It's been a while since anything really good came out of Jeep but the tide has turned with the arrival this week of a new generation Grand Cherokee that offers almost unbeatable value in the medium large SUV segment with enhanced engines, off road capability and generous specification. No longer built in Austria, Grand Cherokee is an all-American effort with help from Mercedes-Benz, a former joint venture partner.
Three models will be available, Laredo V6 at $45,000, Limited V6 at $55,000 and V8 Overland at $69,500. A diesel engine variant is due later this year. These prices compare more than favourably with the competition including Toyota Prado, Pajero, and vehicles from BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
It must be remembered that the Grand Cherokee is a much more capable off roader than any of its competitors and with the new model, better specified with goodies like heated front seats, xenon headlights, 18-inch alloys, reversing camera, keyless go and premium audio standard on the entry level Laredo.
Explore the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee range
With the new body and chassis come two 'new' petrol engines and five speed automatic transmission as well as a range of clever off road technology aimed at making driving in the dirt easier and safer as well as more comfortable.
There are two 4x4 systems, Quadra-Trak II and the more sophisticated Quadra-Drive II with an electronic rear limited slip differential on the top spec' models.
Jeep has gone for a drive select system similar to Land Rover and Ranger Rovers called SelecTerrain that modifies settings on 12 vehicle functions to suit certain driving environments such as sand, mud, rocks, sport and snow.
It's selected by a console mounted dial. Hill descent control is also fitted while Quadra-Lift air suspension is available, standard on the tip line model. Suspension is a new independent system front and rear designed to aid off road driving while offering fine control on sealed surfaces.
Big efforts were made to cut noise and vibration which sees the suspension mounted on special cradles front and rear and extensive use of acoustic liners. The engines are a 3.6-litre Pentastar petrol V6 with variable valve timing on the inlet and exhaust as well as double overhead camshafts per bank. It is good for 210kW/347Nm output and as low as 11.4-litres/100km fuel economy.
The 5.7-litre petrol V8 is a revamp of the previous Hemi OHV design again with variable valve timing both sides and cylinder deactivation to cut fuel use. It's good for 259kW/520Nm output and 14.1-litres/100km.
The handsome new Grand Cherokee is an evolutionary design that has discernible styling links with its forebears but is a much better built product. The GFC has obviously driven home the point that Jeep needed to improve its game and here is the proof.
It's obvious as soon as you sit in the stylish cabin where the standard of fit and finish is up with the Europeans and the quality of components is equally impressive. Jeep has aimed for a "premium experience" for passengers of the new Grand.
The new model has been available in the `states for a few months and has already won accolades and sold up a storm. It's built on a completely new monocoque platform , stronger and lighter than before and offering a longer wheelbase with consequent improved rear seat legreoom. Grand Cherokee will be available in five seater configuration only.
The new chassis, co-developed with Mercedes Benz for its GL Class off roader is designed to give Grand Cherokee a more car-like feel on the road with better ride/handling characteristics and enough feel to make a driver appreciate and want to get into the big `fourbie.'
On road drive feel was benchmarked against the BMW X5. Not only is it better on the road but off road capabilities have also been improved thanks to the new chassis and other major changes under the skin.
On a tough test drive, the new Grand Cherokee proved an impressive beast, particularly the base, 45 grand Laredo. With plenty of power and torque , this engine makes light work of pushing the 2200kg off roader with almost indecent haste and is capable of recording low fuel consumption without really trying. It's all you need for everyday driving and off roading.
We tried the top of the range Overlander which was equally impressive more than matching its competition on the road and blowing it into the weeds off road. We love te new look, the generoud levels of spec' and the size of it. The drive experience lives up to the visual promise.