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2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee at 2009 New York Auto Show

  • Competes with: Ford Edge, Nissan Murano, Chevy Equinox
  • Looks like: A sleek, sophisticated SUV — but not a Jeep
  • Drivetrain: 280-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 or 360-hp, 5.7-liter V-8 with five-speed automatic; two- or four-wheel drive
  • Hits dealerships: 2010

Chrysler is on the brink of doing anything from filing for bankruptcy to completely collapsing as a business. Its business happens to be building cars, trucks and SUVs, and the Jeep brand has been especially good at designing SUVs that its loyal fans enjoy. With the 2011 Grand Cherokee’s urban style and revised unibody platform, the brand may be straying too far from what made it what it is to Jeep loyalists.

The style is quite sophisticated and can hold its own with the Ford Edge and Nissan Murano in the looks department. However, while it looks slick, we can’t help but wonder what Jeep fans are thinking right now. Is this an SUV that screams Jeep?

The new unibody construction likely means a much better ride on the road than the old Grand Cherokee. It’s based on the Mercedes-Benz M-Class, after all. We’d assume the Grand Cherokee will still pass the Rubicon Trail test and be “trail rated,” but questions will remain. We give Jeep credit for introducing the very off-road friendly Wrangler Unlimited four-door a few years back, which allows the Grand Cherokee to be more of a soft-roader. There’s a new suspension system the company promises will make it off-road capable with adjustable settings, but it’s clearly aimed at general car shoppers.

How does it do on this front? Not so good — at least on paper. The 2011 Grand Cherokee will get a much more powerful V-6 base engine putting out 280 hp, compared with the outgoing model’s 210 hp, while getting slightly better mileage: 16/23 mpg city/highway, up from 16/21 for the two-wheel-drive model. Its power bests the Edge and Murano by 15 hp, but the competition’s mileage is better, at 17/24 and 18/23 mpg, respectively.

New CAFE standards go into effect for the 2011 model year, and we’re wondering if a company without one 31-plus mpg model in its lineup can afford not to get better mileage in a base model. A Hemi V-8 will also be available, making 360 hp and 390 pounds-feet of torque. Mileage is 14/20 mpg for two-wheel-drive V-8 models.

Three trim levels will be available at launch: the base Laredo and mid-level Laredo can be had with either engine, while the top Overland trim only comes with the Hemi V-8.

The numbers paint a bleak picture for what otherwise looks like a pretty nice SUV. The interior certainly seems like a big improvement, and there are many creature comforts that we’re seeing in other top models.

Bi-xenon headlights come standard on Limited and Overland trims, while options include a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, power liftgate, and adjustable headlights that adjust to meet outdoor conditions. Safety options like blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic detection systems, adaptive cruise control and a forward collision system are all available.

We’ll have more in-person impressions later this morning. There are more photos below you can check out now.

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