2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Doesn't advance state of art

WE LIKE: Fantastic interior, off-road prowess.
WE DON'T LIKE: Five-speed automatic; suspension needs fine-tuning.

For 2011, Jeep's topline trail crawler is built on an all-new platform, a version of the one beneath the Mercedes-Benz M-Class. (The Grand Cherokee version is designed for more extreme off-road use than the Mercedes.) This, plus new Fiat ownership, may give some Jeep fans reason for pause. Fear not-the new SUV has the most polish of any Jeep to date, and retains its off-road chops.

The Grand Cherokee comes with either a new 3.6-liter V-6 or a 5.7-liter V-8, both with a five-speed automatic and three 4WD systems. Selec-Terrain, which competes with Land Rover's Terrain Response, makes off-roading very easy. Push the appropriate button, and you're ready for the dirt. Add the myriad lux options available in the four trim levels, for perhaps the greatest number of permutations in this year's SUOTY.

There were pros and cons with both engines. In the Laredo X, weight overcame the 3.6's 290 horses. That Grand Cherokee didn't have the optional air suspension that the V-8 Overland was equipped with, and it felt nimbler on the road. Even with the Overland's 5.7-liter V-8, it felt faster, but not fast. With the V-6, the Grand Cherokee reached 60 mph in 8.6 seconds; the 5.7-liter knocked that down to 7.5. In addition, the air springs actually ride rougher.

The cabin was clean, simple, and easy to use, and also looked elegant. Past Grand Cherokee interiors lacked these attributes. There was next to no wind noise, and a genuine feeling of substance and strength. Minor gripes included an unusually fat steering wheel rim section and excessive tire noise.

When it came time for us to vote, the judges were impressed with how much more refined this vehicle feels without giving up its trail capability. But Jeep hasn't advanced the state of the art much here. Sure, the Grand Cherokee is great off-road and commendable on-road, but its five-speed automatic pales next to its competitors' six-, seven- and eight-speed units, and its engines deliver neither class-leading output nor decent fuel economy. - Allyson Harwood

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Base price $30,995-$42,690
Price as tested $36,995; $46,005 (*Laredo; Overland)
Vehicle layout Front engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 3.6L/290-hp/260-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6;
5.7L/360-hp/390-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8*
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Curb weight (f/r dist) 4676 lb (52/48%); 5717 lb (54/46%)*
Wheelbase 114.8 in
Length x width x height 189.8 x 76.3 x 69.4 in
0-60 mph 8.6; 7.5 sec*
Quarter mile 16.4 sec @ 86.7 mph; 15.6 @ 89.2 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 126 ft; 136 ft*
Lateral acceleration 0.75; 0.75 g (avg)*
MT Figure Eight 28.2 sec @ 0.59 g (avg); 28.3 sec @ 0.59 g (avg)*
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 16/22; 13/19 mpg (est)*
CO2 emissions 1.06; 1.28 lb/mile*
INTERIOR/Functionality ****
VALUE *****
Best Grand Cherokee yet -- but not best in class.