2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee — Review
This 2011 review is representative of model years 2011 to 2013.
By Tom Wilson of MSN Autos
The Jeep Grand Cherokee has traditionally been the vehicle of choice for adventurers willing to camp on the edges of automotive civilization. It's not for the hard-core, those who routinely tackle Utah's infamous Hell's Revenge and other breakneck 4-wheeling trails (well, not in stock guise, anyway). But if you want to bike, hike and camp in, say, scenic Golden Gate Canyon State Park in Colorado and pack in your own gear, the Cherokee will get you to the campsite in style and comfort — and won't get stuck in the mud doing so.
For 2011, the grandest of Jeeps is getting a complete overhaul and even more luxury amenities. Not to worry — every inch of rock-crawling, mud-slogging Jeep capability remains. But the all-new Grand Cherokee adds tremendous refinements both in the mechanical fundamentals and surface-level features. This combination of on- and off-road capability is almost unique in the premium utility-vehicle category.
As a premium SUV, the Grand Cherokee has never been bare-bones. Even the least expensive Laredo E and X offer solid comfort and features, skimping mainly on cosmetics such as bright door handles and exhaust tips, plus a few amenities such as self-leveling headlights, leather shift knobs, seat memory and the like. Step up to the popular Limited and you get all that plus access to the optional power rear liftgate, heated steering wheel and ventilated front seats. Overland drivers will enjoy all of it, plus premium leather and wood.
Thankfully, it isn't necessary to purchase the most expensive trim level to get the optional V8 engine, and likewise the more popular V6 engine can be teamed with either off-road or luxury options as desired. Eight option packages make it easy to configure for luxury, towing or off-road use.
Furthermore, compared with last year's Grand Cherokee, the new Jeep offers many more electronic features. A full suite of satellite navigation, connectivity and concierge services is offered, notably a Garmin navigation system on Laredos (late 2010 availability); voice recognition and Sirius traffic capability are standard on the Overland. There's even a live mobile television option via the Mopar parts division.
Under the Hood
Most Grand Cherokees use the all-new 3.7-liter V6, a 4-valve smoothie with variable valve timing that returns nice fuel economy and good power. Rated at 290 horses, the V6 gets 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway in 4WD trim, or a single mpg better on the highway in the 2WD version. That translates into around 500 miles total range on a full tank of gas (25 gallons). And it can tow 5,000 pounds, enough for a small boat or camp trailer.
For the final word in acceleration or towing up to 7,400 pounds in 2WD or 7,200 pounds in 4WD, the time-tested 5.7-liter Hemi V8 with multidisplacement operation and variable valve timing is optional. Its fuel efficiency is rated at 13/19 mpg in 4WD.
Both engines are paired with 5-speed automatic transmissions, each with full manual shift capability via the console-mounted shift lever. No conventional manual transmission or diesel engine is offered in North American Grand Cherokees.
Grand Cherokee buyers can opt for an all-wheel-drive system without low-range gearing if inclement weather on pavement is the only concern, or two 4WD systems with low-range gearing for get-it-dirty off-roading. Both 4WD systems are full-time, electronically controlled layouts, so no driver action is ever needed to engage 4WD. The meaningful difference between the two low-range systems is that one adds a brake-actuated limited slip capability. That means that if just one tire has traction, it will get engine power and the other three tires won't spin — a huge help on ice and snow.
An easy-to-select knob on the center console instantly reconfigures the powertrain and chassis to four driving modes — Snow, Sport, Mud/Sand and Rock — or you can leave it in Auto, which chooses the best mode for the driving conditions. Then there's the optional Quadra-Lift air suspension, which raises or lowers the Grand Cherokee for parking and highway driving, and raises it for off-road ground clearance.
The Grand Cherokee's all-new suspension is independent at all corners. Suspension subframes are used front and rear to increase isolation, and now the spare tire is stored inside the cabin. Furthermore, the unibody frame of the new Grand Cherokee is 148 percent stiffer in torsion, Jeep says, meaning that the suspension action is more precise.
Even the base Laredo receives a leather-covered steering wheel, and all touch-points are nicely executed so there's never a cost-cutting feeling. Front seat room is truly generous, and the power telescoping steering column has a commendable range of adjustment. Rear seat room is good, with 4 inches more legroom than the outgoing model, seat backs that offer a small amount of recline, and a standard flip-down center console with two drink holders.
Cargo room is about as expected, but distinctly upscale in the Limited and Overland trims, where aluminum spars inset into the carpet provide protection and a touch of class. The spare tire is under the cargo floor, complete with two lift-out trays nestled around it. They're good examples of the many small but useful features — rechargeable flashlight, grocery hooks, power outlets — found throughout the cabin.
On the Road
On asphalt, the Grand Cherokee makes for good touring but feels large, with a big hood, windshield pillars that are wide enough to notice and a slightly tall ride height. Maneuverability is certainly good, and it's relatively quiet; however, a little road noise does get through, along with the occasional audible "thump" over large bumps. With the off-road-friendly 18-inch tires we drove on, steering precision suffers, but we'll bet the 20-inch tires are more pavement-oriented.
There's not a tremendous performance difference between the V6 and V8 engines. The V6 is a little busier as its revs through its chores. It can't quite match the extra jump the V8 provides when you first step on the gas, though.
Off-road the V6 has plenty of poke, doubly so when coupled to the low-range gearing. The V8's instant torque gives a pleasing, rapid throttle response for enthusiasts and is preferable when towing.
The big driving news, of course, is the Grand Cherokee's tenacious off-road capability. Jeep had us rock crawling in Moab, Utah, during the Grand Cherokee introduction, and let's just say that if the Grand Cherokee can put a tire on it, it can climb it. We found the adjustable ride height from the air suspension helpful, along with the too-easy knob flick of selecting driving modes. And while we didn't get to try any mud or snow, we can't imagine the Grand Cherokee being stopped by anything short of axle-deep gumbo. When it comes to off-road capability, the Grand Cherokee is second to no vehicle.
Right for You?
The 2011 Laredo 4x2 starts at $30,995, about $500 less than last year, and the Laredo 4x4 is about $500 less at $32,995. Although a substantial step up, the feature-rich Limited 4x2 costs only $37,495 (about $760 less) and the 4x4 runs a cool $39,995 (about $200 less). For maximum luxury, the Overland — $42,995 in 4x4 trim or $39,495 as a 4x2 — is the only way to go, if you don't mind spending the money.
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, the Chrysler Group provided MSN with travel andaccommodations to facilitate this report.)
Longtime Road & Track contributor Tom Wilson's credits include local racing championships, three technicalengine books and hundreds of freelance articles.