Jeep redesigned the five-seat Grand Cherokee SUV for 2011, moving it further into the crossover realm by giving it a carlike four-wheel-independent suspension. Other new features include an air suspension system that can provide up to 10.7 inches of ground clearance, a driver-selectable terrain system that configures suspension and drivetrain settings to suit various situations, and a 3.6-liter V-6 that's 11 percent more fuel efficient than the V-6 it replaces. Backseat legroom and cargo room have also been increased.
A 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 is also available; last year's 4.7-liter V-8 has been dropped. The Grand Cherokee comes in rear- or four-wheel drive. Initially developed during DaimlerChrysler's tenure, it shares framework with the Mercedes-Benz M-Class crossover. In ascending order, trim levels are the Laredo, Limited and Overland.
Sleeker-looking than the model it replaces, the Grand Cherokee still resembles a Jeep, but it's perhaps the brand's greatest stretch so far. Traditional Grand Cherokee cues, including a seven-slot grille and horizontally arranged headlights, remain, but the rear end has been completely reworked.
Enormous fenders house 17- or 18-inch aluminum wheels on the Laredo and Limited, and 20-inchers are available on the Limited and standard on the Overland.
At roughly 190 inches long and 76 inches wide, the Grand Cherokee is slightly larger than two-row crossovers such as the Ford Edge, Nissan Murano and Toyota Venza. Its 37.1-foot turning circle is the group's best, though not by much.
The cabin sports improved materials, with better-integrated center controls and genuine wood trim on uplevel models. Overland models get a leather-wrapped dashboard, something usually reserved for luxury cars. Other available features include heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel with power tilt/telescope adjustments, a navigation system and a panoramic sunroof.
Jeep says rear legroom is up more than 4 inches over the previous Grand Cherokee. The seats can recline several degrees or fold flat in a 60/40 split. With the seats down, maximum cargo volume totals 68.7 cubic feet.
New for 2011 is a 3.6-liter V-6 developed by Jeep parent Chrysler; it makes 290 horsepower and 260 pounds-feet of torque, both notable increases over last year's 3.7-liter V-6.
Last year's 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 remains optional; it makes 360 hp. With the V-8, maximum towing capacity is 7,400 pounds. The V-6 maxes out at 5,000 pounds.
The Grand Cherokee offers three four-wheel-drive systems: Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive II. Quadra-Trac I automatically transfers power between the axles without any driver involvement; Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive II have low-speed transfer cases for dedicated off-roading. Quadra-Drive II adds a rear electronic limited-slip differential. With Quadra-Trac II or Quadra-Drive II, a new Selec-Terrain system allows drivers to choose among five situations: Sport, Auto, Snow, Sand/Mud and Rock. The system adjusts drivetrain and suspension settings to suit conditions, not unlike Land Rover's Terrain Response system. A Quadra-Lift air suspension, optional on 4x4 Laredo X, Limited and Overland, can vary ride height.
Standard safety features include dual front airbags, front-seat side-impact airbags and side curtain airbags for both rows. Active head restraints, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, traction control and an electronic stability system are also standard.
Safety options include a blind spot monitoring system and Chrysler's new Rear Cross Path detection, which alerts drivers pulling out of a parking spot if there's oncoming perpendicular traffic. Also optional are adaptive cruise control and a collision alert that warns the driver if he or she is approaching another car too quickly.