2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee – Movin’ On Up

Posted on 12 September 2011 by Adam Kaslikowski

There are red states and blue states, and then there are Jeep states. Not restricted to any geography, the Jeep States of America are populated by equal amounts soccer moms and adventure seekers. These two seemingly opposite groups have made up Jeep’s customer base for decades. They are a fiercely loyal bunch and it takes quite a bit to alienate them. However, the JSA wants more than just these two groups; they want to expand their territory into Land Rover’s country too. Does the new Jeep Grand Cherokee have enough ability, and more importantly luxury to do this? Follow the jump to find out.

The Cherokee line certainly has changed throughout the years. What began as basically a rough and ready off-roader with barely a touch of civility has morphed into a comfortable grocery-getter while retaining the ability to surmount obstacles from snow to sheer red rock. This evolution has trudged on through the decades and just like evolution, the results weren’t always pretty or particularly effective. But Jeep has soldiered on and now we have the 2011 model. Hinckley Jeep of Salt Lake City was kind enough to let me borrow the latest iteration to sort out what Jeep has ended up with after all these years.

It certainly is a looker. There’s a bit of the 1st generation BMW X5 in the rear and the front fascia achieves a convincing blend of both imposing stance and luxury. Looking straight on, the iconic 7 slot grill appears aggressively raked back and there’s a nice balance between the various lights and grills that gives the Cherokee newfound presence. The high, upward angled waistline also gives the profile a sense of motion and sportiness. I particularly like the way the deep crease running through the doors is extended to the rear light cluster, interrupted only by the rear wheel. This subtly gives the impression that the rear fender is far more flared out than in reality, which in turn gives the Cherokee a masculinity it would otherwise miss. Overall there is an excellent theme in the car’s exterior, neither too feminine nor too tough. Want proof? Google the 2009 Grand Cherokee. Go ahead, I’ll wait. See what I mean? There was far too much testosterone in that body style for it to ever catch on with those more interested in the country club than the back country.

The interior, while far from European standards, is well sorted. But this is the part of the $30,215 base Grand Cherokee where you really have to be prudent with the options boxes. If what you want is a luxury soft-roader, make sure you opt into the two packages that cover the terrible and vast expanses of dash plastic with leather. If all you want is a rough and ready weekend warrior, for god’s sake just buy a Wrangler.

There are thoughtful touches all around the cabin, from real wood accents to illuminated cup holders (apparently for when you can’t find your beverage in the dark). All the dash buttons have a nice feel to them, although they are far from attractive. If the exterior has a touch of the X5, then the interior switchgear has a hint of Jetta. The 1995 Jetta. The console and buttons are seriously behind the times. Why is it I can get a nicer interior in a Hyundai Elantra?

On the plus side, the navigation is easy to use, large enough to see, and idiot-proof. Nestled between the instrument binnacle is also a multifunction display that incorporates everything from trip mileage, mpg, and gear selection to temperature and ride height. The tachometer itself has an interesting “greenline” – the immortal enemy of the common redline, this green shifting zone shows you when your RPMs match the most economical driving style. Useful? Barely, but more importantly to Jeep it’s a cheap and clever way to boost the Cherokee’s eco-cred.

Front legroom is spacious, although the passenger seat must be fully back in order to open the glove box without either banging knees or making your guest assume various Kama Sutra positions. I know that we as a public demand large glove boxes, but why can’t it be placed higher in the dash to avoid this? Rear seat legroom is adequate, but I was surprised it was not more spacious given the large dimensions of the vehicle.

I drove both the V6 and V8, and found both well suited to their own uses. First up, the V6: this engine is for commuting and sticking to paved driving surfaces. Dynamically, the new 290hp V6 feels taxed right through the rev range. It goes when your heavy foot tells it to, but it seems as if the engine is always at the end of its rope. This is likely why I’ve been told that real world customers are seeing MPG numbers on par with those of the V8. Having to constantly punish the accelerator never bodes well for your fuel economy. So you ask “if I’m not going to get better mileage out of the V6, why not just get the V8?” If you’re looking to save some money, plan on never towing anything, and your commute consists of entirely level roads with no hills then the V6 will do you just fine.

Here’s what you get for your $1,500 2 cylinder upgrade: 360hp, a growl straight from heaven (or hell), and POWERRRRR! Oh, and cylinder deactivation for when you feel like taking it easy on the polar ice caps. Get the V8. Period. It’s a pussycat around town, makes the eco green zone on the tach actually meaningful, and you can tow lesser off-roaders out of the mud puddles they tend to get stuck in. This is a glorious engine that never struggles to motivate the 6,800 lb Grand Cherokee with authority.

I’ve never really been a fan of Jeeps. Recent examples have always seemed to be compromised imitations of far superior SUVs. While the Wrangler has and always will be a back country dominating machine, the rest of the Jeep lineup doesn’t stick to this niche and as a result gets lost in a crowd of manufacturers that have no illusions that their products will never be taken off road. This gives other companies the ability to concentrate their energies on making their SUVs more in tune with what the majority of the public wants, rather than having to cater to a vocal off-roading minority. I see the new Grand Cherokee as a step in the right direction. It is far more luxurious and pleasantly designed. So even though it has the option of a four wheel drive setup that can crawl down a rock slope and ride height adjustment for scaling obstacles, it also has comfortable seats and supple leather throughout. Jeep seems to be getting the hint that they should put less time worrying about what people say they want and more into what they actually use. Am I now contemplating moving to the Jeep States of America? Still no, but at least now I can understand why some people would want to.

-Adam Kaslikowski

Comments

comments