There's plenty of off-road hardware (and capability) in the new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, but I'm most impressed with its on-road manners. While General Motors and Ford have traded trucks for crossovers in this segment, Jeep proves that ground clearance and ride comfort aren't mutually exclusive and that a locking differential and ventilated leather seats can happily coexist in the same vehicle. The Grand Cherokee rides just as well as a Ford Edge or Chevrolet Traverse and steers better than either of those two. Granted, the new Grand Cherokee isn't a pure utility vehicle; it still uses unibody construction, as it has from day one.
The premium cabin on our $43,500 test example means Grand Cherokee owners won't have to make any excuses for their purchase. The new Jeep is strong where the competitors are -- interior, ride, and handling -- yet it also has the basics that truck buyers used to hold in high regard. It's still rear-wheel-drive or available with one of three stout four-wheel-drive systems, and a V-8 -- rather than a turbocharged four-cylinder -- is the optional engine. Adventure seekers will really appreciate the adjustable air springs and the SelecTerrain dial in the center console that quickly alters ride height, traction and stability control settings, four-wheel-drive bias, and transmission and throttle behavior. With the 2011 Grand Cherokee, Jeep has redefined the modern SUV-and the modern SUV is not a crossover. Instead, it packages crossover-like levels of convenience and isolation with modern technologies that retain or advance hauling and off-road abilities. It's a vehicle that's at home both on and off the road, to the point that you don't know which is this vehicle's natural habitat.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor