First Drive: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Riding on air
The chassis is where you'll find most of the commonalities between the Grand Cherokee and the next-generation Mercedes-Benz ML. The two vehicles share key chassis dimensions, suspension geometry, and brake packages. The suspension uses control arms in the front and a multilink setup in the rear. Steel coil springs are standard, but optional air springs are a must-have for anyone planning to take their Grand Cherokee off-road.

Known as Quadra-Lift, the air suspension can adjust the vehicle's height to one of five levels. Normal ride height sets the Grand Cherokee 8.1 inches off the ground. Two off-road settings raise the ground clearance to either 9.4 or 10.7 inches. Park mode lowers the vehicle for easier entry while aero mode automatically activates at speeds over 60 mph to lower the SUV for improved fuel efficiency.

A rotary dial on the center console controls the new Selec-Terrain system, optional on four-wheel-drive Laredo models and standard on the four-wheel-drive Limited and Overland. Selec-Terrain alters the behavior of the engine, braking, transmission, transfer case, stability control, and traction control for specific conditions. It also controls the ride height on vehicles equipped with the air suspension. Auto, snow, and sport modes are intended for paved roads, while the sand/mud and rock settings prep the Grand Cherokee for the trails.

The new Grand Cherokee makes improvements on its angle of approach (34.3 degrees) and departure (26.5 degrees), as well as its breakover angle (23.1 degrees). To achieve that approach angle, Jeep has designed the lower front fascia so that it can be removed in less than a minute without tools. Off-roaders will also appreciate the hill descent control and hill-start assist.

Confident on-road and off
On pavement, the Jeep provides acceptable, but not engaging, driving dynamics. With the air springs, the car rides comfortably, closer to stiff than soft. Unfortunately, we didn't have an opportunity to drive a Grand Cherokee with the steel springs. The steering is particularly Mercedes-like in its feel and action. The power assist remains even and relatively light regardless of speed or angle, but it's also devoid of feedback. Happily, the Grand Cherokee has great on-center response, confidently reacting to slight steering changes. Rotating the Selec-Terrain controller into sport mode allows the air springs to drop the ride height to aero mode for a lower center of gravity. The change, though, is subtle and does little to improve the SUV's handling. Cornering ability is on par with other SUVs of this size, which is to say that the limits are fairly low and it's difficult to feel like you're fluidly connecting curves when driving aggressively.

does the new genration have an independent rear suspension? my 2006 overland bounces out almost uncontrolable when i hit bumps on a downhill curve. any remedy for me?

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