On a cold San Francisco morning we gathered to hear Jeep staff talk about their new 2011 Grand Cherokee before a drive that would put us on winding mountain roads and a challenging off-road course. Jeep product planners, engineers, and designers were all in a self-congratulatory mood as they talked about the new Grand Cherokee's features, and with good reason. Last year the company was on the verge of bankruptcy, and the fate of this vehicle remained uncertain.
The car before us, which we would soon get to rough up on dirt roads, represented a difficult birth. From the beginning, it was a radical reinterpretation of the Grand Cherokee. Gone was the live rear axle from the previous version, in favor of a modern independent suspension. A fuel-saving 3.6-liter V-6 became the base level engine.
Jeep added its UConnect suite of cabin tech, including navigation and a wireless router. And the drive response is now controlled by a terrain system, which lets the driver simply select the type of driving surface with a knob on the console. The new Grand Cherokee looked to be a huge technological leap from its predecessors.
While maintaining its reputation for off-road prowess with the Grand Cherokee, Jeep also wants to make it competitive in the luxury SUV segment, putting it up against the Lexus RX 350. That is a tall order, but from our initial look at the cabin, Jeep is off to a good start. Getting into the car, we were immediately pleased with the steering wheel's feel, as it is wrapped in a matte finish leather. Real wood trim graced the cabin, and soft plastics covered the dashboard. Upholstered interior door handles and console top completed the cabin appointments. … Read more