. In addition to the standard features, our options included the Advanced Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control ($1,295), Rear DVD Entertainment Center ($1,495), the Off-Road Adventure II Package ($275), 5.7L Hemi V-8 matched to a five-speed automatic ($1,995), and a destination charge of $780, bringing the sticker price to $47,750.
Thanks to the Off-Road Adventure II package, our Grand Cherokee has steel skidplates covering the front suspension, transfer case, and fuel tank. This package also includes upgraded P265/60R18 tires and usable tow hooks. In addition to the options from the factory, Mopar thoughtfully included its functional bolt-on rock rails, knowing that we’d probably need them ($824, MSRP).
In our previous testing, we praised the Grand for real underbody protection, along with a quiet interior and smooth ride. We also loved that it is packed full of technology at a price that significantly undercuts the competition and has a 7,200-pound tow rating when equipped with a Hemi. We took points off for a suspension that we felt could be more refined in some situations, a high crawl ratio, and the lack of a front ELSD on the top tier Quadra-Drive II drivetrain package (it now relies solely on BTC for front axle traction).
On top of its changed underpinnings, the Grand features a beautiful new interior, which comes with a leather-wrapped dash and wood-rimmed steering wheel on Overland models. Rear seat passengers of our Grand are not forgotten, as they get heated and reclining rear seats, deeply tinted privacy glass, and their own video screen to access entertainment functions, such as Sirius satellite radio or Sirius Backseat TV, independently of the front row.
Our Grand also has 17 percent more cargo volume than a WK, with a second row that folds completely flat, a boon for those who like to camp in their cars. We also like the strong tie-downs and the 12-volt power outlet that is easily accessible from the rear.
During this first quarter we have put 3,800 mostly highway and commuting miles on our tester and as we found out on our several hundred mile jog to Hollister, California, for Top Truck Challenge, the Grand makes for a wonderful road trip vehicle. With all the comforts one can expect of a modern vehicle—and then some—the Grand effortlessly piles on the mileage without fatiguing its occupants and gets decent mileage while doing it. The over 400-mile highway range of the Grand means you’ll be stopping for your own break before the Grand needs one.
While in Hollister we did do some light wheeling that didn’t even come close to pushing the limits of the Grand’s capability, but with a prerun of our annual “Of The Year” competition on the horizon, you can be sure we’ll get some proper dirt miles on it in time for our next report.
So far our Grand has been reliable, with only one warranty issue—our phone didn’t always pair with the head unit. We’ll get that checked out by the dealer at the first service and report our findings. After this year of service is up, we are looking forward to sharing our thoughts on Jeep’s new direction with the Grand Cherokee and determine if it lives up to the seven-slot grille it’s wearing.
Report: 1 of 4
Previous reports: None
Base price: $41,910
Price as tested: $47,750
Four-wheel drive system: Full-time, two-speed
Miles to date: 3,802
Miles since last report: First report
Average mpg (this report): 13.85
Test best tank (mpg): 18.31
Test worst tank (mpg): 11.41
This period: None
Problem areas: Bluetooth
What’s Hot, What’s Not
Hot: Hemi power, chiseled styling, incredible accommodations
Not: Hemi mileage, no more front ELSD<
“The Hemi has impressive thrust, but it comes at the expense of everyday fuel economy.”
“This year’s trip to Hollister seemed to take half the time—the Grand is that good on the highway.”
“The air suspension is a great idea, but the ride is too harsh at its highest setting.”
“Four adults packed into the Grand and everyone was comfortable.”
“I am amazed at how many people actually notice the rock sliders and want to know more about them.”