Full 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Review
What's New for 2011
The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee has been completely redesigned.
Americans love comeback stories. The Yankees won four games straight in the 1996 World Series, for instance, and John Travolta revitalized his career by starring in "Pulp Fiction." So there would seem to be hope for the Jeep Grand Cherokee, a vehicle that's had a tough time recently but is set to make a pretty big comeback for 2011.
To start a comeback, it helps to be near the bottom. Conveniently, the previous Grand Cherokee had this covered. Though capable (as it's always been) off-road, the "JGC" was stuck with numerous drawbacks, including a cramped backseat, low-buck interior materials and poor gas mileage. In contrast, the new model is meant to be much more premium and now shares some of its parts with the similarly redesigned Mercedes-Benz ML-Class (Jeep was owned by DaimlerChrysler during the early development days of this vehicle).
This Grand Cherokee has been stretched out to open up more passenger room, mostly in the second row. It still seats five, but layout changes to the center stack and storage areas have brought about huge visual and functional improvements. The driver and front passenger areas are more sculpted and inviting, and the radio and climate controls are more easily seen and operated.
Under the hood, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee gets an all-new 290-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 that's vastly more powerful and fuel-efficient than last year's woeful V6. A 360-hp V8 is still offered as an option. To make sure the vehicle keeps a firm grasp on its off-road credentials, Jeep has made an air suspension available (it can raise the JGC's ride height) and a drive-mode selector that tailors the powertrain and suspension for specific types of terrain. Also new is a fully independent rear suspension (a first for the vehicle) that improves ride quality.
Overall, Jeep has done well here. As a choice for a midsize crossover or SUV, the 2011 Grand Cherokee is pretty competitive against models like the 2011 Ford Edge and 2011 Ford Explorer, the 2011 Honda Pilot, 2011 Toyota 4Runner and 2011 Volkswagen Touareg. True, not all comebacks actually happen (case in point: "The Comeback," an HBO show starring Lisa Kudrow, was cancelled after just 13 episodes). But we think Americans are going to like the new JGC.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is a five-passenger midsize SUV that comes in Laredo, Limited and Overland trims. Each is available in 4x2 and 4x4 guises. Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, foglamps, cruise control, keyless ignition, dual-zone air-conditioning, a power driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel and a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and a CD player. The Security and Convenience Group adds remote ignition, Bluetooth, a cargo cover, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a USB/iPod interface. A back-up camera, a power passenger seat, leather upholstery and a nine-speaker stereo with HD radio, a subwoofer and a touchscreen interface are also available.
The Limited gets all the Laredo's optional equipment plus 18-inch wheels, bi-xenon headlights, rear parking sensors, automatic wipers, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, driver memory functions, heated front and rear seats and a leather-wrapped shift knob. The Luxury Group II gets you a power tailgate, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, heated steering wheel and ventilated front seats. An upgraded Media Center package adds a navigation system, real-time traffic and 30GB of digital music storage. Big 20-inch wheels are also optional. The Overland gets all the Limited's options, plus special trim including a wood and leather steering wheel.
Optional on the 4x4 Laredo and Limited is the Off-Road Adventure I package, which adds skid plates, off-road tires, tow hooks, a full-size spare and, on the Laredo, hill descent control and the Quadra-Trac II 4WD system. The Off-Road Adventure II package includes all the above items plus an air suspension, towing equipment (available as a separate package), an electronic limited-slip differential and the Quadra-Drive II 4WD system. The Limited and Overland can be equipped with a rear-seat entertainment system with Sirius Backseat TV. With that, the panoramic sunroof shrinks to normal size.
Powertrains and Performance
Every 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee comes standard with Chrysler's new 3.6-liter V6 good for 290 hp and 260 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard. Fuel economy with four-wheel drive is an estimated 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. The optional 5.7-liter V8 produces 360 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque and is rated 13 mpg city/19 mpg highway. Properly equipped, the JGC can tow 7,400 pounds.
Rear-wheel drive is standard; three different four-wheel-drive systems are optional. The Laredo comes standard with Quadra-Trac I, which essentially functions as all-wheel drive. Optional on the Laredo and standard on the other trims is Quadra-Trac II, which adds a two-speed transfer case, hill descent control and the Selec-Terrain system. This latter item allows drivers to specify which of five pre-programmed settings best suits the present road or trail condition.
Optional on the Laredo and Limited is Quadra-Drive II, which adds electronic limited-slip differentials to both axles. The Overland further gets a Quadra-Lift air suspension, which varies ride height based on driver input or automatically via Selec-Terrain.
The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee comes standard with four-wheel antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints.
In the government's new, more strenuous crash testing for 2011, the Grand Cherokee earned an overall rating of four stars out of a possible five, with four stars for overall frontal crash protection and five stars for overall side crash protection. In testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Grand Cherokee received the highest possible rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side and roof strength crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Instead of last year's heavy use of gray, hard plastic, the new Grand Cherokee features a cleaner-looking dashboard design. You can't miss the tighter seams, higher-quality material choices and consistent textures from door to dash. Overall quality doesn't surpass the competition, but it's now certainly on par.
The rear seats are wider, offer more bottom cushioning and give passengers 4 more inches of knee room (thanks to the longer wheelbase). Folding them flat allows for about 68.7 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity, which is about as much as the Ford Edge's capacity but less than that of the Pilot.
The navigation system is pretty much the same as other Chrysler products. It works OK, but it's a little disappointing to see no real improvements here when Ford, GM and others are pushing cleaner, easier-to-use systems in competitive vehicles.
Get behind the wheel and you'll immediately notice that the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee drives considerably better than before. The suspension offers a more comfortable ride while also providing a fair amount of stability while cornering; basically, the Grand Cherokee now rides and handles like any other modern crossover. Off-road, the JGC maintains its reputation as a capable performer thanks to good ground clearance and an advanced four-wheel-drive system.
The new V6 provides a suitable amount of power while the V8 will no doubt satisfy those wanting extra grunt or enhanced towing capacity. The five-speed automatic transmission works well, though it's worth pointing out that most competitors now have more efficient six-speed units.