Think of it as a parting gift. When Daimler sold off its Chrysler shares, development of the 2011 Grand Cherokee was well underway. One of the few positive things to come from that strange union was the platform beneath the new Jeep – the same one planned for the next-generation Mercedes M-Class SUV.
The flagship of the Jeep brand thus has some respectable luxury car genes.
This shows in everything from the heated steering wheel and sophisticated drive system to the way it feels as if carved from a single billet of steel.
The new Grand Cherokee is a considerably larger vehicle than the old – 79 mm longer, 76 mm wider and rides on a wheelbase that has been lengthened by 135 mm.
It is also 104 kg heavier.
That additional length between the front and rear wheels means more room for occupants, especially those in the second row. It still seats only five, but those in back will be much more comfortable.
Every panel and piece of glass is new, yet the 2011 Grand Cherokee looks remarkably like the outgoing model. The differences are slight and result in a more upscale, less blocky visual presence sitting proudly atop gigantic 20-inch chrome wheels in the case of my test vehicle.
The interior is a giant step forward for a Chrysler/Jeep product. Subsequent new releases from the company have shown a similar leap forward. Everything from the design to the materials, fit and finish are Mercedes-like. While that is not exactly a surprise, it is a compliment and a long way from anything that has worn the Jeep name to this point.
My test vehicle, in Overland trim, had a heated steering wheel which leaves a great first impression on cold mornings, as do the heated or cooled leather seats and automatic climate control system, genuine wood trim, chic piping and stitching on the seats and instrument panel. As well, a massive glass sunroof that stretches over front and rear seats makes this a very pleasant place to spend time.
Entry and exit are relatively easy too, despite the vehicle’s height but an assist handle on the driver’s side windshield pillar would be a welcome addition.
The second row is not exactly economy class either thanks to the added leg room, heated seats and separate climate control system.
The cargo area aft of that is flat, well finished. Objects placed there are hidden from prying eyes by a combination of privacy glass and a tonneau cover. When more space is needed and the seats lie flat, the head restraints automatically fold out of the way with the simple pull of a lever.
Before going any further, a little personal disclosure: I have always been opposed to the use of start/stop buttons instead of a conventional key and now have an additional reason for my reticence. After getting back into the Jeep while parked at a remote location, pushing the start/stop button resulted in – nothing.
A message on the instrument panel told me the vehicle did not recognize the key. It didn’t take too long to figure out the battery in the key was dead. Thankfully I was within walking distance of a local Chrysler/Jeep dealer that was open. With a fresh battery in the key, the vehicle started. Had it been after hours or not within reach of a quick replacement it could have been a long cold wait or walk! The moral – buy and keep a spare battery in the glove box.
In addition to the chassis and interior, the other major upgrade for the new Grand Cherokee is found under the hood. The dated old V-6 has been replaced by the company’s new Pentastar unit. This thoroughly-modern new engine displaces 3.6 litres and produces a stout 290 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque – as opposed to 210 hp and 235 lb-ft respectively for the old boat anchor.
Smooth and silent, this new engine makes an excellent standard power plant. There is not an abundance of torque so launching the 2268 kg (5,000-lb) vehicle from rest with any authority requires more than a slight push on the gas pedal. If you regularly tow anything or carry more than a single passenger or minimal cargo the optional Hemi V8 and its 390 lb-ft of torque might be a good idea.
But that can be costly. The efficient new V-6 has to cope with all that weight and while NRCan says the vehicle achieves 13 L/100 km in the city and 8.9 L/100 km on the highway in the test lab, the best I could manage was 15.1 L/100 km and 12.0 L/100 km respectively in real-world winter conditions on less-than flat Maritime roads.
The ride quality, thanks to a new independent rear suspension is considerably improved but still a long way from sporty. Noise levels – both wind and road – are also vastly superior to the old vehicle.
This is the top-of-the-line Jeep so you expect it to have the ability to go where others fear to tread. You will not be disappointed and left wondering what it would be capable of pulling you out of if you did manage to get stuck.
The Grand Cherokee is available with three different four-wheel-drive systems: Quadra-Trac 1, Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive.
The Overland model I tested had Quadra-Trac II paired with Jeep’s new Selec-Terrain system and air suspension and a two-speed transfer case. The system monitors grip and transfers up to 100% of available torque to the front or rear wheels as necessary. A limited slip rear axle sends it to the side with the most traction.
The Selec-Terrain system consists of a console-mounted knob that allows you to select between sand/mud, sport, snow, rock and automatic. A computer adjusts everything from throttle sensitivity to the stability and traction control systems, brakes and suspension accordingly – and well!
The air suspension system allows you to lower the entire vehicle temporarily for parking garages etc. It automatically reverts to normal height when your speed reaches 15 km/h.
The base Grand Cherokee starts at $37,995, which is slightly less than the outgoing version despite more content, the new engine and higher level of sophistication.
My Overland model started at $49,495 which included a power lift gate, nine-speaker Alpine audio system, panoramic sunroof, navigation system, leather interior, power heated tilt and telescopic steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, satellite radio and back-up camera.