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2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee: No Compromises and Lots of Surprises

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A few months ago Chrysler invited me to check out their 2011 refreshed Jeeps at the Chrysler Tech Center in Auburn Hills. With the thought of a Dodge Avenger rental car fresh in my head I didn’t have the highest expectations for what Chrysler was getting ready to show me. Let’s be honest, Chrysler had gone through the ringer, lost a lot of engineering talent, had multiple owners, and had the the weakest vehicle line of any major OEM in the US market. Jeep has a strong customer following and a loyal fan base to keep happy. Could Chrysler deliver a Jeep that could impress even with all of these distractions? Keep reading to find out…


Designing and engineering vehicles is a money hungry process. When the “Carpocalypse” hit Detroit it rattled Ford and decimated GM and Chrysler. No one likes to be embarrassed and nothing was more embarrassing than the bankruptcy filings by GM and Chrysler. It was tough medicine for the Detroit 3 to break the paradigms of the past and design vehicles that people want and only build to actual demand.
The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is the first vehicle for Chrysler to churn out since it went through the Carpocalypse. Naturally, one might expect it to be meager showing given the circumstances. I am here to tell you that Chrysler has proven the naysayers wrong. Jeep Grand Cherokee sales are increasing. November 2010 sales were strong and it wasn’t because of thousands of dollars in incentives or a $199 lease deal.
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As I mentioned earlier, I was skeptical of what Chrysler could turn out but they wanted to prove me wrong. They dropped off a 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4X4 for me to pound pavement in for a week. I was expecting a truck-like ride with that Avenger rental car plastic on the interior. I opened the door and was greeted with a meaty wood and leather steering wheel that made my hands feel small because the wheel was so thick. The steering wheel heated up (even the wood part!) to a nice temperature in case you forgot your gloves. The wood trim graced the instrument panel with excellent fit and finish. There is handsome stitch work across the top of the instrument panel that would make my grandma jealous.
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As I pushed the button to fire up all eight cylinders of the Hemi V8, the suspension started to do a little dance and then wiggled up about an inch in height. A giant knob between the front seats called Selec-Terrain controls the Quadra-Lift air suspension and numerous transmission shift points, transfer case settings, and traction control and stability control settings. Like a child, I quickly played with each setting and raised the vehicle up and down from “Park Mode” to “Off Road Level II” height. There is a total of 4.1 inches of play in the air suspension to aid in tackling rocks or plowing through a creek. This is a great feature to try at a red light and watch the people behind you point at your Grand Cherokee as it enters “Off Road Level II” mode.
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The Grand Cherokee retains a unibody design but don’t mistake this for a crossover utility vehicle. It’s as happy on an off-road trail as it is on the trail to the best parking spot at Target. If you max out the credit card at Target you’ll be OK because a properly equipped Grand Cherokee can tow 7400 pounds. This isn’t your neighbors ‘minivan replacement’ crossover. This is a go anywhere and tow anything beast.
Speaking of beast, the Hemi V8 is a torque monster. It’s paired to a five-speed automatic so fuel economy isn’t great but I guess if you’re buying a V8 you already know that. Chrysler has their new 3.6L V6 also available, which is probably a more logical choice for most people and their wallets. The Hemi slips into four cylinder mode whenever it can in an attempt to sip instead of guzzle gas. The Hemi V8 was quiet on the highway but had an addictive V8 growl under the hood that begged to be let out between red lights. Cruising on the highway was very comfortable due to an extremely quiet cabin. Chrysler left no stone unturned in an effort to offer a quiet Grand Cherokee as people equate the lack of noise in a vehicle with overall quality.
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The rear seat is much improved over previous Grand Cherokees. The Overland model has heated rear seats with significantly more leg room than last year. Rear seat passengers will also enjoy the two row glass moonroof. I know Ford has been big on adding these to their crossovers but I prefer the Grand Cherokee’s design because the glass stays inside the cabin allowing for a much quieter open roof experience.
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Is the Grand Cherokee perfect? There are a few quibbles such as the steering wheel switches on the back of the wheel wobble when pressed and do not feel like the high quality switches found in the rest of the vehicle. Or that the iPod cord is not very user friendly. It’s too short and the connector doesn’t stay snapped in so the music stops playing when you hit a bump. Also, the navigation system is really showing some age. It’s not very intuitive and Chrysler knows this. They are working on adding their CTP system with an 8.4″ touch screen from the new Charger, 300, and Journey to the Grand Cherokee.  The transmission needs a lot of work.  Another gear would likely polish the HEMI up pretty well.  These are all small items and nothing to get too upset about.
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If the Jeep Grand Cherokee is any indication of what Chrysler is capable of producing during difficult times, other OEMs better watch out for what Chrysler can do when financial conditions improve. Jeep fan boys will not be disappointed with this newest Grand Cherokee. It’s a real winner and goes to show that Chrysler is actually capable of designing a vehicle with a nice interior that doesn’t look like that other car you rented from Enterprise.

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