2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4X4Posted on April 27th, 2011
A second look at Jeep’s new full-sized SUV
By Nina Russin
The Grand Cherokee is the flagship of the Jeep brand: a full-sized sport utility vehicle which is equally at ease on urban highways and off-road trails. Jeep unveiled an all-new version last summer for the 2011 model year, with V-6 or V-8 engines, and three available four-wheel drive systems.
I first drove the new Grand Cherokee at a media event in northern California. Our drive route included some challenging canyon roads as well as off-road trails at a park in Hollister.
This week, I revisited the new Grand Cherokee on more familiar roads, commuting in urban traffic and carrying cargo. With fuel prices once again on the rise, I was also interested to see how the Pentastar V-6 engine would perform in terms of fuel economy.
The test car is the Limited: one of four available trim levels. Base price is $39,215, not including a $780 destination charge. All grades come with a choice of the V-6 or V-8 engines, and two or four-wheel drive.
Six-cylinder engine reduces ownership costs
The standard 3.6-liter V-6 engine develops up to 290 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque. When properly equipped, the Grand Cherokee with the V-6 can tow up to 5000 pounds: well in excess of our minimum ALV standards.
Fuel economy is about three miles-per-gallon better than the available 5.7-liter V-8 in both city and highway driving.
To be perfectly honest, the V-6 engine cannot match the larger V-8 in terms of power and performance. This is especially noticeable on steep grades and off-road trails, where the additional torque makes a difference.
None-the-less, I’d recommend the smaller engine to most buyers. The exception would be those who plan to do a lot of towing and off-road driving. By off-road driving, I mean trails uneven enough to make at least one of the wheels lose contact with the ground.
The V-6 has plenty of power to function well on the types of surface streets and highways most drivers spend the majority of their time on. It’s fine for driving on graded dirt roads as well.
The bigger engine costs more and adds 300 pounds of curb weight to the chassis, decreasing gas mileage. The V-6 engine has a 10.5:1 compression ratio, so it runs just fine on 87-octane gasoline.
Both engines come with a five-speed automatic transmission. Since a six-speed gearbox would enhance fuel economy, I would guess that the reason for sticking with the five-speed unit had to do with cost containment.
Three available four-wheel drive systems
The Quadra-Trac II four-wheel drive system on the test car includes a two-speed transfer case, while the available Quadra-Trac I system does not. Low gears are necessary for driving on the types of extreme off-road surfaces I described above. The upscale Quadra-Drive II system adds an electronic limited slip rear differential to enhance traction.
A Selec-Terrain feature makes it easier to take the Grand Cherokee off-road, by automatically modifying the suspension, transmission, throttle, traction and electronic stability control according to the driving surface. The driver makes terrain selections using a rotary knob located near the shift lever on the center console.
The driver engages the low gear range by depressing a button next to the Selec-Terrain controls on the center console. The button to activate hill descent control, which automatically maintains low speeds on steep grades without the driver applying the brakes, is in the same location.
Test drive in Phoenix
I drove the test car for about 150 miles on surface streets and highways in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, as well as the Bush Highway east of town. Average fuel economy was 20.7 miles-per-gallon, almost three miles-per-gallon higher than the EPA-stated average. Since I drove the car in warm weather, I ran the air conditioner during the entire test drive.
Engineers have figured out how to make unibody vehicles durable enough for off-road driving. This relatively-new technology enabled product planners to give the Grand Cherokee the ride and handling characteristics of a passenger car.
While I did not drive off-road this week, I have taken the new Grand Cherokee on some pretty rugged trails. There is very little flex in the chassis, which is testimony to an excellent job by the engineers.
Visibility around the perimeter what one might expect from a high-profile vehicle. There are blind spots in the rear corners and under the back glass. The standard rear backup camera projects a wide-angle view to the back of the car when the driver shifts into reverse. Lines superimposed over the image show the vehicle’s trajectory according to steering input. It’s quite useful backing into and out of tight parking spots.
Despite its high profile and two-box architecture, the interior is very quiet, making it easy for passengers in the first and second-row seats to converse. The driver can also enjoy music from stored in the downloadable hard drive, or standard satellite radio.
Steering feedback from the standard rack-and-pinion system is quite good. I had no problems making some quick lane changes to simulate emergency evasive maneuvers. A 37.1-foot turning radius makes U-turns possible on some wider suburban roads.
The single option on the test car is 20-inch alloy wheels. The larger wheels provide a bigger footprint for better high-speed performance and dress up the Jeep’s exterior. Four-wheel disc brakes stop the car in a firm, linear fashion.
The Grand Cherokee test car holds up to five adult passengers. The vehicle’s low floor tunnel clears up a reasonable amount of legroom for the middle passenger in the second row.
Standard keyless entry and start saves the driver from fumbling for the key fob, which adds a measure of safety after dark.
Two-position driver’s seat memory allows multiple family members to share the car. Both the front and outboard second-row seats come with seat heaters.
I found the controls easy to use and read on the road. The information screen on the center stack also displays navigation maps. I had no problems seeing the screen in bright sunlight.
A digital display in the gauge cluster includes important vehicle information such as coolant temperature and oil pressure, fuel economy, trip meter distances, etc. The driver can scroll through the information using buttons on the left side of the steering wheel. The steering wheel also houses Bluetooth and cruise control functions.
The panoramic sunroof on the test car brings an abundance of ambient light into the interior, since it covers both rows of seating. Overhead lamps illuminate the interior at night.
The test car comes with two twelve-volt and one 115-volt outlet, for powering up portable electronic devices.
Rear seats fold flat in a 60/40 pattern, to accommodate larger cargo, including bicycles. The full-sized spare tire is located under the cargo floor, where it is easy to reach.
The Grand Cherokee comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, electronic stability control with roll mitigation, antilock brakes and active front head restraints.
Jeep builds the Grand Cherokee in its Detroit, Michigan assembly plant.
Likes: A full-sized sport-utility vehicle with excellent on-road performance and the ability to navigate extreme off-road terrain.
Dislike: The standard five-speed automatic transmission doesn’t offer the fuel economy that a six-speed unit could.
Model: Grand Cherokee Limited 4X4
Base price: $39,215
As tested: $41,090
Horsepower: 290 Hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque: 260 lbs.-ft. @ 4800 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 16/22 mpg city/highway
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