2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Review

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee - Most luxurious and capable Jeep ever.


OK. I'm just going to put this out there up front. The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is the best Chrysler Group product that I've driven. Ever.

I know. Bold. But quite true.

When I saw the row of vehicles parked in front of the guest room buildings at Cavallo Point, they were shiny and pretty. So, I did a quick turn before the media presentation. With a strong, stern stance at the front and an elegant, sleek tail end reminiscent of the BMW X5, the exterior package was spot on.

But don't let the words "BMW" and "elegant" fool you. This sucker is a Jeep with a 7-slot grill, round headlights and the trapezoidal wheel arches. Oh, and the crazy capability that Jeep delivers on pretty much every vehicle it produces. (We won't talk about the Compass.)

The 2011 Grand Cherokee is a completely new vehicle, and everything except for two elements have been changed: the four-wheel drive system and the Hemi engine. And, oh, boy, did they do a good job.

The self-proclaimed "Jeep Geeks" on hand for the media presentation reiterated several times that this is the most luxurious Jeep they've ever produced. Which was quickly followed the disclaimer that it's also one of the most capable.

My journalistic skepticism kicked in, and my only thought was: Prove it.

So they did.

The first leg of the media drive was on-road driving with plenty of curves and a fair amount of highway straightaways. My driving partner and I opted to start out in the two-wheel drive Laredo with a V-6 engine and zero options. The base of the base. Before even setting my tush in the driver's seat I was surprised and impressed.

The base of the base looks pretty damn good. The cloth seating surfaces were attractive, soft and sturdy. The center console was well organized and surrounded by an elegant brushed silver plating. The headliner, dash and door surfaces were all soft touch. Even the floor mats, emblazoned with Jeep, were attractive.

But the real surprise came when I sat down, adjusted the seat and turned the ignition. The seats were supremely adjustable and comfortable for this 5-foot-tall driver, which has never happened to me before in a Chrysler Group product. I sat high enough, far-forward enough (and could have even gone further forward) and had great lumbar support as well as plenty of distance from the steering wheel. Standard features like the 8-way power adjustable driver's seat (4-way power lumbar adjustment) and the tilt/telescoping steering wheel should take all the credit.

In addition to the driver's comfort, I was also impressed with the look of the standard base controls. Similar to Audi's info screen between the tach and speedo, the Grand Cherokee sports this standard luxury item, which reports trip information, fuel economy and a digital readout of your speed. The latter was helpful to me since the steering wheel did cover the top of my speedometer.

On road, the Grand Cherokee delivered all the promised luxury and comfort. Even though this is a full-size SUV, Jeep engineers increased chassis stiffness by 146 percent, which serves to give the Grand Cherokee a more carlike ride. Once I got used to the sheer size of the vehicle, I was able to maneuver the curvaceous roads surrounding San Francisco like a pro, giving it a little more acceleration and maintaining my position easily.

Another bonus was the interior quietness. Jeep is using what they call a "triple-layer ceiling," which helps buffer and isolate any noise that might otherwise enter the cabin. My driving partner and I put it to the test by alternately gunning the engine and driving over the raised lane strips. And, sure enough, the cabin was incredibly quiet.

In short (no jokes, please), the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is everything I could possibly want from a full-size luxury SUV, including a "Top Safety Pick" from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

But that is by no means the end of the story.

As Jim Morrison,  head of product marketing for Jeep, commented during his portion of the media presentation: "The new Grand Cherokee has a dual personality. It is equally at home parking among the Porsches at Cavallo Point as it is on the trail."

During lunch, Jeep gave us an opportunity to test this puppy off road in the Hollister Hills with a small obstacle course and a full-on off-road trail. Using the all new optional Selec-Terrain system, we tested the ground clearance, rock crawling and articulation on the obstacle course. And, with the front air-dam removed (which can be done at home in under a minute-we timed it), we hit the trail.

Hill descent control was amazing as we dropped down a long, steep hill without brakes at a crawl. The Grand Cherokee managed rocks, sandy climbs and hairpin turns with aplomb. No compromises here that I noticed.

For 2011, approach, departure and breakover angles all increased (34.3, 29.3 and 21.3 degrees respectively), and with three all-new 4×4 systems (Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive II), there's plenty of opportunity to get just the right off-road system to suit your needs and personal capabilities. Turning radius is an incredible 37.1 feet.

Also in terms of capability, the Grand Cherokee has two engine options, a 3.6-liter, 290-horsepower V-6 that can tow up to 5,000 pounds and a 5.7-liter, 360-horsepower MDS V-8 engine that can tow up to 7,400  pounds.

I spent the most time with the V-6 engine, and liked it immensely. It didn't feel underpowered at all, handled steep hills at 60 mph with only a slight nudge and was nice and quiet under hard acceleration. The V-8 did offer a little more punch, but frankly the extra 100 horsepower didn't wow me. I'd be more than happy with the V-6 on a daily basis. Especially with city/highway fuel economy numbers that ring in at 18/23 mpg.

In terms of trims, the Grand Cherokee maintains the base Laredo, then steps up to the mid-level Limited and top-tier Overland. Both 4×2 and 4×4 systems are offered across all trims, and all vehicles give the option of the V-6 or V-8 engines. Pricing is as follows:

  • Laredo 4×2: $30,995
  • Laredo 4×4: $32,995
  • Limited 4×2: $37,495
  • Limited 4×4: $39,995
  • Overland 4×2: $39,495
  • Overland 4×4: $42,995

Across the board, this is less than the pricing of the out-going generation Grand Cherokee.

Overall, the all-new Grand Cherokee is a winner. And if this is a harbinger of things to come, I have to say that Chrysler Group has finally found a path that works. I'm looking forward to see what comes out of the design shop next.

Jill Ciminillo

Jill has been writing about cars for more than 15 years, representing the female point of view amongst her predominantly male colleagues. And since something like 80 percent of all car-buying decisions are either made by or influenced by women, that's nothing to sneeze at. Formerly the online automotive editor for the Chicago Sun-Times, the print auto editor for Pioneer Press Newspapers and the automotive editor for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, this 5th percentile (aka petite) female tells it like it is from the fun to the functional. Jill recently served as the first female president for the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and currently sits on its Board of Directors as President Emeritus. Jill is a syndicated automotive writer and acts as the managing editor for the Pickup Truck + SUV Talk website.