Road test: Grand Cherokee Laredo

For years, if one needed to get to a normally inaccessible fishing hole, there was but one choice of vehicle -a Jeep. True, the likes of a Hummer or Toyota 4Runner might do the job, but not with the same single-minded purpose. The Wrangler was capable of climbing almost vertical grades and wading through knee-deep slop without missing a beat. The problem was that its onroad comportment left a lot to be desired. This is where the Jeep Grand Cherokee came to the fore -it balanced the need for off-road ability with on-road civility, and it boasted better than average towing ability. It was a true utility vehicle.

The 2011 edition of the Grand Cherokee is a radically different ride from it predecessors, but it still boonie bashes with the best of them. The difference is that it now does it with so much more refinement. Not only is the power more refined, the interior has more in common with a luxury car than an SUV.

Slip behind the Laredo X’s wheel and the use of soft-touch materials, bright accents and a fit and finish that’s as good as anything offered transforms it from passable to positively swanky. It also comes with a wealth of standard equipment -everything from automatic climate control and a needed backup system that includes a camera to eight-way power heated and leather-trimmed seats. The latter, regardless of where the Grand is being driven, deliver wonderful support and the correct driving position -tilt and telescopic steering is standard.

Likewise, the dashboard instrumentation is bright and well conceived, right up to the Electronic Vehicle Information Centre (EVIC) and its 6.5-inch touchscreen. It provides quick and easy access to a wide range of features and information, including the UConnect handsfree system and audio functions. On that note, the sound system is superb as the ninespeaker Alpine audio package includes Sirius satellite radio and a 30-gigabyte hard drive, which is enough to store 6,700 songs.

The rear seat and cargo area are also up to snuff. There is a ton of rear-seat legroom, enough width to accommodate three adults and 35.1 cubic feet of cargo space. Fold the rear seats down and capacity blossoms to 68.7 cu. ft.

The Grand Cherokee also boasts a surprisingly quiet ride for what is essentially a box. Credit goes to a stiffer body and the use of laminated windshield and front-side window glass.

Perhaps the biggest step forward is the introduction of a base engine that is a viable alternative to the perennially favoured V8. True, the V8 delivers more brawn, but, for all but those who need to tow a large, heavy trailer, the new 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 will be more than enough. It is a sweetie that delivers 290 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, 90% of which is available from 1,600 rpm. This and the five-speed automatic transmission deliver a spirited drive. Hammer the gas and the Laredo X scoots to 100 kilometres an hour in 8.6 seconds, which is pretty good for a 2,000-kilogram sled. The transmission is also well sorted, shifting smoothly and holding the right gear when the Cherokee is pushed through a corner or descending a hill.

The Laredo’s power is put to pavement through Jeep’s Quadra-Trac I all-wheel-drive system. This is an on-demand system that shuttles power around as necessary in a completely seamless fashion. However, it is well worth the money ($695) to upgrade to the op-tional Quadra-Trac II system, which includes a low-range transfer case (it has a torque multiplication of 2.72: 1) as well as Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system. This last bit allows the driver to select the type of terrain being negotiated -the system then tailors the drive and power distribution accordingly, which renders the Grand Cherokee all but unstoppable.

The revised suspension, which is now fully independent, rides out a series of switchbacks with limited body roll and minimal understeer. Likewise, the feel and feedback afforded by the steering is also much better than the SUV norm -turn-in is crisp and it is perfectly weighted regardless of speed. As for the off-road side, the Grand is as solid as ever. Short front and rear overhangs bring generous approach and departure angles, the suspension has plenty of travel and there’s ample ground clearance. A quick jaunt down a trail saw the Laredo X navigate small boulders, ruts and side hills without missing a beat.

The latest Jeep Grand Cherokee is better than any that went before it. Not only does it have better on-road manners and the same off-road tenacity, it now comes with a V6 engine that’s sweet enough to make the optional V8 gas guzzler obsolete. All of this means the Grand Cherokee remains the benchmark in its highly competitive segment.


Type of vehicle All-wheel-drive mid-sized SUV

Engine 3.6L DOHC V6

Power 290 hp @ 6,350 rpm; 260 lb-ft of torque @ 4,300 rpm

Transmission Five-speed automatic

Brakes Four-wheel disc with ABS

Tires P265/60R18

Price: base/as tested $37,995/$43,690

Destination charge $1,400

Transport Canada fuel economy L/100 km 13 city, 8.9 hwy.

Standard features Dual-zone automatic climate control, power door locks, windows and heated mirrors, cruise control, eight-way power driver and passenger leather seats with adjustable lumbar, heated front seats, tilt and telescopic steering, vehicle information centre with 6.5-inch touchscreen, AM/FM/CD/MP3/Sirius audio system with nine speakers, auxiliary input jack and 30-gigabyte hard drive, reverse-sensing system with camera, 115-volt outlet, UConnect with Bluetooth, Homelink, remote starter Options All-weather capability group ($695), includes Quadra-Trac II, Selec-Terrain and tow hooks

Photograph by: Chrysler, handout