First Drive: Jeep's Full 2011 Lineup

A. J. Mueller
First Drive: Jeep\'s Full 2011 Lineup

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

What's New? Virtually everything about the Grand Cherokee is new, and a lot of the interesting features are borrowed from the Mercedes ML platform. Even though Fiat is now in control of the Chrysler brands, the Grand Cherokee was developed under DaimlerChrysler days and possesses an interesting mix of German, American, and now Italian engineering and design touches. An air suspension and the Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 are some of the most significant enhancements for this all-new model.

The interior is very luxurious and demand has been especially strong for loaded Grands. A new trim level, the Overland Summit, makes the inside even more luxurious with saddle brown leather seating and dash coverings. Those who opt for navigation will find a very nice Garmin-branded system in the dash that displays the speed limit as well as the vehicle's speed as determined by GPS. The display is very nice and the touch-screen is quite snappy. When the sticker climbs near $50,000, Grand Cherokee buyers no longer have to apologize for the interior quality, fit, or finish.

How Does it Drive? Very, very well. Jeep had the off-road thing pretty much nailed in the past, but the on-road ride was compromised. The engineers at Daimler really taught the Jeep team how to make a big SUV drive well on pavement at speed. You can notice the difference in handling because Jeep has some impressive engines available: the 3.6-liter V-6 is rated at 290 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, which is good for 16/22 mpg ratings with four-wheel drive, or the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 cranks out 360 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque with 13/19 mpg ratings. An SRT8 version should be available soon and that's where we'll see the full extent of Jeep's new suspension knowledge.

Do I Want One? If you're a real outdoors person who doesn't want to deal with the sort of cheap interior or compromised on-road dynamics that plague so many full-size SUVs, the Grand Cherokee is a great choice. Fuel economy could be a bit better with either engine, so those who have no use for off-road features will be better served by a comparable crossover. When money and fuel economy are of little concern, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee offers a great blend of style, luxury, and no-compromises four-wheel drive performance.

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