Review and photos by
Greg Wilson, CanadianDriver.com
As Assistant Editor, Jil McIntosh reported in her First Drive of the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, there’s much to like about this redesigned mid-size sport-ute: improved handling and ride, a quieter, roomier and better finished cabin, a more powerful base engine, and more luxury and safety features – but the thing that sticks out in my mind is its value for money – at least when it comes to the top-of-the-line Overland model with the optional 5.7-litre V8 engine (MSRP $51,895).
To get this level of power, refinement, luxury features and off-road ability in a competitor, you’d have to look further upmarket, namely at luxury SUVs like the Land Rover LR4 ($59,990), Infiniti FX50 ($64,550), Audi Q7 ($69,200), Mercedes-Benz ML 550 ($69,700), BMW X5 xDrive 50i ($74,300), Porsche Cayenne ($76,000), and Lexus LX570 ($89,950).
True, you may be able to get a little more horsepower, a better automatic transmission, and some additional safety features in these luxury SUVs, but for the most part, the Grand Cherokee 5.7 is as capable, well-equipped, and well-finished as they are, for $10,000 to $40,000 less!
Underpinning the new Grand Cherokee is an all-new unit body platform shared with the next-generation Mercedes-Benz ML SUV (obtained while Chrysler was still part of DaimlerChrysler). The new Grand Cherokee’s platform is reported to be 146 per cent stiffer than the old one, and includes a new independent rear suspension for improved ride and handling, and a new optional air suspension that allows the driver to raise and lower the ride height.
As well, the new Grand Cherokee’s wheelbase is 134 mm longer which increases ride comfort and adds quite a bit of needed interior room, especially rear legroom and cargo room. The new Grand Cherokee is still a mid-size SUV though – its overall length has increased by only 79 mm.
The new base V6 engine is a Chrysler-developed 3.6-litre DOHC 24-valve V6 with variable valve timing that produces 290 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque – that’s quite a jump in horsepower and torque when compared to the previous 3.7-litre SOHC 12-valve V6 with 210 horsepower and 235 lb.-ft torque. Plus, the new 3.6-litre engine improves fuel economy by 14 per cent, according to the company, and runs on E85 (85 per cent ethanol/15 per cent gas) if you can find a service station that sells some. By the way, the EPA estimates that using E85 fuel in the Grand Cherokee decreases fuel consumption by 36 per cent!
The subject of this road test, however, is the fully loaded Grand Cherokee Overland with the carryover 5.7-litre overhead-valve V8 engine developing 360 horsepower and 390 lb.-ft. of torque, with a towing capacity of 7,200 lbs (3,266 kg). This engine has variable cam timing and a cylinder deactivation system to shut off half the cylinders while coasting or cruising to improve fuel economy. Though the 5.7 V8 is not a new and sophisticated high-revving overhead cam engine, it does offer gratifying throttle response and generous torque (390 lb.-ft. @ 4,250 rpm), smooth running, low-revving highway performance, and excellent towing power. Curiously, it’s not called a “Hemi” any more, but that’s what it is. The 5.7-litre V8 engine is available as a $1,900 option on all but the base Grand Cherokee trim level.
The high-performance SRT8 model with a 6.1-litre Hemi V8 has been discontinued for the time being, and the diesel model, which disappeared in 2009, is not in the works – but you never know!
Both V6 and V8 engines are mated to a carryover five-speed automatic transmission, now a bit dated amongst all the new six, seven and eight-speed automatic transmissions on the market. This would appear to be the major competitive disadvantage of the Grand Cherokee when compared to its luxury competitors, but in terms of day to day operation, its smooth and responsive performance when mated with the torquey V8 engine will not disappoint many owners. The five-speed auto includes a tow/haul mode which adjusts shift points to accomodate heavy trailers, but the transmission doesn’t include a manual shift mode. Admittedly, the addition of one or two more highway gears would have gone a long way to improving fuel economy which according to the EPA, averages out at to 15.2 L/100 km. I was seeing over 18 L/100 km during a week of mostly city driving. Fortunately, the 5.7-litre engine takes Regular gas. Rumour has it that a new ZF eight-speed automatic is under development.
All Grand Cherokees sold in Canada come with four-wheel drive (actually all-wheel drive with optional low range). A rear-wheel drive Grand Cherokee is available in the U.S., but not here. There’s a choice of three familiar four-wheel drive systems: Quadra-Trac I, Quadra Trac II, and Quadra Drive II. The base Quadra-Trac I is an all-wheel drive system that splits the torque 48/52 front/rear, but has no manually-selectable Low range gear. It’s standard on the Laredo E and Laredo X trim levels.
Quadra-Trac II is also an all-wheel drive system, but it can send up to 100 per cent of the torque to the front or rear wheels. It includes a manually-selectable Low range for climbing or descending steep grades on slippery surfaces. Quadra Trac II also includes a new feature, Selec-Terrain. A dial on the console allows the driver to select Snow, Sand/Mud or Rock settings which adjusts the electronic controls for maximum traction. There is also a Sport setting which directs 80 per cent of the torque to the rear wheels. Selec-Terrain defaults to an Auto setting each time the vehicle is started. Quadra Trac II with Selec-Terrain is optional on the Laredo X, and standard on Limited and Overland.
The third system available is Quadra-Drive II, an all-wheel drive system similar to Quadra-Trac II, but with the addition of front and rear electronic limited-slip differentials that can send up to 100 per cent of engine power to a single wheel. Quadra Drive II also includes Hill Descent Control which regulates downhill speed on steep descents, and Hill Start Assist which holds the vehicle momentarily on a steep hill when switching from the brake to the accelerator. Quadra Drive II is optional on all but the base Laredo E trim.
All this is backed up by standard traction and stability control, rollover sensors, and anti-lock disc brakes with Brake Assist.
Also new for 2011 is Quadra-Lift adjustable air suspension (late availability). During normal driving, the Grand Cherokee’s ride height (ground clearance) is set at 205 mm (8.1 inches); by pushing a button once, the vehicle will rise to 238 mm (9.4 inches); by pushing it twice, ground clearance increases to a maximum of 272 mm (10.7 inches). There is also a Park Mode which drops it from Normal height by 38 mm (1.5 inches) to make it easier to get in and out; and Aero Mode, which automatically lowers by 15 mm (0.6 inches) at highway speeds to improve aerodynamics and fuel economy.
Despite its hefty curb weight of 2,364 kg (5,210 lbs), the new Grand Cherokee 5.7 is quick and responsive. It leaps off the line and has great passing power – you just wouldn’t guess it weighs this much. A sporty muted roar on acceleration is about the only time you’ll hear the otherwise quiet and smooth V8 engine. Cruising on the freeway at 100 km/h, the engine revs at just 1,700 rpm. The standard Quadra Trac II all-wheel drive system in my test vehicle was basically invisible while driving on dry pavement.
With its tighter body, longer wheelbase and new independent (multi-link) rear suspension, the Grand Cherokee rides more comfortably and the suspension absorbs bumps and undulations very well. Even with its high ground clearance, the Grand Cherokee is very stable when cornering and doesn’t lean very much. 17-inch tires are standard on the base models, but my top-of-the-line Overland model had 265/50R-20-inch Goodyear Fortera all-season tires which offered a good combination of grip and quiet-running over pavement.
My one complaint about the driving experience was the steering effort at slower speeds: the variable-assist rack and pinion steering is responsive at highway speeds, but feels a bit stiff when parallel parking or driving slowly.
For those who want to venture into the wilderness, an optional “Off-Road Adventure II” package ($500) includes 265/60R18-inch Michelin OWL off-road tires, polished aluminum wheels, tow hooks and a “Trail Rated” badge. I didn’t have a chance to test the Grand Cherokee in the dirt or snow, but CanadianDriver will be reporting on the Grand Cherokee’s four-wheel drive performance in a special off-road test in Jackson Hole, Wyoming next week.
Complementing the new Grand Cherokee’s more luxurious ride and quieter cabin is a more luxurious interior. All Grand Cherokee models have upgraded interiors, and my top-line Overland model featured such niceties as leather upholstery with contrasting piping, heated and cooled front seats with power height and lumbar adjustments, heated reclining rear seats, heated wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel with power tilt and telescoping adjustment, attractive real wood trim on the centre dash and doors, a stitched leather dash, keyless entry and pushbutton starting, remote starter, driver/passenger automatic climate control, and a double sunroof with sliding sunshade.
Also standard in the Overland model is a navigation system with a 6.5-inch touch-screen integrated with a 30-GB hard drive with a 4,250 song capacity, Alpine premium AM/FM/CD/DVD stereo with 506-watt amplifier and nine speakers plus a subwoofer and rear back-up camera. Grand Cherokee occupants can listen to the Alpine stereo, Sirius satellite radio, or connect their own music devices to the auxiliary input jack or USB slot in the dash. There’s also a 115-volt outlet in the dash. Bluetooth hands-free telephone calls can be made using Jeeps UConnect voice command system.
An illuminated trip computer display between the speedometer and tachometer provides such useful information as average fuel consumption, instant fuel consumption, outside temperature, compass, distance to empty, tire pressure, coolant temp, oil pressure, and transmission temperature. The driver can toggle between information screens using buttons on the steering wheel.
To keep the kids happy in the back seat, an optional Rear DVD Entertainment System ($1,300) includes a rear seat video system with two wireless headphones, second row LCD monitor, a rear overhead console, and power sunroof.
Storage locations include a covered bin in the centre console with an iPod connecter and 12-volt powerpoint, and a deep bin between the front seats under the centre armrest. There’s also a rear centre fold down armrest with storage.
Occupant safety is taken care of with dual multi-stage front airbags and curtain airbags as well as seatbelt pretensioners, child door locks, child seat anchors, rear parking sensors and rear back-up camera. Missing though, are side airbags and contemporary electronic safety devices like crash avoidance detectors, blind spot warnings and lane wandering warnings. Radar-based adaptive cruise control is available as a $1,250 option.
Behind the rear seats, the carpeted cargo area is approximately 20 per cent larger and the split 60/40 rear seatbacks fold down to provide up to 1934 litres (68.3 cu. ft.) of cargo space. The cargo area includes a sliding privacy cover, four tie-down hooks, grocery hooks, an open bin for milk jugs, and removeable flashlight. The rear hatch is power operated and the cargo opening is large. However, the liftover height is quite high due to the bulky rear differential and high ground clearance.
Though a Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland with the 5.7-litre V8 may not have the brand cachet of a Land Rover or Lexus, it does offer comparable performance and luxury features at a much more attractive price.
Grand Cherokees are built in Detroit, Michigan.
Pricing: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 5.7 4×4
Base price: $49,995
Options: $1,900 (5.7-litre V8, 220-amp alternator, 225-mm rear axle, 3.47 rear axle ratio, 4 HD disc brakes with ABS, dual bright exhaust tips, heavy duty engine cooling, trailer tow group IV $1,900)
Federal Green Levy: $1,000
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $54,395
Crash test results
Greg Wilson is a Vancouver-based automotive journalist and editor of CanadianDriver. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).
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