Road test: 2011 Jeep Cherokee
The Jeep Grand Cherokee has ruled the SUV world for many years. It brought a balanced blend of on-road manners and off-road tenacity. However, the outgoing model was beginning to show its age. While the 2011 model does not stray too far stylistically, it represents a quantum improvement from just about every other perspective, especially in terms of refinement and sophistication.
In the past, I haven’t thought very highly of Jeep interiors. The materials always looked as though they belonged in a lesser ride. However, the new, range-topping Grand Cherokee Overland edition is plush to the point of opulent. The dash is wrapped in leather, the eight-way power leather front buckets are heated and cooled, the steering wheel is warmed, there’s a two-panel power sunroof, a superior 506-watt sound system and a top-notch navigation system with backup camera. The latter uses a 30-gigabyte hard drive to store all of the navigation’s information while leaving enough free space to store one’s personal music collection — all 4,250 songs!
Move rearward to the heated back seat and enjoy enough legroom, headroom and width to accommodate three adults comfortably. The rear window opens independently of the power tailgate and the cargo area has tie-downs, grocery bag hooks and a privacy cover. There’s also 35.1 cubic feet of space with the rear seats up and 68.7 cu. ft. when they’re folded flat.
The new Grand is a quiet ride thanks to the laminated windshield and front side windows along with a platform that is 146% stiffer torsionally than the previous model. This stiffness banishes rattles and squeaks, even when torquing the body in off-road situations.
The Overland is offered with two different engines. The tester arrived with a 5.7-litre V8 that dishes out 360 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque at 4,250 rpm, which is enough to motivate the SUV to 100 kilometres an hour in 7.1 seconds. It also features Jeep’s Multi-Displacement System (MDS), which helps fuel economy by shutting down four of the eight cylinders when the loads are light. This engine works very nicely, but, having driven the new Pentastar 3.6L DOHC V6, I would stick with it unless towing capacity (3,266 kilograms) is a priority. The V6 has plenty of power (290 hp and 260 lb-ft torque) and decent fuel economy — 8.9 litres per 100 km on the highway and 13 L/100 km in the city versus the V8’s 10.6 and 15.7 L/100 km, respectively.
In either case, the Overland’s power is relayed to the road through a five-speed automatic transmission and Jeep’s Quadra-Trac II all-wheel-drive system. The transmission slips through its gears smoothly and can be shifted manually. There’s also a tow/haul button. While designed to ease trailer towing, it has a side benefit — when selected, it locks out the torque converter and stretches out the shift points, which makes for a sportier drive. The Quadra-Trac II AWD system comes with Selec-Terrain, which allows the driver to tailor its operation according to the nature of the drive. Auto mode is for everyday driving; snow mode is tuned to minimize oversteer and maximize traction; sand/ mud allows the wheels to spin more — which is ideal when traversing a loose, shifting surface — while the rock mode, which can only be selected after engaging 4Lo, allows the Grand to amble down boulder-strewn trails without beating up the undercarriage.
For those more enthusiastic on-road drives, there is also a sport mode that delivers a rear-wheel-drive feel by directing up to 80% of the power to the rear wheels. It also dials back the intervention of the traction nanny, which allows the driver to hang the tail out before it’s reined in by the electronic stability control system. As a package, it works impeccably. It not only gets the power to the wheel(s) that can put the power down, it does so in a completely seamless manner that inspires confidence.
Ride and handling are very good given the Grand’s off-road prowess. A rough trail slides by unnoticed, yet, when pushed through a series of sweeping corners, the suspension effectively limits body roll. Feel and feedback afforded by the variable ratio steering is much better than the SUV norm, with crisp turn-in and a perfect weight regardless of speed.
The Overland comes with P265/50R20 Goodyear tires mounted on attractive alloy rims. However, the spare tire is an issue — it’s a P245/65R18 tire from a different manufacturer (Kumho). The two differently sized tires have the same rolling circumference, which means using the spare will not damage the drivetrain or confuse the electronics. However, if I’m spending $50,000-plus, I want a matching tire.
The new Grand Cherokee took its sweet time arriving, but it was well worth the wait. If you’re looking for a ride with on-road civility and true offroad ability, this Jeep is as good as it gets.
Type of vehicle All-wheel-drive mid-sized SUV
Engine 5.7L OHV V8
Power 360 hp @ 5,150 rpm; 390 lb-ft of torque @ 4,250 rpm
Transmission Five-speed manumatic
Brakes Four-wheel disc with ABS
Price: base/as tested $48,795/$51,795
Destination charge $1,400
Transport Canada fuel economy L/100 km 15.7 city, 10.6 hwy.
Standard features Dual-zone automatic climate control, power door locks, windows and heated mirrors, dual-panel power sunroof, power tilt and telescopic steering wheel with cruise and audio controls, heated/cooled eight-way power driver/ passenger seats with four-way lumbar adjustment, full leather including dash, 506-watt AM/ FM/CD/MP3/Sirius satellite radio with 30GB hard-drive navigation system, 6.5-inch touchscreen, Uconnect, Bluetooth, voice command, audio jack and nine speakers, backup camera, rear washer/ wiper, HomeLink, trip computer, outside temperature readout, compass, keyless entry with push-button start, high-intensity-discharge headlights