Because I live in the foothills just west of Denver, I have owned a number of Jeeps over the years. They are built and known for their four wheel drive capabilities. I bought them to get me through the snow and also have some off-road fun. The Jeep Cherokee had been a very popular model, and in 1993 the first Jeep Grand Cherokee was introduced. The past eighteen years have seen the Grand Cherokee become an American icon. It has gained a reputation for upscale appeal, its off-road prowess, and a clean, authentic design.
The 2011 model is the fourth-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee. This vehicle is so well known and loved by their owners, that they don’t want anything more than small changes to the new model. The Grand Cherokee buyer doesn’t want something new and different; they want a vehicle that does everything it’s always done, only better. I will take a look at the new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee and see if they accomplished this.
When you first take a look at the new Jeep Grand Cherokee, it is immediately recognizable as another evolution of the 1993 original. Even though every inch of sheetmetal is new, it’s still unmistakably a Grand Cherokee. Jeep has maintained the original design and at the same time everything about the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is new. This week we will be dissecting every inch of the new Grand Cherokee and looking at all the improvements.
Jeep says that it started by making the Grand Cherokee more aerodynamic. After 250 hours in the wind tunnel, the lines are smoother thus reducing wind resistance and giving it better fuel economy and less interior noise. The windshield is not as upright as the previous model making it more wind resistant and less bug splats to clean off. Underneath, the chassis has more aerodynamic bellypans that run the full length of the chassis also with the intention of increasing fuel mileage.
There are some new colors, including a dark green on the Grand Cherokee I tested, bringing an outdoorsy and rugged touch. The stance is wider and the nose is shorter with less front overhang, giving it a subtle look of substance. Jeep says the rear styling gives a nod to the Wagoneer that started it all in 1963. If you look close you can see the resemblance. But it does look like most other SUV’s but not for aesthetic purposes, but for visibility purposes. There’s also an aerodynamic body-colored spoiler, level with the roof and over the sloped liftgate that gives the rear a new look.
Tomorrow we will look at the all-new interior.
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4X4: Interior Options-Day 2
The interior of the Grand Cherokee is totally redesigned, starting with the front door openings that are 2 inches wider and 2 inches higher. The rear doors have also been redesigned to open 78 degrees compared to 67 degrees on the previous model. When I first sat in the Grand Cherokee, it took me a minute to adjust to the high quality feel of the new interior. I had to look at the name on the key fob to make sure it was a Jeep.
The interior is spacious with four more inches of legroom in the rear seat and 19 percent more cargo space. The rear seats fold flat to open up the rear to 68.7 cubic feet of cargo space. Rear passengers can recline the rear seats 18 degrees to making it a great vehicle for extended trips into the mountains. Storage is abundant with plenty of bins and pockets and two handy bins under the rear cargo floor.
The leather-trimmed seats with perforated inserts are at a level of luxury that I would not expect in a Jeep. The front seats can be adjusted to accommodate any driver with an 8-way power adjustment and lumbar support. The steering wheel tilts, telescopes, and includes cruise control with audio buttons at the back of the spokes for hands on use. The instrument panel is also completely redesigned with clean white numbers and needles and nicely backlight for easy use at night.
The LED lighting in the cabin is also new and works well. The old models had a yellow harshness that has been replaced with a more inviting color. There’s an optional giant dual-pane Panoramic sunroof that opens up all the way to the rear. When you open it all the way, it contributes to the open and spacious feeling. It’s a great way to view the stars or take in the scenery while driving through the mountains.
Jeep says they have added three layers of noise insulation to the cabin area. When we test drive the new Grand Cherokee, we will see if it has made a difference in the noise level on the highway and over rough dirt roads. This always adds additional weight to a vehicle, but Jeep has done so much in other areas of aerodynamics that it shouldn’t make a big difference. The overall feel of the interior Jeep Limited interior is one of luxury and spaciousness.
We will look in detail tomorrow at the options and amenities.
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4X4: Options-Day 3
The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee comes in three models, each with a choice of two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. I am testing the Limited 4WD with the 5.7 liter Hemi V-8 engine. The standard engine is an all-new 3.6-liter V-6 with double overhead-cams making 290 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. The big 5.7-liter V-8 Hemi I have is still an option ($1,495) for all models. All models come with a five-speed automatic transmission.
The Grand Cherokee Limited 4WD ($38,820) comes with power eight-way driver seat with four-way lumbar, leather seating, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, heated front and rear seats, fold-flat front passenger seat, reclining rear seats, halogen headlamps, LED lighting, flipper liftgate glass, foglamps, 18-inch aluminum wheels, trailer sway control, keyless ignition, electronic vehicle information center, roof rails, 12-volt auxiliary outlets. nine-speaker 506-watt CD/DVD/HDD/MP3 audio, rearview camera, hands-free communication, 115-volt power outlet, and remote starting.
Some noteable options on the Grand Cherokee Limited are the handy flipper glass window in the liftgate, which is convenient for loading smaller items into the rear cargo area without opening the whole liftgate. The taillamps are bigger and extend into the liftgate, with four backup lights whose beams improve the video view of the rear back-up camera, an area where some vehicles are lacking. There is also a ParkSense rear park assist that warns the driver of objects in the path when backing up. This is very helpful in tight parking spots.
An option on the Grand Cherokee is a blind spot monitoring and rear cross path detection system to warn the driver of vehicles that are in the path when changing lanes and drivers that don’t move out of your blind spots. This came in handy a number of times while I was driving in Denver traffic. There is also an Advanced Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control system and a Forward Collision Warning devise for additional safety. Luckily I didn’t have a chance to try either of these out.
The Grand Cherokee Limited also adds bi-xenon headlamps with auto leveling, dual-pane panoramic sunroof with power shade, navigation, rain-sensitive windshield wipers. Other Options include UConnect Media Center, Sirius XM radio, FLO TV, a rear-seat entertainment system, Sirius TV, UConnect Web, UConnect Navigation, and UConnect phone.
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4X4: City Driving Dynamics-Day 4
The 5.7 liter Hemi V-8, with its estimated 13-19 mpg with 4WD is a big and thirst engine. About the only thing you’d need the big Hemi for is if you need to tow up to 7,400 pounds using its 390 pound-feet of torque. The all-new V-6 may be the better way to go. It’s a double-overhead cam 3.6-liter with variable valve timing, making 290 horsepower (up 38 percent) and 260 pound-feet of torque (up 11 percent). There are three good reasons to choose the V-6: it’s flex-fuel, it returns 22 mpg on the highway (for the 4×4), and it is 300 lbs. lighter than the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8.
There are two automatic transmissions with manual modes, both are 5-speeds, but one has a Multi-Speed Overdrive system. The overdrive increases gas mileage with the V-8, but it tends to kick down out of overdrive frequently when driving around town. The 5.7 liter V-8 engine is silky smooth and powerful, and has been around for a long time. It is a proven workhorse in many other applications where more power is needed.
I put the Grand Cherokee Limited through the paces. I drove it on Denver freeways, city streets, and through some curves up in the foothills near Evergreen. The vehicle handled each challenge with comfort, ease, and control. The Grand Cherokee is smooth and comfortable on the highway, maneuvers well through the city, and it is in its element when driving in the mountains.
The chassis and suspension on the Grand Cherokee is most impressive. The chief engineer for Jeep worked with the Mercedes engineers in Stuttgart to gain ideas for the architecture and suspension geometry. You would expect the Grand Cherokee to do well off-road, but it’s on-road that this new SUV is truly impressive. The ride is smoother than anything offered by any of the off-road-oriented competition.
The new suspension developed with the help of German engineers, takes out the imperfections in the road. My test drive took me through some of Colorado’s tightest two-lane roads, where the Grand Cherokee showed its easy ability to more than double the recommended speeds on sharp corners and mountain descents. I was impressed with the kind of poise in such conditions.
Despite the 5-inch increase in wheelbase, the turning circle remains at the same 37.1 feet as the old Grand Cherokee. Another indication of all the thought and work that went into the new suspension design. It translates into nimble around-town handling, and parking that’s no more difficult for the bigger vehicle.