So what's different in 2011 I hear you ask? Well, finally, without any doubt, Jeep has delivered the goods. The WK model Grand Cherokee is a fabulous vehicle and brushes aside all previous models and warrants serious consideration from anyone in the market for a prestige four-wheel drive wagon. Until you drive the new Grand Cherokee, some skepticism may remain, but once driven, all is forgiven. This is the real deal. It is not perfect, but there is nothing that you can't learn to live with very quickly - perhaps one bugbear that takes a little longer is that Jeep still persist with an antiquated foot brake in lieu of a handbrake. In the overall package that Jeep has presented this is minor, as this Grand Cherokee is so improved in every department - build quality, modern exterior, neat cabin with prestige touches - and of course its new powerplants are all noteworthy. The result is a car that rides, drives and handles extremely well both on and off road. It is stating the obvious that much thought, testing and evaluation has gone into this vehicle.
Models and value
Jeep threw away the guide when they priced the Grand Cherokee. The starting price of $45,000 for the V6-powered Laredo is a steal! The Grand Cherokee oozes class and has a distinctive prestige look, slightly reminiscent of the BMW X5 but at half the price. While modestly priced, it wants for little, with a host of new and improved technology that in a logical world would have attracted a hefty price jump. Standard equipment in the Laredo includes dual zone temperature control, media centre with touchscreen, 30GB hard drive and voice command, 6 speaker audio system, tyre pressure monitoring system, electronic vehicle information centre, Electronic Stability Control with Brake Assist, all-speed Traction Control, Electronic Roll Mitigation, rain brake support, ready alert braking and trailer-sway control and 18-inch wheels.
The only options are Jeep's new air suspension ($2500) and premium paint (add $450). Step up to the Limited and the V6 is $55,000, while the 5.7-litre V8 adds a further $5000. In terms of extra kit, the extra price is justified, with the Limited gaining front and rear parking sensors, 20-inch alloys and extra creature comforts. The Grand Cherokee is a five seater, with room for three adults to travel comfortably in the 60/40 split rear seat. Premium options include a panoramic sunroof, air suspension and powered tailgate and heated steering wheel. All models are matched to a five-speed auto transmission. The range topping Overland is priced at $65,500 and includes all of the above kit. The only option offered is rear seat DVD screens.
Two engines, two 4x4 systems
The Grand Cherokee is available with two engine options - the new 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 and an improved 5.7-litre Hemi V8. The V6 is the standard engine and delivers 210kW of power at 6350rpm and 347Nm of torque at 4300rpm. It is coupled with the proven W5A580 five-speed automatic steptronic style transmission that delivers smooth shifts and optimum fuel consumption. V6 equipped Grand Cherokees have a towing capacity up to 2268kg. The 5.7-litre Hemi V8 delivers 259kW of power at 5200rpm and 520Nm of torque at 4200rpm. Its fuel saving Multi-Displacement System (MDS) seamlessly alternates between smooth, efficient four-cylinder mode when less power is needed and V8 mode when power is in demand. This optimises fuel consumption when V8 power is not required, without sacrificing vehicle performance or capability.
Our test vehicle was a V8 Limited and in practice this device proved efficient to the extent that even with some spirited driving, fuel consumption averaged in the low 13-litre per 100km range. The Hemi powered Grand Cherokee has a towing capacity up to 3500kg. The Jeep Grand Cherokee is available with two 4x4 systems - Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive II. Quadra-Trac II's two-speed transfer case uses input from a variety of sensors in order to determine tyre slip at the earliest possible moment and take corrective action. When tyre slippage is detected, as much as 100 percent of available torque is instantly routed to the axle with the most traction. Quadra-Drive II, with a rear Electronic Limited-slip Differential (ELSD), delivers extra tractive capability. The system instantly detects tyre slip and smoothly distributes engine torque to tyres with traction. In some cases, the vehicle will anticipate low traction and adjust in order to proactively limit or eliminate slip.
Both 4x4 systems come with the new Selec-Terrain traction control system that works similarly to Land Rover's Terrain Response. The system provides five settings based on terrain type (snow, sport, auto, sand/mud, and rock) which the driver chooses with a rotary dial in the centre console. This feature electronically coordinates up to 12 different powertrain, braking and suspension systems, including throttle control, transmission shift, transfer case, Traction Control and Electronic Stability Control. Other 4x4 support systems include hill start assist and hill descent control.
Driving Our test vehicle was the Limited 5.7-litre V8 equipped with many convenience options, including panoramic sunroof and Quadra-Lift, Jeep's air suspension system. The driving position is comfortable with power adjustable seat, power adjust steering column and overall excellent visibility. The Hemi engine remains a favourite and when asked the question, easily powers up hills, overtakes and generally impresses. Its fuel displacement system also proved effective and while cruising on highways, the engine dropped back into 4-cylinder mode with little discernable notice in power drop, but a noticeable impact at the fuel pump.
The independent suspension also delivers a quantum leap for Jeep, being responsive, compliant and refined. Jeep's air suspension system is also a beauty, providing a total of 104mm of lift adjustment. Quadra-Lift operates automatically or may be activated manually. There is a parking mode (lowers the vehicle 38mm), normal ride height of 205mm, and two off road lifts, the first adding 33mm to 238mm and the second off road mode adding an additional 66mm for 271mm of ground clearance. Ground clearance has been a problem in past Grand Cherokees, and it was interesting to observe that with the highest off road setting selected, the vehicle could be driven briskly in high range to overcome an obstacle. In a similar test with the Land Rover Discovery 4, we found that as soon as a brisk speed was achieved, the height advantage dropped. In this regard, the Jeep system was far more effective off road.
In low range, 40km/h is the limited speed for off road mode. At highway speeds, the suspension may drop into aero mode, which lowers the vehicle a further 13mm below normal ride height (205mm) and aims to deliver optimal performance and fuel consumption. In normal on road driving conditions, Selec-Terrain is set on auto, but for a more spirited driving, sport can be selected. The Grand Cherokee is stable and despite some tailend dancing over corrugations has a well-sorted suspension. One other option that was certainly a hit at the supermarket was the power opening/closing rear tailgate. With a click of the key the tailgate powered open for easy unloading of shopping into the spacious cargo area. Similarly, with a dirty tailgate, another click had the door self closing. Great stuff for the lazy! The Grand Cherokee clearly has the Land Rover Discovery and Toyota Prado in its sights, and with a clear price advantage, it is a package that has a luxury feel without the financial pain.