When it comes to the company's image and profitability, the new Grand Cherokee is the most important vehicle Jeep has launched in the past few years. In some ways, it's also one of the trickiest: it has to walk the line between off-road capability and luxury. The unibody construction helps with the vehicle's on-road refinement, keeping it afloat in a crowded and highly competitive market segment; however, that same feature may not appeal to some off-road purists. But the Grand Cherokee is highly capable off-road. As tough as it may be to stand out from the rest of the midsize SUV crowd, Jeep seems to have succeeded.

Big changes came to the Grand Cherokee for the 2011 model year. As you can see, this new Jeep is sleeker on the outside than the previous generation, and certainly looks more elegant. That same elegance is also present inside, where materials are a nicer quality, the design is cleaner, and there are more features.

While the all-new model's exterior styling looks like a higher-end, modernized interpretation of the Grand Cherokees that preceded it, things are distinctly different underneath. This is a new platform, shared with Mercedes-Benz's ML and Dodge's now-unibody Durango (its version accommodates three rows of passengers), and yes, that agreement happened back when DaimlerChrysler was one big (un)happy family. The new Jeep's wheelbase is 5.3 inches longer (114.8 inches versus 109.5). Vehicle length has grown by 1.8 inches, and it's 3.2 inches wider and 0.4 inch taller.

Not only that, but a big change happened on a functional level: The Grand Cherokee no longer has a live rear axle. Instead, it uses a multilink independent rear suspension with coil springs, plus the new option of air suspension. There's a new feature available with the four-wheel-drive models as well: the Selec-Terrain system, which works with Grand Cherokees with a two-speed transfer case. With the turn of a knob, the suspension is optimized for the type of off-road surfaces you expect to traverse.

While we've had some experience with the latest and greatest Jeep -- we gave it the trial-by-fire treatment against a Land Rover LR4 and a Toyota 4Runner and tortured it at Sport/Utility of the Year -- we wanted to spend some more time with one, so we hit up Auburn Hills and convinced Jeep to part with one for a year. We all know the Hemi V-8 is good, so we asked Jeep to send us a version equipped with the shiny new Pentastar V-6 (ruling out the V-8-only range-topping Overland model). Jeep promptly obliged and handed over the keys to a nicely equipped silver-on-black Limited 4x4. We've already taken it to the track, where it hit 60 mph from a stop in 8.7 seconds and completed the quarter mile in 16.6 seconds at 86.5 mph. It stopped from 60 mph in 129 feet.

This flavor of Grand Cherokee starts at $39,995, but ours came with a few extras. Making things more comfortable for us is the $1495 Luxury Group II package, which provides a heated steering wheel, the ever-convenient power tailgate, power-adjustable steering column, and cooled front seats that will surely prove useful when the thermometer hits triple digits. Jeep also figured we'd be taking it off-road, so the equipment list includes skidplates, off-road tires, and a full-size spare via the $650 Off-Road Adventure I package. With destination, the total price is $42,040.

One detail we couldn't option out was a replacement for the standard five-speed automatic. We've docked the Jeep points in the past for its shortage of cogs, and that's sure to be a common point of conversation during its stay.

We'll find out in the coming months if the Jeep's overall appeal and balanced combination of luxury and capability will be enough to overlook this shortcoming and turn the whole staff into fans. For the time being, we're just getting acquainted. Again.


Our Cars
Base price 39995.0
Price as tested 42040.0
Vehicle layout Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 3.6L/290-hp/260-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Curb weight (f/r dist) 5016 lb (51/49%)
Wheelbase 114.8 in
Length x width x height 189.8 x 76.5 x 69.3 in
0-60 mph 8.7 sec
Quarter mile 16.6 sec @ 86.5 mph
Braking, 60-0 129 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.76 g (avg)
MT figure eight 28.6 sec @ 0.57 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 16/22 mpg
Energy cons, city/hwy 211/153 kW-hrs/100 mi
CO2 emissions 1.06 lb/mi
Total mileage 3883 mi
Average fuel econ 16.7 mpg
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