– Very handsome styling
– Decent cabin space and kit
– Handling on and off the road
– Could be a wee bit quicker
– Pretty darn heavy
– Pricey with options
The American auto industry has been in trouble since the 1980s. But contrary to popular belief, not all the Americans were in trouble. In fact, the Jeep brand has been profitable despite having multiple troubled owners over the past few decades. With models like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, it’s easy to see why. But with the 2011 version, Jeep has taken their best model to a whole new level.
We’ve always considered the first two Grand Cherokee generations to be the most handsome 4x4s out there, combining the looks of a crossover with the capability of an offroader. While Chrysler lost their way in trying to give the square Jeep round headlights the last time, the boxy look is back for its fourth generation and looks better than ever, hiding a growth in overall size that came with switching to an all-new platform vaguely based on that of the Mercedes-Benz ML-Class.
That growth pays dividends in the Grand Cherokee’s cabin volume, as the interior is larger in every dimension. Even with the low roofline, headroom is good, as is legroom both front and rear, although not as abundant as oversized 4x4s such as the Prado or the Pajero. There isn’t any third-row seating either, although the Grand Cherokee was always meant to be a premium 5-seater. The front bucket seats are meaty with moderate bolstering and power adjustability in our Overland tester, while the rear is a 60:40 split-folding bench with three headrests. There is no shortage of uncovered cup-holders in the centre armrests and bottle-holders in all the doors, while the boot area is sizeable, lined with chrome metal strips in the Overland for an upscale look, although you’ll always be worried about scratching that chrome when you throw your mountain bike in there.
Build quality is generally very good, better than Chrysler has ever been. Except for a couple of loose bits and maybe one uneven cabin panel, this is among the most solid vehicles on the market, with good use of leather upholstery, word trim, padded surfaces and soft-touch plastics all over, and hard plastics used only in panels below hip-level. Our Overland specifically came with “Overland” logos on the leather seats and a stitched-leather dashboard. And the chunky thick-rimmed steering wheel is instantly noticeable.
The Overland comes with a good bit of gadgetry, headlined by the touchscreen LCD screen that holds the navigation system, Bluetooth phone and 30GB multimedia hard-drive, all easy to use and even partially voice-controllable. The CD/MP3 stereo with subwoofer sounds good enough, with USB and AUX ports, while a DVD screen is stuck onto the ceiling for rear passengers. Other features in this version include a sunroof, cruise control, seemingly good dual-zone a/c with rear vents, front and side-curtain airbags, ventilated front seats, HID headlights, rain-sensing wipers, rear camera with all-round sensors, cargo net and even a built-in removable torch-light in the boot!
The Grand Cherokee Overland comes with the 5.7-litre “Hemi” V8, now good for 352 hp at 5200 rpm and 520 Nm at 4200 rpm, mated to a 5-speed automatic with manual-shift capability. While this powerful Jeep moves with authority at a press of the throttle, it is pretty heavy at 2307 kilos. Combine that with average low-end torque and an aging transmission, we managed a 0-100 kph time of 7.9 seconds in our January test, making it only slightly quicker that our own 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee with the old 4.7-litre V8, which weighs nearly half-a-ton less. Still, the 2011 Overland’s fuel economy matched that of our less-powerful Jeep, as we burned petrol at a rate of 16.8 litres/100 km.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee remains good to drive on the road. Whether you opt for the Overland with the air suspension or the Laredo with the regular shocks, this Jeep is composed around corners, with moderate body roll at most in the sharpest corners, and none of the floaty rebound that affects more truckish 4x4s. It pretty much drives like a tall crossover, and while it expectedly squeals its 265/50 tyres early in tight turns due to its weight, body control is always good.
All-round visibility is respectable. While the steering is surprisingly firm, it offers only a bit of feedback. The ride quality is fairly compliant, even if mildly on the firm side too due to the 20-inch wheels. Noise insulation is decent up to 100 kph, after which wind noise becomes noticeable. And the brakes are not eye-poppingly strong, but the ABS-assisted four-wheel-discs get the job done okay. We did drive it in heavy rain, and we probably have the invisible all-wheel-drive system to thank for being able to keep doing 130 kph on the wet highway without issues.
The Grand Cherokee remains a class apart by behaving like a crossover on the road, while being as capable as any truck-based 4×4 off the road. It now comes with a terrain-select system to choose between Sand/Mud, Snow, Rock and Sport, with a separate button to engage low-range gearing. We bashed some serious dunes with the V6-powered Laredo model at an earlier event, and the V8-powered Overland just ups the ante with a height-adjustable suspension system that adds several inches of ground clearance at the touch of a button. All-independent suspension is not a problem when you can just power through it all.
The all-new Jeep Grand Cherokee is one of the best 4×4 vehicles we’ve ever tested in terms of balancing on-road dynamics, off-road prowess, premium feel and V8 power. Nothing else comes close in its price range. With the latest iterations of the Porsche Cayenne, the Ford Explorer and the VW Touareg losing their low-range gearing, we assume only Land Rover’s trucks are left as viable competitors, as none in the Japanese set are up to the mark in road handling. So yes, we’ll go ahead and say it — the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is a value-meal alternative to a Range Rover Sport.