• A Whole New Direction: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

It has not been an easy couple of years for the third member of America’s big three. Their products were lame and their profits were even worse, not to mention public perception after the bailout wasn’t that good. While General Motors and Ford have been dominating with new vehicles, Chrysler has been laying low with the same old stuff. Needless to say, this machine has been a long time coming.

With 2010 comes a whole new machine, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, a stable in the Chrysler lineup for years, redone and ready to dominate the competition. Not that there is much competition for a full size off-road SUV.

Taking cues from the new Dodge Ram, the 2011 Grand Cherokee takes them in a whole new direction that results in one of the best interiors money can buy. Not to mention a vehicle that is quiet and refined on the road, but hard and aggressive in the rough stuff, not that we were able to go in any.

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This is no denying that the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is a good looking brute. Mean, tough, and boasting a brutish look, the Jeep has the same charm as a very handsome gentleman lumberjack. The new model keeps the same seven-slot grille – which are in the headlights as well if you look hard enough – and squared-off fender arches. Narrow headlights that give the vehicle an upright look cap off the front fascia. The overhangs are short on the front and back and are perfect for going off-road. It’s clear that the Grand Cherokee was meant to stand out from the crowd and in good way.

If you thought the front was good, wait until you see the new Grand Cherokee from the side. The B- and C-pillars are blacked out, helping the look of the slanted rear bodywork. The splashes of chrome touches on the door handles, side mirrors, and the roof rack give the Jeep a shining look in the bright sunlight. Usually, we bash American car companies for their 1950s chrome look, but Chrysler – who aren’t exactly known for restraint – did a great job.

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Our test Jeep came with a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 that put out around 360 horsepower. The motor is just miles ahead of the V8 engines that were in the previous generation Jeep models and there was a perfect amount of power to move the 5,000 pound Grand Cherokee. Sitting in the cabin, the V8 gives off a noise that is deep and inspiring, but never too loud unless provoked. Stomp on the accelerator and the vehicle moves off the line in a big hurry. It’s hard to imagine what the SRT version will be like.

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The 5.7-liter motor came with a two-speed NV245 transfer case with Quadra-Drive II that uses hydraulic clutch packs on the front and rear differentials. To get very complicated and somewhat boring, the pumps activate the system when wheel-speed disparities allow the rotors to turn relative to their housings. We’re not sure what all that means, but it sure does sound nice.

The system has a whole load of settings, including ride-height adjustments and a Land Rover-like terrain adjustment knob. The Grand Cherokee can be made to work on any terrain, as the system can be set for rain, snow, sand, and rock. There is rear-locking differential for hill descents and plenty of clearance for driving through rivers.

While all this sounds well and good, we never had the chance to drive the machine off-road. We were limited to a few hours with the Grand Cherokee, thanks to a local dealership, but we’re sure it all works wonderfully.

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We did have enough time with the Jeep on the road to say that it was as stunning as one could expect from a truck. The suspension is wonderful, as it soaks up the bumps and has very minimal body roll. This is the way an SUV should be, not those fake soft crossovers that give soccer moms a high up ride. The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is miles ahead of the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon on the pavement.

Driving the Grand Cherokee at highway speeds was equally as impressive, as Chrysler has done a magnificent job at taking away any unwanted road, tire, and wind noise. That’s not to say the noise isn’t there if you don’t want it. Floor the pedal connected to the big 5.7-liter V8 and there is a loud powerful noise that grumbles through the cabin.

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Step inside the Grand Cherokee and you’re washed in soft leather, easy to read buttons, and an overall feel of quality that we haven’t seen on Jeep products in some time. Our Limited test vehicle came with leather seats and wood touches on the dash. Rub your hands over the plastics and take the time to look around and it’s clear the Chrysler has really busted hump on a quality finish that is on par with BMW and Mercedes.

The seats in the Grand Cherokee Limited were soft and supportive and offered power adjustments and lumber support. The display was the same setup that we had on the Challenger, just without the satellite navigation. The buttons were easy to read and the instrument panel is clear and just the right size.

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Jeep wants nearly $43,000 for the new 2011 Grand Cherokee Limited with the 5.7-liter motor, and that’s a pretty penny to say the least. The price can even go higher with the rear-seat entertainment system and satellite navigation, so those with shallow pockets might want to look elsewhere. Out of all the motors, we would easily recommend the 5.7-liter Hemi, as it gives out a substantial amount of power with decent mileage. With an SRT version coming, those who like sports car speed in a massive vehicle will be in heaven, but for the normal folks, the base V8 is perfect.

What Chrysler has done with the 2011 Jeep Cherokee is something that we would have laughed at months ago. There aren’t many vehicles out there that can perform like it, and Ford and General Motors need to take notice. We would still take the Range Rover over the Jeep, but that’s only if we had the extra cash. Besides the English brute, the new Jeep is the king of the mountain and, for the first time in a long time, king of the road as well.

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