2009 Sneak Preview: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

2009 Sneak Preview: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee
The first alimony check rolls in.

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.

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