Jeep Redefined

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    3801Jeep-Grand-Cherokee-4

    New 2011 Grand Cherokee sets bold new standard for brand….

    IMPRESSIVE.

    Yeah, I know – pulling a stunt like that first line is considered taboo for a so-called “credible” journalist. The idea of using all caps to make a point is typically the kind of stuff associated with amateur writers, unless you’re texting, tweeting or posting on Facebook (LOL).

    Even starting a story with a one-word sentence is a little uh, well, how should I put it, “unethical” for some.

    It’s the kind of move that under normal circumstances an editor would immediately mark up in red without even consulting the writer.

    But that’s the point − there’s nothing normal about the all-new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Test driving the SUV kind of moves you to break away from the norm when discussing it, journalism ethics and all.

    Whether you’re talking Jeep or other previous Chrysler vehicles, the new Cherokee shatters a lot of the images people have had of the carmaker in some key areas that could help to redefine the brand.

    “Redefine Jeep”? Yeah, I know − sounds a little crazy even repeating that considering the popularity of the brand and its history. But the new Grand Cherokee has the goods to do it. It’s that nice.

    KEEP IT CLEAN

    Not that the design is so drastically different. While clearly more aggressive than the current Grand Cherokee, the 2011 model still stays true to the SUV’s classic styling. Jeep’s design team said they tried a few approaches when redesigning the vehicle, from an extreme makeover to much more subtle styling cues.

    The end result is a look that falls right where it should − noticeably different than the 2010 model with a much more aggressive stance, but not too far of a stretch where it’ll turn off long-standing fans of the SUV.

    Anything too drastic could have tainted the image of arguably one of the most recognized brands in the world. Striking that right balance with the redesign was critical to not only the Cherokee but to Jeep and Chrysler overall considering the significance of the SUV’s launch.

    Some of the key exterior design features include Jeep’s classic seven-slot grille, blacked out B-pillars that give the SUV a sleeker profile, and optional 20-inch wheels (17 and 18-inch wheels are standard).

    The new model, featured in three trims (Laredo, Limited and Overland), is also available with 3.5 dual chromed exhaust tips.

    LOTS OF LUXURY

    You’ll find the most impressive features of the new Grand Cherokee once you step inside the SUV. The moment you settle in and wrap your hands around that steering wheel (heat optional), you get the sense that there’s something very different about the new Cherokee.

    Drastically different.

    Building on many of the interior design elements first showcased in the 2009 Dodge Ram, the new Grand Cherokee features an interior fit and finish that rivals a lot of premium luxury SUVs.

    In addition to a heated steering wheel, include real wood and leather, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, four-way lumbar controls and a rear back-up camera. The Overland model features leather instrument panel and door trim.

    Strip off the interior badging and you’d be hard-pressed to think you’re even in a Jeep because of how refined the interior appointments are in the new Grand Cherokee.

    Of course, one of the defining elements of “luxury” in a vehicle for a lot of people is space. To improve in that area, Jeep extended the overall length and width of the Cherokee to give it more interior room, which gives the SUV more than four inches of increased rear-seat and leg room and 17 percent more cargo volume.

    The new Cherokee, which goes on sale later this month, also features an optional all-new CommandView dual-pane sunroof that provides twice as much glass surface as a standard sunroof and extends from the windshield to the rear of the vehicle.

     

    Although the rear panel is fixed, it gives rear passengers a nice opening view for sunlight with a power sun shade.

    Other available comfort features include a host of technology features like Uconnect Web, which turns the SUV into a sort of hot spot on wheels for passengers to access the Internet, and an all-new remote power liftgate.

    FIRE HER UP

    The new Cherokee, which features remote start, comes equipped with two engine options – an all new 3.6-liter V6 that delivers 290 horsepower and 260 lb-ft. of torque, and Chrysler’s 5.7 liter V8 that kicks out 360 horsepower and 390 lb-ft. of torque.

    Ride and handling have improved drastically on the new Cherokee with an all new front and independent rear suspension that gives the SUV a more luxurious yet sportier feel on the road.

    We also has an opportunity to do some off-roading in the new Cherokee where the SUV proved that even with all of the on-road refinements it still has all of the capabilities you expect and want from a Jeep and more.

    Torsional stiffness (that stuff that gives you the feel that a vehicle is rock solid) is 146 percent stiffer than the outgoing model.

    Of course, most will never venture far off the pavement in their Grand Cherokee. But there’s definitely something cool about knowing what a vehicle is capable of to help feed that ego when making those monthly payments, right?

    Well, rest assured, that’s money well spent here.

    A new Quadra-Lift air suspension system on the new Grand Cherokee provides height control and lifts the vehicle up to 4.3 inches from park mode to a maximum ride height of nearly 11 inches for better off-road capability.

    In addition, a new Selec-Terrain system gives the driver five different settings − Auto, Sand/Mud, Sport, Snow and rock to match driving conditions.

    Maximum towing capacity is 7,400 pounds for the V8.

    Gas mileage for the V6 has improved 11 percent over the previous model with an estimated highway mpg of 23.

    Safety features include standard active head restraints, full-length side-curtain and seat-mounted side thorax air bags and electronic stability control.

    Even more surprising, with all of the improvements, Jeep managed to lower the base price of the new Grand Cherokee by nearly $500 compared to the outgoing model.

    Yep, like I said, IMPRESSIVE.

    Marcus Amick is a national automotive analyst and consultant. He can be contacted at Marcus@WheelSide.com

    HIGHLIGHTS
    Base Price: $30,995
    All-new base V6
    Optional 20-inch wheels
    New remote power liftgate
    CommandView dual-pane


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