Of course, you don't expect a Jeep's passion to be corner carving, just as you don't go to Moab for the roads. The Colorado river cuts through vertical faces of towering bluffs adjacent to well-worn red rocks that make for great off-road driving. At first look, the soft edges of the Hell's Revenge trail suggest a gentle terrain compared the boulder-strewn surroundings and jagged peaks of the distant Rocky Mountains. As we drive from pavement to dirt, though, that notion is knocked down. The steep slopes fill the windshield with blue sky and picking a decent line among the dips and humps is more than dumb luck. Once you've put the Grand Cherokee in the right position, though, it's effortless to scramble up the slick rock faces. Just gently lean into the throttle until the vehicle is moving forward and let the traction control take care of any excess. Even equipped with one of the two off-road packages, the Grand Cherokee still comes with street-oriented 18-inch Michelin Latitude Tour tires. Still, whatever we asked of it, the Grand Cherokee answered with unwavering authority. It may not have the presence of a lifted CJ7 with 35-inch tires, but that didn't stop us from conquering the same shocking gradients. And the Grand Cherokee does all this with unapologetic luxury that changes the experience of off-roading. Tackling red rock from the comfort of a ventilated leather seat with the panoramic sunroof open to sweeping blue sky is a sweet - if almost sacrilegious - experience.
What's old is new again
Daimler-Benz has been accused of causing Chrysler's recent product drought by not providing enough resources for development during its 1998-2007 ownership. While Daimler failed to keep the entire Chrysler portfolio on boil, the 2011 Grand Cherokee is proof that the Germans and Americans were definitely capable of building an all-around competent vehicle.
Even better, the Grand Cherokee's main selling points - a more powerful V-6, a seriously upgraded interior, and fresh sheetmetal - will sell at a lower price than the outgoing model. The cheapest Grand Cherokee is a rear-wheel-drive Laredo E V-6 priced at $30,995. That's $495 cheaper than the base 2010 model. A 4x4 Laredo starts at $32,995 and our favorite - a V-8 Overland with Quadra-Trac II four-wheel drive and Quadra-Lift air suspension - begins at $44,990.
Aside from the gentler styling, the new Grand Cherokee doesn't make any concessions to the trends of downsizing, softening, and generally neutering modern trucks. There's no hybrid powertrain, no four-cylinder engine, and no front-wheel-drive variant. Whether that old-school approach makes Jeep distinctive or stubborn will be decided by sales (which start in June), but it certainly makes for a uniquely capable vehicle at a compelling price.