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2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Review
Jeep is owned by a new company - a European company - that seems to realize what's at stake.

By Malcolm Gunn

2011 Jeep Grand CherokeeThe 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee represents a quantum leap  for Chrysler's ageless off-road brand.

The wholesale revisions, updates and numerous high-tech additions give this fourth-generation wagon more passenger comfort and carrying capacity, not to mention improved off-road prowess.

The Jeep lineup has thankfully been a dominant anchor - and one of the few bright spots - for the new Chrysler, which is now run by Italian automaker Fiat. The soon-to-arrive Grand Cherokee will continue to push Jeep sales, even if this rig isn't the four-cylinder mid-size wagon that buyers seem to be clamouring for these days.

While Fiat could have pulled the rug out from under the new GC, it didn't.

The fresh-face styling is reminiscent of previous Grand Cherokees, but thoroughly reworked with cleaner lines, stylish body creases and a less upright windshield. Interestingly, the bulging wheel openings that were prominent on earlier GCs have been scaled back, making the vehicle appear smaller and narrower.

2011 Jeep Grand CherokeeThe reality is somewhat different. Overall length has been extended by more than five centimetres, while about 7.5 centimetres have been added to the width. Most significantly, the distance between the front and rear wheels grows by a substantial 13.5 centimetres. That means wider and taller front and rear door openings plus considerably more reclining rear-seat knee and leg space, areas that have required Jeep's undivided attention since the first 1993 GC hit the trail.

Jeep says the platform is 146 per cent stiffer, helping improve both ride and drivability characteristics. In addition, many of the various suspension components are shared with the Mercedes-Benz ML-class sport ute. You might recall that Chrysler was not long ago part of Mercedes-Benz juggernaut, which supplied the underpinnings for the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger sedans and Dodge Magnum wagon.

For 2011, Jeep replaced the Grand Cherokee's base 210-horsepower 3.7-litre V6 with a 290-horsepower 3.6-litre unit. Torque is also up my about 15 per cent. Despite the extra output, the GC's fuel-economy rating will likely remain at about 14.0 l/100 km in the city while improving to 8.9 l/100 km on the highway from 10.1, likely assisted by a more streamlined (by seven per cent) body.

The 5.7-litre "Hemi" V8 carries over as an option with 360 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. It's is the engine of choice for heavy hauling and towing up to 3,365 kilograms. Both engines are equipped with five-speed automatic transmissions. The V8 version uses a secondary second-gear ratio for quicker acceleration when downshifting for passing. Interestingly, both fourth and fifth gears are overdrive gears.

2011 Jeep Grand CherokeeAs a proper Jeep, all three GC models - Laredo, Limited and Overland - come standard with four-wheel-drive. Actually, buyers can choose from Quadra-Trac I with its single-speed transfer case, or the more off-road-capable Quadra Trac II and Quadra Drive II systems that feature two-speed transfer cases with a low gearset. Quadra Drive II includes an electronic limited-slip differential that will react to low-traction conditions quickly enough to entirely prevent wheel spin.

Ordering Quadra Trac II or Quadra Drive II will get you Jeep's new Selec-Terrain control with four separate traction settings: Sand/Mud; Snow; and Rock for off-road terrain plus a Sport setting for dry pavement.

Also available is Jeep's Quadra-Lift air-ride suspension that can be manually adjusted over a 11.5-centimetre range to provide a maximum 28-centimetres of ground clearance.

As before, the Laredo's equipment includes the usual comfort and power-operated niceties, while the top two trims include 18-inch wheels (17s are standard), remote starter and bright bi-xenon (high and low beam) headlights that automatically adjust their intensity according to ambient light and oncoming traffic. The option list includes a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated front and rear seats, 20-inch wheels, premium audio system and a power rear liftgate, to name just a few of the biggies. These features are likely essential to the GC now that the posh Commander model has been deemed unnecessary to the brand.

However, what is actually necessary from the Jeep point of view is to maintain the notion of somewhat refined worry-free off-roading. It's a safe bet that the new Grand Cherokee was well under development before Fiat took hold of parent Chrysler. While another owner could have halted all spending and sent Jeep in an entirely different direction, at least Fiat let the new Grand Cherokee out of the gate to continue its long tradition. Time will tell, however, if Fiat really gets it.


What you should know: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee:

Type: Four-door four-wheel-drive sport utility vehicle
Engines (hp): 3.6-litre DOHC V6 (290); 5.7-litre OHV V8 (360)
Transmissions: Five-speed automatic (V6); five-speed automatic with split upshift/kickdown second gear (V8).
Market position: The highly regarded Grand Cherokee has made plenty of money for Chrysler since 1993 and with this latest edition's advancements should continue to head the sport ute pack well into the next decade.
Points: Enlarged body looks good, maintains rugged demeanor; Powerful, thrifty V6 should be plenty for most buyers; Say goodbye to thrill-seeking, but somewhat impractical 420-horsepower SRT8; New traction-improvement features should make off-roading more fun and secure; Perhaps surprising is the Mercedes-Benz-based suspension.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control; trailer-sway control.
L/100 km (city/hwy): 13.9/8.9 (V6, est.)
Base price (incl. destination): $39,400

By comparison:     

Toyota 4Runner
Base price: $38,400
Tough 2010 version drops V8 option, but increases power on standard V6.

Nissan Pathfinder
Base price: $39,100
Rugged sport ute offers similar content, including V6 and optional V8 picks.

Land Rover LR4
Base price: $60,000
Luxury-class trail-pounder features 375-hp V8 plus lots of luxury content.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted October 31, 2010. © CarTest.ca TM


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