2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee: Grand Finesse

To say that the latest interpretation of the Grand Cherokee is “all-new” is a grand understatement. The trailblazing icon has undergone a transformation even unfamiliar to Iron Man’s scientific inventor Tony Starks. Its design presentation is stunning and now comparable to elite luxury SUVs; the posh interior and commensurate componentry not only supersedes any other vehicle in Chrysler’s fleet, but is now on par with luxury interiors from the likes of Lexus and Infiniti; and of course with four-wheel drive technology abound, the Grand Cherokee still maintains its original off-roading super powers. The product is ready people, now it’s time for Jeep to educate the masses.

Next year Jeep will be celebrating its 70th year in business. So of course the 2011 model had to be just as special as it was in 1941 when it was built for military use. From there, the heralded Jeep brand, nicknamed from “GP” for “General Purpose,” would resonate from country to country and eventually manifest into a premium sport-ute dubbed the Grand Cherokee. With over 4 million copies sold in twenty years, the Cherokee would become the status quo years to come for what a 4×4 represents while the “Jeep” name itself became the naming convention for all SUVs in general.

Bring on the 2011 Grand Cherokee and you will find quite a few “firsts” for the American SUV. Lets begin with what you normally don’t expect in a Cherokee — a sophisticated interior. To begin, its infotainment system, Uconnect, ups the ante in driver/passenger expectations. Available is the ability watch TV on the go for second row passengers. SIRIUS Backseat TV allows kids to enjoy the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network. For MTV and adult channels then Flo TV (an install from Mopar) handles your requests. Rear seats are reclinable, provide 4-inches of additional legroom and can be heated/cooled for comfortable TV viewing. Voice control can command navigation and entertainment requests while an optional in-house (or should I say in-car) hot spot, Uconnect Web, lets you tap into the Internet. The touch screen LCD for the navigation and audio tuning is familiar across the Chrysler line. Yet, I do believe the software running the navigation needs an overhaul as I got lost quite a few times following its routing. I’ve experienced this in other Chrysler products as well.

As I rode in the top-of the line Overland all morning with Chrysler’s Head of Interior Design, Klaus Busse, we touched on the new elements comprising the Grand Cherokee and why it was so important to make a grand statement. I fondled the new and stealthy 3-spoke leather and real wood steering wheel with power steering in amazement that this was indeed a Jeep. I noticed more wood trim on the dash, shift lever, doors as well as chrome trimming on the instrument cluster. The new Command View dual-glass moon-roof was impressive as well as the European stitching on the leather seats and trim. Klaus notes that the previous generation Grand Cherokee’s interior was cut from a plastic box with hard grey, plastic surfaces. Now there is a richer and more solid feel. “Every interior element was placed under the microscope,” said Klaus.

Another new addition is Select-Terrain for the 4×4 models, which allows the driver to choose from five suspension modes: Auto, Snow, Sport, Rock and Sand/Mud. In sport for example, the suspension is lowered and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is modified for sporty driving. Busse explains that Select-Terrain was prompted from customer’s desire to be able to self-select their drive modes. There are a few more inputs to put the vehicle in 4×4 low; manual adjustments to raise the new Quadra-Lift air suspension system to its highest level (10.7 inches), and Hill Decent Mode where the vehicle brakes for you during a steep decline. Now, this suspension function is nowhere close to revolutionary, as similar technology is found on Land Rovers, VWs, and Porsches, but it is justifiably an advancement to the Jeep Grand Cherokee campaign.

Aesthetically, key and essential elements had to make way into the Grand Cherokee redesign. The first being short overhangs with the vehicle’s wheels pushed forward for taking on steep approach angles such as hill climbing.  Another is what Jeeps deems the “trapezoidal” shape of the wheel wells you see in all Jeeps. The HVAC vents also follow this scheme. Another design element is the familiar 7-slot grille for aggressiveness. Lastly, the surface materials were ergonomically styled for aerodynamics and efficiency.  The 2011 model is also taller, longer and wider than the model it replaces so there is more stowage capability and interior room for driver and passengers.

Interestingly enough, neither of the aforementioned design changes to the 2011 Grand Cherokee sacrificed any of the vehicles performance or off-road prowess. Performance comes from a 3.6-liter V6 with 300 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. It’s mated to a 5-speed transmission and the combo allows for a 500-mile fuel range and up to 5,000 pounds tow capability. I drove the venerable 5.7-liter V8 with 360-horspower and 390 lb-ft torque. Jeep’s Multi Displacement System (MDS) allows the V8 to act as a 4-cylinder when additional power is not needed.

On the road, the Grand Cherokee felt strong and powerful, firm and sporty. I was in complete awe. Off-road, we crawled over rocks and logs like spiders in their webs. It was amazing and baffling. Especially after my beautiful morning drive in what felt like a European sedan. It remains to been seen why SUV brands instill expensive and savvy technology into their vehicles for off-pavement riding when 99% of us will never take our precious jewels off road. But the certainty is there if you ever have such a curiosity.

Four models are offered for the new Grand Cherokee with a wide range of equipment and upgrade selections including the entry level Laredo E, the Laredo X, the Limited, and the top-of-the line Overland. Pricing is as follows: Laredo 4×4 will start at $32,995 including destination, while the Laredo 4×2 model will start at $30,995 including destination with the remaining models as follows: Limited 4×2 ($37,495), Limited 4×4 ($39,995) Overland 4×2 ($39,495), Overland 4×4 ($42,995).

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