Jeep Brand Lineup – Conquering a Winter Wonderland
Earlier this week Jeep invited us to join them at the base of the snow covered Grand Tetons in Jackson Hole Wyoming. Our mission was to test drive the entire 2011 Jeep lineup in their element – on and off-road in the snow. Something you wouldn’t want to attempt in just any vehicle.
For 2011 there is big news! Sergio Marchionne has rattled the Jeep cage and it is definitely beginning to show in their products. All vehicles received attention; the Patriot, Compass, Liberty, Wrangler and of course the all-new Grand Cherokee.
It’s been said that Sergio loathes incentives and believes that they erode profitability and brand equity. So, instead of building vehicles to a particular price-point with the understanding that they would eventually be the least expensive, highest incentivized option for consumers – it was time to draw a line in the sand and build vehicles that people see real value in. Jeep has decided to build vehicles that consumers want to buy based on product attributes not lowest common denominator. Game on!
The Jeep of Jeeps is of course the Wrangler. Every time I get behind the wheel I grin from ear to ear. I turn into a kid again – eager for adventure and even though I may only be on my way to the post office at least I know I’m capable of going off to far away places… way beyond where the pavement ends. I automatically forgive it for its more crude characteristics because of course, it’s a Jeep. But as I’ll point out later, there are less concessions 2011 Wrangler owners will have to make – less interior noise, much improved ergonomics and more available creature comforts.
Offered in three basic flavors; Sport, Sahara and Rubicon – the X base model is now history. There may not be a new powertrain or drivetrain story to tell (Still the 3.8L V6 and your choice of 6spd manual or 4spd auto) but there are lots of changes to the interior for 2011. The interior door panels are all new and the instrument panel is all-new – all of which give a much more ‘upscale’ feel to the interior. The new interior door panels actually gave us a place to rest our arms while driving – something we could not have done with the simpler 2010 and earlier models that simply offered a ‘grab bar’. With improved ergonomics and upgraded materials… we almost wonder if they are too nice for the ‘purpose-minded’ Wrangler owners?
What we do believe purpose-minded Wrangler owners will appreciate are the available heated-seats and power-heated mirrors (The first time either option has been offered on the Wrangler). We definitely appreciated the heated seats driving through the snow-covered countryside. Another plus for 2011 is the ability to better hear what passengers were saying. NVH has been greatly reduced thanks in part to added insulation. Noise, Vibration and Harshness have traditionally been trademarks of a Wrangler but Jeep has gone too great lengths to dial those characteristics down for 2011. There is significantly reduced interior noise.
Gone are the posers! For those of you looking for the Wrangler image but not the capability, your time is running out – get a 2010 while you still can. We are told that Jeep will not offer a 4X2 (two-wheel-drive) Wrangler for the 2011 model year. Other news for 2011 includes offering a color-keyed (Body-color) hardtop on Sahara models – which makes sense as the Sahara has the body-colored over-fenders. Also, the rear quarter windows on the hardtop have been made larger for enhanced visibility. Overall, we think the improvements to the Wrangler for 2011 were made in good taste and after an extreme off-road experience – down into riverbeds, over huge rocks and up steep muddy embankments – if we definitely, unequivocally had to get to a destination through the worst weather and over the worst terrain – it’s nice to know they still make a vehicle as capable and trustworthy as a Wrangler.
2011 Jeep Compass
Walking up to the new Compass it’s pretty obvious where it gets its good looks. The design team has taken many of the styling cues from the all-new Grand Cherokee and applied them to the Compass. The Compass is one of Jeeps value oriented vehicles and we’re not just talking purchase price but also fuel economy (28mpg hwy).
For 2011 Jeep has upgraded much of the interiors build materials and improved the ride and handling by upgrading the steering and suspension system. In fact, you can now purchase a 2011 Compass that is ‘Trail Rated’ if you check the box for the off-road ‘4×4 package’ with ‘Freedom Drive II’. I didn’t believe it myself until they had me get behind the wheel and actually follow a Wrangler through some pretty serious off road course. At one point dropping into a ravine with the rear left wheel completely off the ground. The approach angle was pretty impressive and the little Compass that could made it through the course illustrating that it too could follow in big brothers footsteps. Jeep says that the Compass joins the Patriot as the ‘most capable’ vehicles in the compact-SUV segment.
2011 Jeep Patriot
Speaking of Patriot, it shares the basic underpinnings, powertrain, and drivetrain as its cousin – the Compass. It also receives the same suspension improvements for 2011. For 2011 the Patriot receives a new front and rear fascia, grille and cladding – bringing the styling cues more inline with the Wrangler, whereas the Compass cues were more inline with the Grand Cherokee. The Patriot will also have about an inch taller ride height on the ‘4×4 package’ versions. Jeep insists that both the Compass and Patriot are 4×4’s as “ALL Jeeps are 4x4s” – even though AutoPacific defines the drivetrain system employed by the Compass and Patriot as All-Wheel-Drive systems. Systems typically found on unitized vehicles with transversely mounted engines and operate all four wheels all the time and do not employ a two-speed transfercase are considered ‘all-wheel-drive’.
2011 Jeep Liberty
Not much to tell in the Liberty camp other than Jeep offering a ‘Jet’ appearance package that suggests a more upscale character or urban emphasis. The Liberty is available in three models – Sport, Renegade and limited. While the Renegade (introduced half way through 2010) is equipped with features that position it between Sport and Limited, there is definitely an emphasis on off-road equipment (skid plates, Hill-Start Assist and Hill-Decent Control).
The Jet appearance package moves the Liberty the other direction – think more urban assault vehicle. The Jet package will add about $1500 bucks to the price of a Liberty Sport or about $1000 to the Liberty Limited model. With the Jet package you will receive ‘smoked’ front headlamps, 20″ polished aluminum wheels, chromed lower fascia opening, exterior mirror caps, body side moldings and unique Jet badges. Offering the Jet package will hopefully keep Liberty sales up for the next year or two.
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Last, but certainly not least, the Jeep Grand Cherokee breathes new life into a flagship that frankly was headed downhill over the last couple generations. We were pleasantly impressed with the 2011 Grand Cherokee and it is easy for us to honestly say that it is the best Grand Cherokee that we have ever driven on or off-road. Smooth and confident the all-new Grand Cherokee had very solid on-road manners and behaved itself as we conquered the creek beds, hills, and slick mud off-road.
When the 1993 Grand Cherokee came out it was definitely a hit and ended up creating this legendary status but the WJ and WK generations that followed seemed like the bean counters had taken over the shop… but all of that is behind us now and it looks like they fired the bean counter!
This all-new Grand Cherokee is refined, well healed, capable and extremely quiet. It also has one of the nicest interiors I’ve ever seen inside a Jeep. The interior build materials are of good quality and have some give to them – they are NOT the hard glossy plastic that never quite seems to line up right with the other pieces of plastic. These Jeep guys were paying attention and got this interior right.
The platform was developed jointly with Mercedes Benz (ML Chassis). I’m told there are 5400 welds in the body alone resulting in 146% torsional stiffness over the WK. This played a big part in reducing NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) and improving vehicle-handling characteristics.
Your choice of 3 4X4 systems are available, a new Jeep Selec-Terrain system with 5 terrain settings and a new Jeep Quadra-Lift air suspension system. The engineering team had originally had the air suspension lines running along the outside of the vehicle exposed to the elements but did eventually decide to relocate those lines and plumb them through the inside of the vehicle before job #1.
The new 3.6L V6 will probably end up being the most popular engine choice. It offers 16/23mpg and 290 horsepower. I found it to be more than adequate and relatively quiet.
Jeep is also offering the Grand Cherokee Overland Summit. Touted as the most luxurious, distinctive, and comprehensively equipped production Jeep vehicle ever. It would seem as though Jeep plans on conquesting more BMW X5 or Mercedes Benz ML owners with this package.
To Read More About the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee:
Overall the experience with the Jeep lineup both on and off road was impressive. It also reminded me of why the Wranger continues as an Icon – its capability always amazes me. It’s now more refined with a couple creature comforts that were never before available. There is a renewed hope thanks to the all-new Grand Cherokee. No more cost reductions and no more excuses. It looks like Jeeps are set to sell based more on product and value and less on price.
I see both the Wrangler and all-new Grand Cherokee as solid products with renewed purpose and I have to give the ‘Trail Rated Jeep Compass’ some well-deserved credit for taking on and conquering the off-road course. If you had told me a week ago that it was that capable off-road I would not have believed it. Pretty amazing.