Daniel Pund, Senior Editor
For all our expansive coverage of the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, we have failed to answer the question central to the meaning of the model's existence:
If no Cherokee currently exists, how could a Grand Cherokee exist? How does one modify something that does not exist?
Doesn't logic dictate that the model be called the Grand Liberty, or the Grand Grand Patriot?
We have found the answer and we shall reveal it to you later. First, however, we will try to stitch together what we have already written about the most important and also grandest Jeep in many a year.
You see, we took loan of a generously named Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4x4 V6, slathered in lovely Blackberry Pearlcoat. We tested it with our high-zoot, GPS-based data-gathering apparatus, we commuted in it, we photographed it and we broke down in it. And we are ready to pass judgment on it.
Grandiloquent Intro Complete
It is the considered opinion of the Inside Line crew that this Grand Cherokee is the first of its namesakes to earn the modifier in some time.
It is, first, grand in a physical sense. This Grand Cherokee rides on a wheelbase 5.3 inches longer than that of the model it replaces, and is a suitably luxurious vehicle. For example, a 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee driver needn't keep one eye on the rear of the cabin out of fear that backseat passengers will mutiny. There is actually passenger room in back now. Longer rear doors, especially on the bottom, aid greatly in getting in and out of the vehicle, too.
Why, we were able to ride behind a simulated version of ourselves and we are, at 6 feet 2 inches semi-grand ourselves. With the driver seat set at our preferred driving position, we could sit in the second row with only the slightest bit of knee-grazing. We love that the rear seats (manually) recline even if only by a few degrees, just enough to relieve back stress on long trips.
Cargo space behind the second row grows from a frankly poor 29.5 to a slightly better 35.1 cubic feet. That still trails some of the Grand Cherokee's most frequently cross-shopped rivals, but it's at least enough to fit our mountain bike without removing the front wheel and with only part of the rear seat folded.
And yes, we, which is to say I, live in Detroit and still call it a "mountain bike," instead of the more accurate "ride-up-to-the-ice-cream-stand-at-the-corner bike." It's an aspirational thing, sort of like the existence of all this off-roading gear that weighs down our Grand Cherokee test vehicle to the tune of 5,048 pounds.
When the IRS Came Calling
It wasn't long ago that the Grand Cherokee seemed like a throwback with its live rear and front (!) axles. Even the origami-inspired 2005-'10 model stuck with the stick axle in the rear after other major competitors in the luxurious SUV segment had switched to independent rear suspension.
Well, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee proves that at least one thing went right for the Jeep brand in the dark days of German-led product planning that resulted in hits such as the Commander and that double-barrel blunder Compass/Patriot.
Borrowing the independent rear suspension of the Mercedes-Benz M-Class ute and offering for the first time an adjustable air suspension, the grandest Jeep finally is fully modern. The improvement to its on-road ride quality, particularly wearing the 18-inch wheels with their ample sidewalls, is stunning. Like the Mercedes ML vehicles with which it shares much of its suspension design, the Grand Cherokee prioritizes cushiness over control.
Our flat-out loaded Overland includes Jeep's Land Rover-like Selec-Terrain system. Controlled by a console-mounted rotary knob, this system tailors the settings for a number of systems including the adjustable air suspension for the driving condition the driver tells it he's experiencing (Snow, Sand/Mud, Rock, Montessori school parking lot, et cetera). It was a great idea when it appeared on Land Rovers years ago and it remains so on the Grand Cherokee.
It might not have been Jeep's idea, but Selec-Terrain does at least carry on Jeep tradition of dropping the "t" from the tail-end of "select." The system also has a Sport setting, which drops the body to a level usually reserved for high-speed travel. Every time we got into the vehicle, we dialed up Sport and wondered why we couldn't just leave it there. There's little ride degradation and there's both a subjective and measurable improvement in the vehicle's handling prowess.
The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, as optioned, ran the slalom at 59.4 mph while what our tester described as feeling "stable, safe and highly managed" was thanks in part to the nondefeatable stability control system. That speed puts the JGC in a slalom dead heat with the Ford Flex, Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. Not bad.
For those that would like to control their own low-range gearing and keep electronics out of their trail ride, there's always the electro-phobic Wrangler.
That's Racing for Ya
When we published the test-track numbers we gathered for this Grand Cherokee, the truck took a merciless beating. The refrain went something like, "9.0 seconds to 60 mph? What a pile!"
Perhaps it would help put the Jeep's performance in perspective if we pointed out that according to Jeep, a 2010 Grand Cherokee with the old 3.7-liter V6 strained to make 60 mph in 10.5 seconds. Or that 9.0 seconds (or 8.7 seconds with 1 foot of rollout as on a drag strip) makes this Jeep Grand Cherokee the better part of a second quicker than a Honda Pilot or dead even with a Ford Flex. Still, it's almost a second slower than a Toyota 4Runner.
Yes, we're well aware that the family-oriented, three-row Flex is not a competitor for the luxury off-roader Jeep. That the (non-EcoBoost) Flex and JGC V6 post essentially identical number in acceleration, braking and handling tests illustrates a point worth remembering. Porsche recently decided that having the weight penalty of off-road capability was wrong for the Cayenne (duh!). It makes a whole lot more sense on a Jeep, particularly when it's optional.
There remains no free lunch. Whether a vehicle carries the size to package a third row of seats or the gear (and weight) brought by easy off-road capability, there's a performance price to be paid. In this case (JGC vs. Flex), one pays an essentially identical price, literally and figuratively.
Solid Engine, Tall Gearing
Clearly, the Jeep's super-tall rear gear (3.06:1) does the Grand Cherokee, and its new 290-horsepower 3.6-liter DOHC V6, no favors at the drag strip. But it does help return EPA estimates of 16 city/22 highway mpg. Jeep used to put a more aggressive gear on 4x4 V6 Grand Cherokees than it did on the rear-drive version. With the new Pentastar V6, the company feels it can pull the efficiency-minded gearing.
We've got no issue with the numbers, this being a truck with better-than-adequate acceleration. We note, however, that despite its decent 260 pound-feet of torque, the 3.6-liter feels a bit thin on shove at low revs. This should be less of a consideration as this and variations of this engine make their way into Chrysler Corp. vehicles that don't weigh 2.5 tons.
You could always get the Hemi, we suppose. But increasing the V6 Grand Cherokee's tow rating (with an optional towing package) to 5,000 pounds — up 1,500 pounds from last year — should increase the V6's share of JGC sales.
The Italian-American Chrysler Corporation has played the patriotism card aggressively in advertising this vehicle, the origins for which are at least partly German. It's about American quality and craftsmanship and so forth and so on.
This would be criminally disingenuous if the company said this about the terrible interior of the previous Grand Cherokee. In fancy-pants Overland form, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is genuinely, no-BS nice. The stitched dash cover, the positive and consistent switchgear operation and the excellent panel fit back up the company's grandiose claims. Our only complaint about the interior is the wood-and-leather-covered steering wheel rim that is thick as a full-grown man's wrist. Why, Jeep? Why?
Our test vehicle came loaded with $1,295 worth of electronic doodads that aim to do a bit of driving for you. Bundled in a package are adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and forward collision warning. All of these things work and we commend Jeep for offering them on this luxury vehicle, but we still find them largely annoying and unnecessary.
There's one potential fly in the apparent-quality ointment, though. You see the photographs above of the vehicle on the dusty roads? Yeah well, our test vehicle and at least one tow-truck driver became all too familiar with those remote roads after the Jeep's power-steering pump took a dump. Fine, we figured, we'll get it back to civilization without power steering. We are hearty like that.
This worked until the Jeep threw its serpentine belt. Game over. This, we discovered, was due to a power-steering pump that had been loose for "some time." We were told this was an early-build vehicle. Maybe so, but subsequent Grand Cherokees better get built right or Jeep is going to have a problem.
The Grand Finale
Much delayed and clearly not faultless, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is nonetheless an attractive, capable and genuinely grand thing. It is finally the budget Land Rover that the nameplate long promised. At a fully optioned price of $43,695, about the only thing this top-shelf example doesn't include is the Hemi V8. And we're not convinced you really need that. Or at least you're less likely to need that than you did with last year's model.
Given that the Grand Cherokee's development began two corporate administrations ago, we're not sure what the new GC indicates about future vehicles from the current company. We know that if buyers give the new one a fair shake and if Jeep can manage to build them with the quality that the new interior hints at, then the short-term future for Jeep looks considerably brighter.
Oh right, we promised you an answer to the grand modifier conundrum, didn't we? Right. Well, by the statute commonly referred to as the "Grand Central Station rule," a thing of sufficient grandeur may, under certain circumstances, be referred to in casual company and/or for commercial purposes as "grand" without a comparatively un-grand relative. Void where prohibited.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Editor Ed Hellwig says:
People notice this Jeep on the road and that's a promising sign. The fact that it's also a particularly luxurious vehicle on the inside helps, too. Good things both, but I'm not convinced that either of those factors is enough to make this Grand Cherokee a success.
And by success I mean a sales hit. Not a competitive vehicle or a sought-after one, but a mainstream best seller. This has little to do with this Jeep's capabilities and more to do with the shifting mindset of SUV buyers. People just don't like real SUVs like they used to.
A shame, really, as this Grand Cherokee is a real SUV that's comfortable enough to drive every day. I agree with Dan that Sport mode makes it far more bearable on the street and the mode selector makes its off-road expertise that much more accessible to a greater number of drivers. Not that many people know what "4Lo" means, but mud, snow, etc. are a little more self-explanatory.
So this Jeep will never be king of the sales charts again. No big deal; Chrysler has other vehicles for that. This Jeep will please more traditional buyers who still want the capability to go along with the luxury. Works for Land Rover, so it should give the Grand Cherokee a chance, too.
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