Jeep Grand Cherokee - Grandest Jeep

It would be hard to imagine the SUV market without Jeeps. Chevrolet’s Suburban gets credit for introducing the modern SUV, but the WWII-era Jeep brought four-wheel-drive to the tracks. Put the two concepts together, as Jeep did with the Wagoneer in 1963, and you have one of America’s favorite forms of transportation. Jeep enhanced the Wagoneer until it became the Grand Wagoneer, an early luxury SUV. The concept shrunk with the 1984 Cherokee, a mid-size SUV with four doors that evolved into the Grand Cherokee. Two decades and four generations later, we have the grandest Cherokee to date.

Imagine all you know about Jeep’s legendary capability, the Grand Cherokee’s luxury, and put it all on a Mercedes-derived platform that is among the best in the world. Much of the early engineering was completed while Daimler owned Chrysler, so it made a lot of sense to share as much as possible with the Mercedes M-Class – like a four-wheel independent suspension system. There’s still capability that only comes with a Jeep grin.

The Quadra-Lift air suspension features five adjustable height settings. Normal mode sets the vehicle at 8.1” of ground clearance to balance obstacle avoidance with on-highway aerodynamics. Off-Road 1 mode raises the vehicle 1.3 inches (9.4” total). Off-Road 2 adds 2.6” (10.7” total). Park mode stoops the vehicle down 1.5” from normal to make entrance and exits easier. Aero Mode squats 0.6” from normal for improved mileage on the highway. All of this is adjusted from a switch in the center console.

Supplementing the Quadra-Lift air suspension is Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system. Drivers can customize their vehicle’s performance for a variety of on- and off-road conditions. A computer coordinates the powertrain, braking, suspension, throttle, transmission, transfer case, traction control, and electronic stability programming for the optimum performance. Modes include Sand/Mud, Sport, Auto, Snow, and Rock. Grand Cherokee achieves a 34.3-degree approach angle, 29.3-degree departure angle, and 23.1-degree breakover angle – all increased from the already-extraordinary previous-generation model.

You would think that would be enough to get you anywhere, but the Grand Cherokee also has an incredibly-sophisticated four-wheel-drive system. Overland-trim models come standard with “Quadra-Trac II” that includes a two-speed transfer case to smoothly and instantly shift up to 100% of the engine’s power to the axle with the most traction. Four-wheel-drive works in conjunction with Hill Descent Control (crawls the vehicle down steep inclines), Hill Start Assist (holds the wagon momentarily while the driver lifts his/her foot from the brake to throttle), and electronic stability control to make the Grand Cherokee easy to drive during the most horrendous conditions imaginable.

On-road or off, the Grand Cherokee’s 5.7-litre V8 engine that generates 360-HP and 390 lb.-ft. of torque produces all of the grunt one needs to cross over the Rubicon or leave family sedans in its wake on the open road. Chrysler’s multi-displacement system shuts down cylinders during low power situations, helping the Grand Cherokee achieve 13/19-MPG. Towing capacity is a full-size 7,400 lbs. To conserve a little fuel with plenty of oomph, stay grounded with the Pentastar 3.6-litre V6 that generates 290-HP and 260 lb.-ft. of torque.

It’s not all rough and tumble. Exterior design is recognizably Jeep with its grater grille, bulging fenders, and high ground clearance. Yet, the Grand Cherokee also looks more upscale with softer curves, body color trim, and delicate use of chrome. A Dual-Pane Panoramic sunroof, 20” alloy wheels, auto-leveling headlamps, and power rear hatch make inhabiting the Grand Cherokee as enjoyable as looking at it.

Inside, the Grand Cherokee coddles like a mountain lodge. If the material quality is an indication of future Chrysler products, we journalists will finally eat our shoes. It is superb, French stitching everywhere, and accented with woodgrain on the console, doors, and steering wheel. Heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, leather upholstery, cooled front seats, power tilt/telescoping steering column, and loads of sound deadening materials reek of love. Sirius Satellite Radio, in-dash navigation, and UConnect hands-free phone with voice command keep everybody in touch and entertained. Showing an affinity for its Mercedes parentage, Grand Cherokee Overland is available with dynamic cruise control, rear pathway warning, blind spot alert system, and forward collision warning.

Even in all its pedigree and refinement, the Grand Cherokee is every inch a Jeep. It can rise off its alloy wheels and grippy tires with a height-adjustable air suspension system, craw through muck and over boulders with sophisticated four-wheel-drive, and crawl down mountainsides with Hill Descent Control. Luxury is on par with the world’s best. It’s comfy, classy, and infinitely capable. An as tested price of $44,915 makes it competitive with the Mercedes ML, Land Rover LR4, and VW Touareg.

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Five-passenger, 4x4 SUV.
Powertrain: 360-HP 5.7-litre V8,
5-spd auto trans.
Suspension f/r: Ind./Ind.
Wheels: 20”/20” f/r.
Brakes: disc/disc fr/rr with ABS.
Must-have features: Capable luxury.
Manufacturing: Detroit, MI.
Fuel economy: 13/19-MPG city/hwy.
As-tested price: $44,915.

By Casey Williams - MyCarData