Road Test: Jeep Grand Cherokee

The Daimler affect on Chrysler continues with the all-new Grand Cherokee now arriving at Jeep dealerships.? In 2005, when Daimler controlled Chrysler, the new Chrysler 300 was designed around the rear-wheel drive unibody structure and suspension components originally developed for the E-Class Mercedes-Benz sedan.? The result was one the best Chrysler sedans ever built.

Although you won?t find it in Jeep brochures or press releases, the new Jeep Grand Cherokee, which started development when Daimler still owned Chrysler, takes advantage of the platform and many components of the Mercedes-Benz M class SUV.

What this means to the Jeep owner is that the Grand Cherokee has independent front and rear axles for the first time. ?Combine that with the 146 percent stiffer body structure and the Grand Cherokee takes on a new personality ? more precise, balanced and with a better road feel.? Jeep engineers also took advantage of the solid construction to reduce noise, vibration and harshness to the levels of some luxury sedans.

While that?s all fine and dandy for everyday driving, hard core Jeepers demand top-level off-road capabilities, and the Jeep engineers didn?t skimp on improvements to the legendary Jeep prowess.

An all-new Quadra-Lift? air suspension system, Selec-Terrain system and 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine are prime elements in the Jeep?s off-road arsenal.? The sophisticated Quadra-Lift suspension provides height control that lowers it to only 6.6 inches ground clearance for easier ingress and egress and then raises it to10.7 inches for the maximum off-road or deep snow clearance.

Jeep offers three 4×4 systems ? Quadra-Trac I? full-time four-wheel drive, Quadra-Trac II? with a computer controlled two-speed transfer case and Quadra-Drive? II with rear Electronic Limited-slip Differential (ELSD).?? The all-new Selec-Terrain traction control system is standard with the Quadra-Trac II and the Quadra-Drive II.? It lets the driver choose the best off-road setting by electronically coordinating up to 12 different powertrain, braking and suspension systems, including throttle control, transmission shift, transfer case, Traction Control and Electronic Stability Control simply by turning the console-mounted dial to match the road conditions.

The near 5,000-pound Jeep flagship is powered by the first-time application of Chrysler?s Pentastar engine as standard equipment.? Rated at 290-hp, the naturally-aspired 3.6-liter V-6 runs on gasoline or ethanol delivering 11 percent better fuel economy than the previous V-6 offering.? The engine accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds.? The EPA estimates fuel economy is 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway for the two-wheel drive and 16/22 for the four-wheel drive.? The combination has a towing capacity of up to 5,000 pounds.

Shoppers looking for more power will want the optional 5.7-liter, 360-hp Hemi V-8.? The Hemi boosts 0 to 60 mph acceleration times to 6.8 seconds, with an increase in towing capacity to 7,400 pounds and with a small fuel economy penalty to 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway.

Jeep has been criticized for only offering a five-speed automatic transmission but we thought it was adequate for the job.? More transmission speeds would mean even smoother operation and better fuel economy, however.? Chrysler recently acquired the license to build eight-speed ZF automatic transmissions in their Kokomo, Indiana plant starting in 2013 and we wouldn?t be surprised to see that transmission end up in the Grand Cherokee.

The new Jeep still looks like a Grand Cherokee but with a sophistication that might come from a couple of years of a top finishing school.? The new body has a much lower coefficient of drag (down from 0.404 to 0.37), and a wider stance creating a more muscular look.

This Jeep is larger than previous generations with a longer wheelbase, width and more interior room, especially in the rear seat.? The fit, finish and luxury upgrades, like heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats and power everything set the Grand Cherokee apart from previous models and put it in the same league as all but the most expensive competitors.? High quality plastics, real wood and soft leather on the trim and seats are sculpted into the best-looking Jeep interior ever.? The design is further enhanced by features like LED lighting, a CommandView? dual-pane sunroof and the other luxury features that define top tier vehicles.

As entertaining as the Grand Cherokee is to drive, it can be just as enjoyable for the passengers or even just sitting in the driveway using optional features like the-20 channel FLO TV?, SIRIUS Backseat TV?, Uconnect? Web high-speed wireless technology, Uconnect navigation and the premium audio system.

Safety features abound with all the latest electronic control systems for stability, braking, rollover prevention and brake traction control.?? There?s even a trailer sway control system, hill start assist, hill decent control and Bi-Xenon headlights with an automatic dimming.? Not yet available, but coming soon are Forward Collision Warning, adaptive cruise control and a blind spot/rear cross path detection system.? We can?t think of any technology the Grand Cherokee doesn?t offer or will offer?for a price.

It?s possible to buy the base model two wheel-drive Laredo for $30,995 including the destination charge, but the upper level Limited and Overland models start at $39,995 and $42,690 respectively.? Pricing tops out just below $50,000 for either of the top models with all option boxes checked.

Although it hasn?t been announced, Jeep is expected to bring back the high performance Grand Cherokee SRT8 in the summer of 2011.? The rumor is that the current 6.1-liter, 420-hp engine will be replaced by a 6.4-liter Hemi with at least 500 horsepower.? That should challenge the 500-hp plus SUVs built by Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Land Rover.

The new Jeep Grand Cherokee certainly raises the bar on American luxury SUVs and makes significant gains on the world benchmark Land Rovers.

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