Ironically, it's only years after the big divorce that the Jeep brand finally benefits from the DaimlerChrysler marriage. An all-new Jeep Grand Cherokee debuts for 2011, and it now shares its underpinnings with the Mercedes-Benz M-class SUV. Better late than never, we suppose.
A new 3.6-liter replaces the previous 3.7-liter as the base V-6. It produces 280 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque (up significantly from the old lump's 210 and 235) and returns 11 percent better fuel economy, thanks in part to variable valve timing. The optional 360-hp, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 returns to the playground, and both engines are paired with a five-speed automatic transmission and either rear- or four-wheel drive.
An optional Quadra-Lift air suspension (inherited from Mercedes) can raise the Grand Cherokee's ride height, increasing approach, departure, and breakover angles for even more off-road credibility. No longer constrained by the Commander, Jeep's mainstay family hauler has room to grow--and so the new Grand Cherokee is 1.8 inches longer, 3 inches wider, and, most important, rides on a wheelbase that's 5.3 inches longer. That last measurement contributes to a significant increase in rear-seat room, a welcome improvement over today's cramped bench. Jeep promises more soft-touch plastics and a higher quality interior, as well as an available Alpine sound system.
STAYIN' ALIVE, AT LEAST IN SOME FORM: The Grand Cherokee's styling is purely evolutionary, but Chrysler knows not to mess with a good thing--as the company faces extinction, it's Jeep that's most likely to survive.