The 2011 Grand Cherokee's suspension is supple, but with benign, consistent understeer. And it wallows in the corners if you push it past the limits most owners would set. There's nothing wrong with this; we'd hate to see what kinds of off-roading compromises Jeep would have to make by targeting the BMW X3 or X5.
The long wheelbase and long air-suspension travel, along with optional 18-inch off-road tires (20-inch wheels and tires are standard in the topline Overland and, for obvious reasons, they were nowhere to be found near Moab) combine for a comfortable ride. That the tires and the SUV-size sideview mirrors don't make much noise is a tribute to the Jeep's tight body and excellent insulation. But the larger dimensions and a tighter, quieter body also contribute some 200 pounds added mass over the model it replaces, despite much more high-strength steel, which now comprises 53 percent of the body.
The weight also takes its toll on the engines, the 5.7-liter Hemi and the all-new, DOHC 3.6-liter aluminum-block Pentastar V-6 with variable-valve timing. Both come with old-school five-speed automatics. First developed with Mercedes and Hyundai, the Pentastar is a long overdue replacement for the iron-block 3.7-liter Chrysler V-6. Neither the Hemi nor the Pentastar can light up the rear tires very easily off the line. The Hemi is noticeably quicker in the middle and upper ranges. Most buyers will be thoroughly happy with the new V-6, which offers more than adequate power, just 70 horses short of the Hemi. The new V-6 is easily as smooth, if not smoother, and feels closer in power and torque to the V-8 than it is, likely because of a lower weight and better balance. Probably the only reason to spring for the Hemi is if you tow between 5001 and 7400 pounds.
For those who are wondering about the SRT8 and the diesel engine, there isn't a lot of information yet. What we have heard is that, while Jeep isn't working on an SRT8 right now, you can expect to see the high-performance model in the future. It should have a go-kart ride, 6.4-liter Hemi, and low-profile tires not fit for 12-mph rock-crawling. While SRT might seem a setup more appropriate for the Chrysler 300C, Dodge Charger, and Challenger, Jeep says the incremental sales to buyers who otherwise wouldn't consider a Grand Cherokee make it worthwhile business. And export markets only, for now, may choose the Mercedes 3.0-liter turbodiesel. If U.S. fuel prices warrant certifying a diesel Grand Cherokee for our market, we're likely to see its return as well. For now, the high cost of clean-diesel technology makes it a hard sell when unleaded regular hovers below $3 per gallon.
If you're getting the idea that Jeep has redesigned the Grand Cherokee to be the same, only better, you're on the right track. It's hard to imagine there's any room for improvement in its off-road prowess. Its on-road refinement is just fine, thank you, especially for owners who are always in Moab, even if only in their dreams.