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First Look: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

SAN FRANCISCO—Chrysler Group has definitely (and finally) hit one out of the ballpark. With the launch of the 2011 Grand Cherokee, Jeep has managed to create a full-size SUV that is decidedly more luxurious, capable and fuel efficient than the previous version.

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee tackles the trail

An elusive trifecta that Jeep manages with a complete redesign and an all-new Pentastar V-6 engine. The only carry-overs from the previous generation Grand Cherokee include the 5.7-liter HEMI and the four-wheel drive system.

The exterior gets cleaned up and though it maintains the Jeep signature 7-slot grill, it gains some elegance that reminds you of the BMW X5 if you look at it from the rear. The interior gets a huge lift with standard features like 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat, an info screen a la Audi between the speedometer and tachometer and spruced up brushed silver finishes.

Whether you opt for the base Laredo ($30,995) or the completely stacked Overland ($42,995), the interior surfaces are soft to touch and attractive. From basic cloth to leather with reverse-colored piping, the seating surfaces are attractive across the lineup, and the base center stack is just as well planned as the stack containing the optional navigation system.

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee dash

All trims have the option of 4×2 or 4×4 drivetrains as well as the choice between the new V-6 that delivers 290 horsepower and the tried-and-true 5.7-liter Multi-Displacement System-equipped (MDS) HEMI V-8 that delivers 360 horsepower. While both engines are quite capable, the V-6 is a particular favorite that handles acceleration well, tows up to 5,000 pounds and delivers an 11 percent improvement in fuel economy over the outgoing V6 with ratings of 18 city / 23 highway miles per gallon (MPG). During a 2-hour drive in the 2WD model in combined conditions (and a fair amount of gunning it), I averaged 20.8 mpg.

While the capability of the V-8 grows with the ability to tow up to 7,000 pounds, fuel economy dips to 14/20 mpg (2WD) and 13/19 (4WD). It will be interesting to see how the MDS-equipped HEMI fares in extended real-world highway-mile testing, with the suspension lowered in Sport mode.

One downer, however: No plans have been announced to bring a diesel engine Stateside for this vehicle. (With Federal fuel economy requirements tightening, we’re likely to see a diesel-equipped Grand Cherokee by the 2016 model year.)

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee rear quarter view

On road, the Grand Cherokee is a competent cruiser, managing highways and curvy roads equally well. Off road, new optional systems such as Selec-Terrain (which gives driving modes of Sand/Mud, Sport, Auto, Snow and Rock) and the three 4×4 systems (Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive II) allow this luxurious cruiser to turn into a go-anywhere vehicle.

Additionally, for 2011 the Grand Cherokee offers 45 safety and security features—most of which are standard—including full-length side-curtain airbags, remote keyless entry, four-wheel brake traction control, electronic stability control and electronic roll mitigation. Thus it shouldn’t be a surprise that this vehicle has already been named an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety “Top Safety Pick.”

The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee is equally at home on the trail as it is on the highway. And, the fact that it has stunning good looks makes it equally parkable in your driveway or with a valet at a nice hotel. So, if you’re looking for a single go-everywhere, do-everything cruiser, this all-new full-size SUV just might be “the one.”

- Jill Ciminillo

Editor’s Note: Jill’s blog, Drive She Said, has a slew of additional 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee pics

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