by Mark • see Maciej's test drive, following
I was at an event where you could drive the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokees and test them against the Lexus RX350. The fit and finish was very nice on all models. Even the basic Laredo models seemed to all be fitted with dark wood trim and the Overland and Limited with more of a red rose wood; the wood was real.
The back seat seems a lot bigger than expected; and the middle rear seat is actually comfortable now. The powered rear lift gate is a nice addition, although the button to close the lift gate is on the inside left of the trunk and not on the lift gate, which seems like an awkward location (it is also in the key fob). The spare tire is now under the rear cargo cover and not under the car, via a crank system.
The door handles were really nice, and in better locations. The door locks "lock" flush to the door sills now, which always bothered me because I like to rest my arm on the door sill when the window is down.
The steering wheel was really nice on all models. The Overland's wood steering wheel was the best, because of the wood. It was also very thick, like a BMW 5 series or X5/X6 steering wheel. The leather wrapped wheel in the Limited and Laredo models seemed to be high quality and reminds me of the leather in my Audi.
The air conditioned seats were a plus, because it was 100° on the day of the test and we drove with the windows down. I think it helps Jeep compete in the luxury class. The buttons were also very intuitive and easy to read.
I saw Jeeps with rear seat entertainment systems (roof mounted) and head rest TVs do not appear to be an option. So if you opt for the panorama roof, you will forgo an entertainment package. (Or vice versa.)
The Overland seats feature piping and look different than the Limited seats. The Limited seats were all smooth leather looking, the Overland's looked much tighter, and were perforated for ventilation. The Laredo seats were cloth and have a graphical line art on them.
The V6 engine was good and on the course was not at a disadvantage compared to the V8, but the power of the V8 is immediate and undeniable.
A few days ago I, along with other local Chrysler dealership staff, had the opportunity to see and try out the new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee. This is a training session that manufacturers set up for dealership sales staff every time a significant new model is introduced or redesigned. We were thoroughly impressed with what we saw.
The exterior styling of the Jeep is a big departure from anything Jeep has done previously. The front carries the traditional Jeep seven slot grille, but past that you could easily mistake it for a European luxury SUV that wouldn't look out of place in a valet spot at a trendy Beverly Hills restaurant or hotel. The big sculpted but smooth fenders define the sides without being too bulky or truckish looking, and the chrome window trim outlining elegant side profile gives it an Audi-esque look.
For a second I though the two Grand Cherokees sitting in the parking lot waiting for us were a pair of Audi Q7s. The rear end is stylish as well, once again looking like it could wear a European luxury badge. Attention to detail is evident everywhere, including in the headlights where the traditional Jeep front (the logo with the seven slot grille) is actually etched into the lenses.
Inside the interior impressed everyone too. Apparently the designers spent as much time designing the air vents in this generation GC as they did on the entire interior of the previous generation GC. And it shows.
Gone are miles of grainy plastics, replaced with quality materials and fabrics, a beautiful gauge cluster, and the luxurious looking Selec-Terrain control pad between the centre armrest and the shifter, reminiscent of the Audi's MMI system in location, feel, and appearance. Driving position is comfortable, and I actually found better support in the Laredo's cloth seats than in the Overland's leather seats.
Rear legroom is very good, probably due to a 5 inch increase in wheelbase. Passive Entry and Keyless Go (you can leave your keys in your pocket to get in, start, stop, and lock the vehicle) are now standard on every model (at least in Canada) and so is dual zone climate control, Jeep's removable cargo area LED flashlight, power 8 way driver's seat, and the whole set of airbags.
The spare tire has been relocated inside, but the trunk floor appears to be of same height as before. One nice touch is the cargo hatch glass that has been redesigned to close softly and shut on its own after being pushed down, instead of being slammed like in the previous versions.
This new model has some new noise reducing features too. The doors don't sound tinny, the engine compartment has heavy duty looking seals around the hood to minimize any emitting noise, and the outer fender wells have some sort of synthetic carpeting. Yes you read that correctly; if you put your hand in the outer wheel wells, you'll feel the same type of synthetic material that you'd normally find lining vehicle trunks.
The most impressive feature by far on this model would be the available Quadra Lift air suspension. With the suspension fully lifted, this Jeep's stance reminded me of the Volkswagen Touareg [which has a similar feature], sleek body sitting high up with massive gaps between the fenders and the relatively low profile tires. Between the Park mode where the GC sits 1.5" below the normal ride height, and the Off Road 2 mode where it sits 2.8" above the normal ride height, there is 4.3" of height difference. For off-road guys who don't want to upset their wives by installing crazy lift kits in their new SUVs, this seems like a perfect compromise.
One thing I'd be weary of is how well this suspension lasts over the years. It brings to mind all the old Range Rovers that are being converted from air suspension to coil springs. I also hope that these GC's don't end up looking like the old Lincolns from the 1990s with their failed air suspensions causing the ends to sag and drag on the road.
Overall I'm mostly pleased with the way this GC looks in and out. It definitely has the style to compete with the best, and it's perfect for those who want luxury without showing off in a European luxury SUV, or massive domestic SUVs like the Navigator or Escalade. I think Jeep has a winner on its hands. The only thing better would be to equip it with a clean diesel. I can't wait until these hit our showrooms.
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