Jeep brand is part of the Chrysler Group and they took some severe economic hits the past couple of years. But like GM, Ford, and others, Chrysler is working hard to re-earn consumer trust in their vehicles. If the new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is any indication, they have hit a home run. A group of automotive journalists, including me, were privileged to see this new vehicle.
Simply put – the Jeep name is legendary. To most Americans, their first image of a Jeep is associated with the military, either by actual usage, movies, television, or books. They could go anywhere and do anything. These Jeep vehicles were known for their craftsmanship, quality, dependability, and personal pride. This new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee returns to those legendary roots as a well-made and beautifully designed vehicle.
My fellow journalists and I arrived in San Francisco and were immediately shuttled to historic Fort Baker. This marvelous hidden gem was an active Army defense fort, located at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, across the bay from The Presidio. As I viewed the over-100 year-old barracks and officer quarters lined up around the central flagpole, I could visualize Jeeps and more Jeeps doing their duty, going and coming in precision fashion. The old Fort is now under control of the National Parks Service, but the buildings are leased long-term to a resort management company.
Once I was assigned to my ”barracks”, I put on some hiking shoes, obtained a map guide, and set out to explore the small base. I had hoped for one of the large officer quarters, but instead was put in an upstairs apartment-style room in one of the few Senior NCO houses. The room was modernized, complete with king-size bed, large flat screen TV, and a gas operated fire place. A tour of the base included the old chapel, many houses, and two large soldier barracks. The barracks had been converted to gift shops, a restaurant, and a bar. Meanwhile, I kept keeping my eye out for a Jeep-load of soldiers to show up at any moment. At 5:00 pm, I looked across the small parade field and noticed the flag being lowed. No bugle call. No artillery fire. Something was missing. I continued by walking tour.
Finally, I found the Jeeps. These were not your run-of-the-mill Wranglers, but beautiful, re-designed Grand Cherokee Jeeps. I spent some time kicking the tires, climbing in and out, checking out all the storage spots, knobs, & dials, and talking to the fleet handlers that were positioning them in place. I could hardly wait until the next day for my first drive. These looked so much better and upscale than I had expected. I later found out that most of my fellow journalists shared that same viewpoint. We had arrived expecting a slight improvement, but Chrysler raised this flag all the way to the top of the pole.
About 20 years ago, Jeep invented the Premium SUV segment when the first Grand Cherokee was introduced. Since then, almost all manufacturers have jumped in the parade and produced some form of SUV. The Jeep Grand Cherokee has sold about 4 million units, but now has been re-designed. The on-road dynamics deliver a true driving experience. There are new independent front and rear suspension systems, a new body structure, increased torsion stiffness, an all-new sculpted body, and so much more. All the interior materials are soft-touch. The interior room has been increased, adding more than four inches in the rear-seat leg room. There is 17 percent more cargo area. Chrysler has added an all-new 290 horsepower, 3.6 liter, V-6 engine that has boasted the fuel economy.
Finally, after getting a full walk-around and detailed descriptions and updates from engineers, designers, and communications personnel, we paired off and hit the roadways. My driving partner and I chose the most basic model available, thinking we could upgrade as the day progressed. Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, we headed south through the rolling mountains towards Santa Cruz. We passed through Gilroy, by the San Juan Batista Mission, Half Moon Bay, and towards Monterrey. When we arrived in Hollister (the city, not the tee-shirt factory), we pulled into the Hollister Hills SVRA off-road park. We were about to tackle boulders, hills, and other obstacles with our legendary Jeeps.
The SVRA (State Vehicular Recreational Area) is custom-made for off-roaders to enjoy putting their vehicles to the full gamut of testing. There are severe mud puddles, lots of sand, dirt and dust galore, and so many obstacles to be navigated. The Chrysler folks wanted the journalists to experience the challenging off-road conditions while driving such a premium and beautiful SUV. The 2011 Grand Cherokee was up to the challenge. We went over telephone poles laid in an array that would have been difficult to walk. We creeped around twists and turns, hugging the edges of cliffs that would have made my horse step back with fear. We even tackled an extremely long downhill path that was built at a 60% slope. The 60% slope kept us thrown against out seatbelts because we were taking it with NO BRAKES. We were testing the Hill Descent Control feature, which worked marvelously.
After a full afternoon of dust and dirt, the journalists climbed in the Jeep Grand Cherokees and headed back to a very refreshing shower, dinner, and a good night’s sleep in a nearby hotel. My driving partner and I chose the top-of-the-line Overlander completely loaded with all the available features. The all-new Grand Cherokee had won most of us over. Comments around the dinner table that evening tended to mimic, “I didn’t think it would handle that well,” or “I am so surprised at the premium and luxury touches,” or “My goodness, Chrysler is really pulling out the stops with this one.”
Of course, all the anticipated items were present on this new 2011 Grand Cherokee, such as trailer-tow capability of up to 7400 lbs, five terrain settings that match driving conditions such as ice, snow, sand, mud, and sport, and the new Quadra-Lift that lifts the vehicle up for off-roading and lowers it for highway driving. Also featured are the Active Head Restraints, Electronic Stability Control, Hill Start Assist, and Trailer-Sway Control.
The all-new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is available in 3 trim levels – Laredo, Limited, and Overland. Four by four pricing starts at $32,995, which is about $500 less than last year’s model. This is definitely a very nice and very capable SUV designed for families and for serious off-roaders. Check out the all-new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee at a Chrysler Group dealership.