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Auto Corner: Half Jeep, Half Mercedes, All Good: the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

13 September 2010   John Dickerson
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is more refined than ever, but still a bruiser off road.
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The sleeker, redesigned Grand Cherokee maintains characteristic Jeep headlights and grille.

Imagine a BMW X5 that’s more capable off-road than a Land Rover, and costs $20,000 less than either. Apparently, Jeep’s engineers (and Mercedes’ too, thanks to their short-lived marriage) imagined exactly such a vehicle. And they have created it, in the 2011 Grand Cherokee.

You may recall from Auto History 101 that Jeep created the mainstream SUV in the 1980’s with its capable but comfortable Jeep Cherokee. Then they upped the luxury ante with the Grand Cherokee of the 1990’s.

Those Grand Cherokees slowly waned out of popularity. Now Jeep has completely re-concocted its flagship, and the result is an attractive SUV that absolutely rocks in the dirt and also handles like a German sedan on the asphalt.

The re-brewed Grand Cherokee is a breathtaking, performance-infused family hauler -- a mainstream SUV that is truly capable off road, takes sports cars off the line and dominates luxury nameplate SUV’s.

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The irony is that Jeep perfected this blend just after most American buyers turned their sights away from capable SUV’s, toward car-based crossovers. Since the Grand Cherokee doesn’t offer a third-row, it won’t appeal to the “family” buyers flocking to Honda Pilots. However, for SUV buyers who don’t need a third row, there may not be a better vehicle on the market today than the new Grand Cherokee.

With a base sticker of $30,000, the Grand Cherokee is priced well below competing models from Land Rover, Volvo and Cadillac, but when it comes to performance – both on and off road -- the high-end ($41,000) Grand Cherokee bests every one of those competitors, including the Land Rover in the dirt and the Cadillac on the pavement. This Jeep’s muscular engine and composed handling on the pavement surprised me time and again.

That engineering success is largely due to adjustable suspension. Grand Cherokee drivers can now raise and lower the 4,850-pound SUV with the simple push of a button (much like Land Rover’s Terrain Response dial). Suspension options include Rock, Snow, Sand/Mud and Sport modes. The Jeep’s transmission and suspension are also brilliant when left in “Auto” mode. Push the “Park” button, and the Grand Cherokee lowers itself like a kneeling camel to accept its passengers.

Jeep’s 290-horsepower Pentastar V-6 offers more than enough power for most drivers. Those expecting to tow loads more than 5,000 pounds can opt for the HEMI V-8, a rumbling 360-horsepower monster that transforms the Grand Cherokee into a neck-snapping 4x4.

Inside, the Grand Cherokee is more civilized than ever. It offers a much-needed additional four inches of legroom for backseat passengers. The interior is markedly upscale compared to the GMC Acadia or even the Cadillac SRX.

Driver and passengers enjoy a refined and restrained presentation of high-quality luxury materials, including beautiful navigation and DVD screens as well as optional TV and DVD for backseat passengers.

In all, SUV buyers who don’t require a third-row simply must test the new Grand Cherokee. They will not be disappointed.

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Inside, the all-new Grand Cherokee wraps driver and passengers in one of the
finest SUV interiors available.

© 2010 John Dickerson

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