2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee: Up Close

Jeep just unveiled the next-generation Grand Cherokee, which was summarily mobbed by journalists eager to see if Chrysler’s product pipeline is something to write home about. I dinked around inside and checked out the cargo area. The short verdict: The Grand Cherokee is promising, and if Chrysler can seal a deal with Fiat, Jeep enthusiasts have reason for optimism. Does the larger buying public need another 18- or 19-mpg SUV when there are competing crossovers that do 10% or 15% better? I doubt it.

I disagree with Dave's initial report; no one will mistake this for anything but a Grand Cherokee. It’s sleeker, to be sure, but traditional Grand Cherokee cues — from the seven-slot grille to the horizontal-bezel headlights — should signal nothing else. The design seems equal parts butch and luxury, as prior Grand Cherokees have been, but it doesn’t quite embrace the slipstream look of a crossover.

Cabin quality in the well-optioned show car was good. From the optional leather wrappings atop the dash to the soft-touch door trim, it’s clear that Chrysler has taken criticism of its dashboard plastics to heart. There’s real wood trim, and the silver panels surrounding the center controls look respectable. Space up front is adequate, though the high gearshift console limits lateral knee room. The second row is better, with excellent legroom and headroom. Thigh support, however, is meager.

Proof of lasting change, of course, takes time. The old Grand Cherokee had dubious crash-test scores and even worse reliability. As promising as its replacement seems, a lot more than cabin quality needs to change. For Chrysler’s and Fiat’s — not to mention taxpayers' — sake, let’s hope it does.

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