2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Review: First Drive

All-New Jeep Grand Cherokee improves every day drivability, retains off-road prowess

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Review: First Drive

Chrysler has encountered more than a few obstacles over the past two years, but the automaker’s biggest challenge remains its own survival. In order to survive—and thrive—the company is going to need to prove that its products can be class-competitive. If the products on hand can’t lure buyers into showrooms, then the Chrysler/Fiat alliance is doomed.


1. Unlike an increasing number of competitors, the Grand Cherokee retains its SUV platform delivering three off-road 4×4 systems, a “Quadra-Lift” air suspension and a total of 10.7-inches of ground clearance.

2. A new Selec-Terrain system allows drivers to choose their off-road mode with settings for auto, snow, sand/mud, sport, and rocks.

3. The max tow rating is set at 7,400 lbs.

4. An all-new 3.6L V6 makes 290-hp and 260 ft-lbs of torque, with fuel economy rated as high as 16/23-mpg (city/hwy) for front-drive models an 16/22 for 4WD.

5. Pricing for the 2011 Grand Cherokee starts at $30,995.

Thanks to the bankruptcy and a federal government bailout, plus the aforementioned alliance with Fiat, Chrysler has a clean slate with which to start from. However, the very public nature of the company’s fall into and climb out of bankruptcy means that all eyes are watching as it brings new product to market.


Imagine then, the pressure on Chrysler’s Jeep division. It has the distinction of launching the company’s first post-bankruptcy product: The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee. While it’s important to note that a redesigned Grand Cherokee was in development long before Chrysler entered bankruptcy—the 2011 Grand Cherokee was first previewed at the 2009 New York Auto Show, a month or so before Chrysler began bankruptcy proceedings—there’s no denying that both the automotive industry and the general public have been waiting to see what kind of job Jeep has done with the big SUV.

The pressure on Jeep isn’t just from those who want a return on the investment from the American taxpayers. Other interested parties include Chrysler’s dealer network, which is desperate for a new, strong mainstream product not named “Ram,” the ever-curious and ever-insatiable automotive press and, of course, the mid-size SUV buyer.

Beyond satisfying taxpayers, Chrysler needs to prove that it can build a product that is much, much better than the not-exactly-loved 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee. It needs to show that the new Grand Cherokee belongs in a competitive class of SUVs. It needs to prove that tacky interiors and unrefined engines are a thing of the not-too-distant past. And finally, it needs to show that it can produce reliable products that will hold re-sale value.

It will take a few years to settle that last point. But in the meantime, Chrysler invited journalists to San Francisco to sample pre-production 2011 Grand Cherokees, giving us media types the chance to find some answers to those other questions.


Jeep PR and engineer types are quick to point out that very little of the previous generation—save the four-wheel drive systems, the V8 engine, and some minor parts here and there—carryover. Perhaps the biggest piece of news is that the Grand Cherokee marks the first production appearance of the company’s new Pentastar V6. Previously codenamed “Phoenix,” this new engine will eventually find its way into other Chrysler products.

Here, it appears in 3.6-liter form, making 290 horsepower and 260 ft-lbs of torque. It’s the base engine, augmented by an optional 5.7-liter V8 with cylinder-deactivation that makes 360 horsepower and 390 ft-lbs of torque. Both mate to a 5-speed automatic transmission.

The Pentastar V6 has variable-valve timing and is flex-fuel capable, and Jeep is promising an 11-percent gain in fuel economy. Jeep says the V6 is capable of 23 mpg and will have a highway range of 500 miles.


Jeep is known for producing vehicles with plenty of rock-crawling prowess, and while most Grand Cherokees sold will face obstacles no more serious than the occasional snowstorm, that hasn’t stop Jeep from equipping four-wheel drive models (4×2 models are available) with a full-time system that can be adjusted based on road and weather conditions. The system, called Selec-Terrain, offers auto, snow, sand/mud, sport, and rock modes.

There are three four-wheel drive systems available: Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II, and Quadra-Drive II. That last system offers an electronic limited-slip differential. Quadra-Trac I is a single-speed transfer-case system, while Quadra-Trac II has two speeds and torque distribution. Additionally, the Quadra-Lift air suspension can alter the Grand Cherokee’s ride height, lowering it for parking or raising it for off-roading, to a maximum of 10.7 inches of ground clearance.

Since most Grand Cherokees will be used as boulevard bashers instead of rock crawlers, Jeep is making sure to offer features like a rearview camera, Chrysler’s Uconnect multimedia suite, satellite radio, a navigation system, rear-seat entertainment, heated seats, a heated steering wheel, storage bins in the rear cargo area, a park assist system, and a blind-spot monitoring system. Uconnect will be available with FLO TV, which offers up to 20 channels of live TV that can be watched (presumably only in the back seat) while the Grand Cherokee is mobile. One neat feature is the iPhone app for the owner’s manual—Jeep says Droid and Blackberry versions are on the way.

There are three trim levels: Laredo, Limited, and Overland.

Whew. Enough with the cold, hard facts. How does the new platform work in the real world?


In short, pretty well. Acceleration is smooth and brisk with the V6 and downright hairy with the V8. Chrysler demurred when asked about an SRT8 version, saying only that it’s a possibility given the independent coil-over-spring front suspension (the rear uses a multilink setup), but quite frankly, in terms of straight-line power, it may not be needed.

Ride quality is impressive, even over broken pavement, but handling is a chore. Push the Grand Cherokee into a tight corner on a mountain road at speed and it protests with lots of body roll. Quick transitions, especially, throw it off. Drive it more sedately, though, and it complies much better. The lighter V6 fares better than the V8 in terms of overall handling.

The interior is handsome and well-appointed, surfaces are generally pleasing to the eye and the touch, and most controls are easy to use, with the exception of the audio controls on the steering wheel. They are fine for around-town driving, but too easy to accidentally disturb with your hand in hard driving or off-roading. Our biggest beef with the interior was the gauges—while the speedo and tach are handsome and easy to read from the driver’s perspective, they look at little overdone and out of place from the passenger seat, providing an unfortunate contrast with the handsome HVAC controls in the center stack.

Speaking of off-roading, Jeep set up a course in California’s hills, and the Grand Cherokee acquitted itself quite well, thanks to the hill-descent control and the four-wheel drive system.

Of course, most folks aren’t going to want their newly sculpted Grand Cherokee dented by a wayward tree branch, and with good reason. The new look is generally handsome, with styling lines that retain the standard Jeep look while modernizing it. The D-pillars even drew a flattering comparison to the BMW X5.

There are some other flaws with this new Jeep. The front seats that are slightly flat, the transmission lacks a sixth cog, and the V6 is growly and harsh at higher rpms.

Jeep is projecting 16-mpg city and 22-mpg highway for V6 four-wheel drive models (23 mpg for two-wheel drive V6s) and 14/20-mpg for V8 two-wheelers to go along with 13/19-mpg for four-wheel drive V8s.

Cargo space and rear-seat room both appear to be plentiful, and the rear storage bins are a nice feature. Jeep claims that cargo capacity is up by 19 percent. For those who tow, the maximum towing capability is 7,400 lbs.

When the Grand Cherokee goes on sale in July, the base price for a 4×2 Laredo will be $30,995, with the 4×4 Laredo starting at $32,995.


Chrysler and Jeep need this vehicle to succeed, and given how much better it is than the previous generation, there’s a chance. The good news for Jeep is that the new Grand Cherokee is at least class-competitive. The interior quality has caught up to the competition, the on-road ride is smooth, the new V6 is a big improvement over previous Chrysler 6-cylinder powertrains (the V6 Laredo would be our pick), and the features per dollar ratio are about right. If the company can prove that this redesigned SUV is reliable over the long term, it should do quite well.

Is the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee perfect? No. But fortunately for Chrysler, it’s more than close enough.


2010 Ford Explorer Review 2010 Nissan Pathfinder SE 4×4 Review 2009 Jeep Commander 2009 Kia Borrego Review 2009 Honda Pilot 2010 Toyota Highlander Review

« Back

AutoGuide.com’s Monthly Overlay Newsletter Signup – By subscribing to our email newsletter, Entrants are eligible to win one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card (value of $100.00 USD). One (1) winner will be chosen every month at random and contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. *Amazon.com is not a sponsor of this promotion. Except as required by law, Amazon.com Gift Cards ("GCs") cannot be transferred for value or redeemed for cash. GCs may be used only for purchases of eligible goods at Amazon.com or certain of its affiliated websites. For complete terms and conditions, see www.amazon.com/gc-legal. GCs are issued by ACI Gift Cards, Inc., a Washington corporation. All Amazon ®, ™ & © are IP of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. No expiration date or service fees.


2. PRIZE: One (1) Winner will be randomly selected every month to each receive: one (1) $100.00 Amazon.com Gift Card (the “Prize Supplier”). Total approximate retail value of all prizes is approximately $100.00 USD. Prizes are not transferable and no cash or prize substitution is allowed. Prize package is awarded "as is" with no warranty or guarantee, either express or implied.

3. ELIGIBILITY: From the time of entry through the final date of prize fulfillment, each contest entrant and selected entrant must be a permanent lawful citizen and resident residing in the 50 United States or the District of Columbia or in Canada, and be twenty one (21) years of age or older. VOID IN PUERTO RICO, THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS, IN ALL FOREIGN COUNTRIES OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES, AND ALL OTHER U.S. TERRITORIES OR CANADA AND POSSESSIONS AND WHERE PROHIBITED OR RESTRICTED BY LAW. Employees, officers, directors, agents and representatives, of the Sponsor and the Prize Supplier and each of their respective parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising and promotion agencies, promotion partners and any entity involved in the development, production, implementation, administration or fulfillment of this Sweepstakes, and the immediate family members (e.g., spouse, mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, grandparent, in-law, daughter and son, regardless of where they live) and persons living in the same household (whether or not related) of such individuals are not eligible to participate or win. Only one selected entrant per household. All decisions of the Sponsor with respect to this sweepstakes are final. The Sponsor shall have the right at any time to require proof of identity and failure to provide such proof may result in disqualification from the Sweepstakes.

4. ENTER BY INTERNET: You may enter this sweepstakes via the Internet by logging onto AutoGuide.com and subscribing to our email newsletter via the pop-up overlay.

5. SELECTION OF WINNER: One (1) Entrant will be selected by random selection who have subscribed to our email newsletter. The winner may be announced publicly on AutoGuide.com and will be contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. The winner will be required to provide a mailing address (that is not a P.O. box) to receive the prize which will be shipped free of charge.

6. ODDS OF WINNING: Odds of winning a prize are determined by the total number of eligible entries received.

7. RESTRICTIONS: The prize package consists of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card with an approximate value of $100.00 USD. If prize cannot be awarded due to circumstances beyond the control of the Sponsor or Prize Supplier, no substitute prize will be awarded due to the unique nature of the prize. Sponsor and Prize Supplier shall not be liable to the winner or any person claiming through winner for failure to supply the prize or any part thereof, by reason of any acts of God, any action(s), regulation(s), order(s) or request(s) by any governmental or quasi-governmental entity (whether or not the action(s), regulations(s), order(s) or request(s) prove(s) to be invalid), equipment failure, utility failure, internet failure, terrorist acts, threatened terrorist acts, air raid, blackout, act of public enemy, earthquake, war (declared or undeclared), fire, flood, epidemic, explosion, unusually severe weather, hurricane, embargo, labor dispute or strike (whether legal or illegal) labor or material shortage, transportation interruption of any kind, work slow-down, civil disturbance, insurrection, riot, or any other cause beyond Sponsor's or Prize Supplier's control (collectively, "Force Majeure Event"). Sponsor shall not be responsible for any cancellations, delays, diversions or substitutions or any act or omissions whatsoever by the performers/events, other transportation companies or any other persons providing any of these services and accommodations to passengers including any results thereof such as changes in services or accommodations necessitated by same.

8. CONDITIONS: By entering the Sweepstakes, entrants agree to be bound by the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions and that Sponsor has the irrevocable right to use in perpetuity entrants' names, user names, likenesses, photographs, voices, home mailing address, biographical and prize information, and entry materials, without notice to entrants and without compensation or obligation, in any and all media now or hereafter known throughout the world, in any manner whatsoever, to advertise and promote Sponsor, its products and services, the Sweepstakes, and for any other purpose except where prohibited by law. Entrant waives the right to assert as a cost of winning a prize any and all costs of verification and redemption or travel to redeem said prize and any liability which might arise from redeeming or seeking to redeem said prize. Sponsor is not responsible for fraudulent calls or emails made to entrants not by the Sponsor. If the Sweepstakes is not capable of running as planned by reason of damage by computer viruses, worms or bugs, tampering, unauthorized intervention, fraud, technical limitations or failures, any Force Majeure Event or any other cause which, in the sole opinion of Sponsor, could corrupt, compromise, undermine or otherwise affect the administration, security, fairness, integrity, viability or proper conduct of the Sweepstakes, Sponsor reserves the right, in its sole and absolute discretion, to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend all or any part of the Sweepstakes, and to select a winner from among all eligible entries received by Sponsor up until the time of such cancellation, termination, modification or suspension, as applicable. Sponsor reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any individual that (i) tampers or attempts to tamper with the entry process or the operations of this Sweepstakes in any manner, (ii) violates the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions or (iii) acts in an unsportsmanlike or disruptive manner, or with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any other person. CAUTION: ANY ATTEMPT BY AN ENTRANT OR ANY OTHER INDIVIDUAL TO DELIBERATELY DAMAGE OR UNDERMINE THE LEGITIMATE OPERATION OF THIS SWEEPSTAKES IS A VIOLATION OF CRIMINAL AND CIVIL LAWS. SHOULD SUCH AN ATTEMPT BE MADE, SPONSOR RESERVES THE RIGHT TO SEEK CIVIL AND/OR CRIMINAL PROSECUTION AND/OR DAMAGES FROM ANY SUCH PERSON TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW. Any expenses and receipt and use of the prize and federal, state and local taxes and fees applicable in connection with the prize awarded are the sole responsibility of the winner. An IRS Form 1099 will be issued in the name of the winner for the actual value of the prize received. This Sweepstakes is subject to all federal, state and local laws of the United States. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED. Sponsor, Prize Supplier, and their respective officers, directors, parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries and advertising and promotion agencies, employees, representatives and agents are not responsible for and shall not be liable for (i) any injuries, losses or damages of any kind caused by a prize resulting from acceptance, possession or usage of the prize, or (ii) printing, distribution or production errors. Sponsor or its affiliates may rescind any promotion found to contain such errors without liability at its or their sole discretion.

9. SPONSOR: The Sponsor of this contest is VerticalScope Inc. (the owner and operator of AutoGuide.com), 111 Peter Street, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2H1.

Subscribe to our email newsletter and automatically be entered to win.
*Restrictions apply. See offer for details

Get Breaking Automotive News, Reviews and Video in your Facebook Feed!

Already Liked