Moab, Utah, is a sacred place for Jeep geeks--those who go beyond the "It's a Jeep thing, you wouldn't understand" spare-tire covers and upside-down "If you can read this, please turn me over" window stickers. The geeks who, were they into, say, Porsche 911s, would track them. The ones who buy elaborate suspension kits for their Wranglers and who get along with the Kona, Jamis, and Gary Fisher fans. Jeep geeks crawl up and down narrow paths on Moab's treacherous, slippery rock at speeds of up to 12 mph, coexisting in harmony with the mountain-bike geeks who rarely get out of the lowest of their 27 gears.
Proving the fourth-generation Grand Cherokee hasn't lost its Moab mojo was critical to Jeep's parent company. This is the first new Chrysler product after a long, bankruptcy-punctuated drought. It's the first new product under Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne's management, and it's one of the last to benefit from Mercedes-Benz technology. Any of those factors could have turned the Jeep Grand Cherokee into another suburban soft-roader.
With an independent rear suspension replacing a live rear axle, the Grand Cherokee now rides on the Mercedes M-Class platform. The three-row Jeep Commander will be scrapped after the 2010 model year, soon to be replaced in Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge/Ram showrooms by a three-row, unibody Dodge Durango also on the M-Class platform.
True-blue Jeep geeks in their raised Wranglers gave us their verdict in the form of verbal thumbs-ups as we carefully rock-crawled a Bright Silver Metallic, Hemi-powered Grand Cherokee Overland with Uconnect Internet access and panoramic sunroof. It's a real Jeep. (Chrysler management is in too much upheaval to have "planted" those Wrangler drivers.)
Carryover four-wheel-drive systems include the automatic Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II with a two-speed transfer case, and Quadra-Drive II with the transfer case and rear electronic limited-slip differential. The Quadra-Lift air suspension raises and lowers the SUV via the new Select-Terrain system (see sidebar), included with both IIs.
The Grand Cherokee's familiar styling masks added length and 2.6 inches of extra width, a concern for those who navigate the narrows of the Rubicon. The wider stance provides better roll control, according to Jeep, and in fact head toss (the sort of malady that afflicts Land Rover's taller, narrower models) is minimal in the Grand Cherokee, in all terrain. Neither of two preproduction models suffered any body creak on even the steepest, bumpiest climbs and descents.
Jeep managed the enlarged dimensions without compromising the Grand Cherokee's carlike 37.1-foot turning radius, which really came in handy when making quick U-turns on greater Moab's narrow two-lanes for benefit of the cameras.
The new model is 1.8 inches longer, on a 5.3-inch-longer wheelbase, and Jeep engineers were careful to maintain its "garageability." There's 17 cubic feet more cargo space with the rear seat up. The passengers get four more inches of knee room, and the rear seatbacks recline through 12 degrees from their standard level. Our cameraman, who grew up with Grand Cherokees, reports a much better level of backseat comfort. The topline Overland comes with a handsome, cut-and-sew leather dash and real wood accents, while the mid-level Limited's materials (including fake wood) and fit and finish are much improved, but only to the level we expect from all brands' interiors these days.
Back it out of your suburban garage for a spin on a twisty, reasonably smooth road, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee transforms from a "sport" to a "utility" vehicle. Which is to say, it's very smooth and quiet, among the best in its class; it's just not fun to drive. It has more precise steering than many in this class, with better feedback than average, but that's mostly for precise off-roading. The fun is in knowing you can carry mountain bikes and kayaks and such right up to the place far off-road where you'll use them.
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.
| 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee |
| POWERTRAIN |
| Drivetrain layout || Front engine, RWD/4WD |
| Engine || 60-deg V-6, alum block/heads |
| Bore x stroke || 3.78 x 3.27 in |
| Displacement || 220 cu in/3.6L |
| Compression ratio || 10.2:1 |
| Valve gear || DOHC, 4 valves/cyl |
| SAE horsepower || 290 hp @ 6400 rpm |
| SAE torque || 260 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm |
| Transmission || W5A580 5-speed automatic |
| 1st || 3.59:1 |
| 2nd || 2.19:1 |
| 3rd || 1.41:1 |
| 4th || 1.00:1 |
| 5th || 0.83:1 |
| Reverse || 3.16:1 |
| Axle ratio || 3.06:1 |
| Final drive ratio || 2.54:1 |
| Opt engine || 90-deg V-8, iron block/aluminum heads |
| Bore x stroke || 3.92 x 3.58 in |
| Displacement || 345 ci/5.7L |
| Compression ratio || 10.5:1 |
| Valve gear || OHV, 2 valves/cyl |
| SAE horsepower || 360 hp @ 5150 rpm |
| SAE torque || 390 lb-ft @ 4250 rpm |
| Opt transmission || 545RFE 5-speed automatic |
| 1st || 3.00:1 |
| 2nd || 1.67:1 (upshift), 1.50:1 (kickdown) |
| 3rd || 1.00:1 |
| 4th || 0.75:1 |
| 5th || 0.67:1 |
| Reverse || 3.00:1 |
| Axle ratio || 3.47:1 |
| Final drive ratio || 2.32:1 |
| Transfer-case model || MP 3010 (AWD), MP 3022 (4WD) |
| Low-range ratio || 2.72:1 |
| Crawl ratio (1st x axle gears x low range) || 29.9:1 (3.6L), |
| DIMENSIONS/CAPACITIES |
| Wheelbase || 114.8 in |
| Length x width x height || 189.8 x 76.3 x 69.4 in |
| Track, f/r || 63.9/64.1 in |
| Turning circle || 37.1 ft |
| Approach/departure angle || 26.6-34.3/26.5-28.0 deg |
| Ground clearance || 8.7-11.6 in |
| Curb weight || 4500-5200 lb (mfr est) |
| Max payload capacity || 1480-2030 lb |
| GVWR || 6500-6800 lb |
| Max towing capacity || 5000 lb (3.6L), 7400 lb (5.7L) |
| Seating capacity || 5 |
| Headroom, f/r || 40.0/39.3 in |
| Legroom, f/r || 40.3/38.6 in |
| Shoulder room, f/r || 58.6/58.0 in |
| Cargo volume, behind 1st/2nd row || 68.3/36.3 cu ft |
| CHASSIS |
| Construction || Unibody |
| Suspension, f/r || Independent, control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar/independent, control arms,coil springs |
| Steering type || Rack-and-pinion |
| Ratio || 15.7:1-18.9:1 |
| Turns, lock to lock || 3.7 |
| Brakes, f/r || 12.9-in vented disc/12.6-in vented disc, ABS |
| Wheels || 8.0x17-in alloy, 8.0x18-in alloy, 8.0x20-in alloy |
| Tires || 245/70R17 108T Goodyear Fortera HL, 265/60R18 109T Michelin Latitude Tour, 265/50R20 107T Goodyear Fortera HL |
| CONSUMER INFO |
| Base price range || $30,995-$42,175 |
| Airbags || Front, front side, side curtain |
| Fuel capacity || 24.6 gal |
| EPA fuel economy, city/hwy || 16/22-23 mpg (3.6L), 13-14/19-20 mpg (5.7L) |
| CO2 emissions || 1.05-1.28 lb/mile |
| Recommended fuel || Regular midgrade unleaded |
Finally, a modern V-6
Chrysler finally enters the 21st Century with its Pentastar V-6, which makes its debut on the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Originally developed with former owner Daimler's Mercedes-Benz unit and South Korea's Hyundai, the three manufacturers have gone off in their own directions.
The 60-degree Pentastar replaces the 90-degree 3.7-liter V-6 in the '10 Grand Cherokee. With its iron block and alloy heads, single overhead cam and two valves per cylinder, the 3.7 is long-outdated tech. It's rated 210 horsepower, barely topping today's best four-bangers, and makes 235 pound-feet of torque. The '10 Grand Cherokee is rated 16 mpg city, 21 mpg highway in rear-wheel-drive form, compared with 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway for the RWD '11 Grand Cherokee with the 3.6-liter Pentastar. The 4WD Grand Cherokee is much more popular, however, scoring an 80-percent take rate nationwide, and here, the new engine improves highway fuel mileage by about 10 percent.
The '10 Jeep with the 3.7-liter engine and 4WD is rated 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway, while the '11 model with the 3.6-liter engine and RWD is 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway.
More importantly, the new Pentastar makes a healthy 290 horsepower and 260 pound-feet, making it easier for power-conscious Jeep buyers to avoid the thirstier Hemi V-8. The Grand Cherokee's three trim levels don't betray the engine under the hood: a "base" Laredo looks the same with either powerplant. Same with the mid-level Limited and the luxo-trim Overland.
And thanks largely to the high-pressure die-cast aluminum block, the new DOHC Pentastar V-6 is about 70 pounds lighter than the 3.7. The Pentastar also features variable-valve timing. Jeep has increased the Grand Cherokee's fuel tank capacity to 24.6 gallons, for a 500-mile range.
Next, the 3.6-liter Pentastar rolls out into the '11 Chrysler 300, then the Dodge Charger and Challenger. It will be the base engine in the 2012 Dodge Durango, which moves to the Grand Cherokee's Mercedes-based platform. Installation into the Chrysler Sebring, Dodge Avenger and Jeep Liberty probably will coincide with moderate or major facelifts within the next couple of years.
Grand Cherokee Trimmings
Ten-thousand-dollars separates the base Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo ($30,995 for RWD, $32,995 for 4WD) from the boardroom-like Overland, which returns for 2011 after a single model-year hiatus. Here's a look at some of the equipment and trim that separates the Laredo/Laredo X, the Limited and the Overland:
• Limited and Overland have body-color fascias with chrome inserts, chrome door handles and exhaust tips and chrome Jeep logo inserts in the door sill scuff pads
• Power liftgate is standard on the Overland, optional on the Limited and not available on the Laredos.
• A single, power front sunroof with rear-seat DVD in place of the panoramic sunroof is available via a package in the Limited and Overland.
• The dual-pane panoramic sunroof is standard on Limited and Overland, optional on Laredo X.
• The Overland has a black-mesh insert seven-slot grille; all others have a black-slot insert grille design.
• Limited and Overland only, have an auto headlamp leveling system, bi-xenon headlamps, daytime running lamps and smartbeam headlamps, and rain-sensing windshield, standard.
• Sideview mirrors are chrome on Limited and Overland, body colored on the Laredos.
• "Premium" silver strakes are standard on the Limited and Overland cargo floors.
• Real wood interior trim on the Overland, only.
• Heated front seats are standard on Laredo X, Limited and Overland, heated rear on Limited and Overland; power eight-way driver seat with four-way power lumbar on all models. Laredo X, Limited and Overland come with power eight-way passenger seats with four-way power lumbar support.
• Laredo X and Limited come with leather-trimmed bucket seats; Overland gets premium leather with piping.
• Sirius satellite radio is standard across the board. Laredo comes with a six-speaker stereo; all others with nine amplified speakers, subwoofer and 506-watt amp.
• Sirius Travel Link is standard on Limited and Overland, available in a package on the Laredo X.
• CD/DVD/HDD radio with premium navigation, voice recognition, dead reckoning and Sirius Real Time Traffic is standard on Overland, optional on Limited. Garmin navigation is standard on Limited, optional on Laredo X.
• Leather-wrapped heated steering wheel is standard on Limited; wood/leather wrapped heated steering wheel with power memory and audio controls is standard on Overland.
Similar to Land Rover's Terrain Response system, Selec-Terrain's five settings adjust throttle control, braking and suspension settings, transmission shift points and the transfer case to make best use of Quadra-Trac II or Quadra-Drive II. The system includes Hill-start Assist, Hill-descent Control and a separate "park" button to lower the Quadra-Lift air suspension.
• Auto: Adjusts automatically to on-road and off-road conditions.
• Sport: Pavement only, and lowers the suspension 0.6 inches for better aerodynamics.
• Snow: Adjusts traction for bad weather.
• Sand/Mud: Traction control and Quadra-Lift operate with sensitive response to wheelspin. Optimized torque for off-road performance. Ride height raises 1.3 inches. Handles most off-road tasks at Moab.
• Rock: Quadra-Lift raises the suspension 4.1 inches from park mode, and the transfer case, differentials and throttle conspire to provide low-speed control. Needed briefly only three times for Moab's most treacherous ascents.
• Park: a separate button lowers the Jeep 1.5 inches for easier ingress/egress.