Jeep’s Grand Cherokee has had a grand following for years. Jeep fans insist few things can blend legendary off-road capability with some around-town pampering quite like the Grand Cherokee.

The closest is Britain’s Land Rover, but the Grand Cherokee’s British equivalent, the LR4, starts at a price not far from where our top-of-the-line 2011 Grand Cherokee Overland finishes.

That’s why the all-new 2011 Grand Cherokee is one of the more intriguing models in the market this year. Thanks to some major chassis goodies leftover from Chrysler’s past ownership by Daimler (parent company of Mercedes-Benz), the new Grand Cherokee has a platform and chassis components closely related to Mercedes’ ML crossover.

That puts the Grand Cherokee on a car-based platform rather than the quasi-truck underpinnings it previously used. The payoff is vastly better ride, handling and rigidity.
The nice new platform doesn’t mean the Grand Cherokee has grown much larger, thankfully, although it is 2.6 inches wider and a nearly 5-inch increase in wheelbase now means there’s finally first-class legroom back there. Want third-row seats? Jeep wisely says shop elsewhere.

The other big news for the all-new Grand Cherokee is the standard engine, Chrysler’s new Pentastar 3.6-liter dual-cam V-6. It replaces a whole team of outdated V-6s throughout Chrysler’s model range and makes a healthy 290 horsepower. Our Overland model tester had the hushed Hemi 5.7-liter V-8 with ratings of 13 miles per gallon city and 19 mpg highway.

The optional ($1,495) Hemi propels the Grand Cherokee at highway speed with dead silence and relaxation. But we expected more snap when stomping it from a standstill, and hitting the accelerator at cruising speeds sometimes doesn’t produce as much shove as it should with the unsophisticated five-speed automatic transmission seeming to prefer to let the Hemi do all the work. These days $40,000-plus top-of-the-line SUVs have seven- and eight-speed automatics, not five gears.

Four-wheel-drive Laredo and Overland models get as standard Jeep’s new Selec-Terrain technology, which gives the driver one-knob command of the engine, transmission, transfer case and electronic stability aids, as well as the new, optional Quadra-Lift pneumatic suspension.
Quadra-Lift proves to be another of the new Grand’s best improvements. All manner of dastardly road irregularities are soaked up without the annoying thumps and bangs a lot of big-tire SUVs force you to endure.

Inside, great-looking perforated leather and convincing wood-like trim come standard for the Overland trim. All 2011 Grand Cherokees get standard passive entry and keyless ignition, a power driver’s seat and a bunch of noise-abatement measures like a laminated windshield and front-door windows and special sound-deadening in the wheel wheels.
There’s all the new-age electronic gear you could want, too. Options include adaptive cruise control and blind-spot and collision-warning systems and Chrysler’s Uconnect system Bluetooths your phone and a cord connects your iPod.

The 2011 Grand Cherokee is one of the most top-to-bottom improved new models we’ve seen in years, and Chrysler still found a way to drop prices a tad. The starting Laredo and middle-of-the-line Limited trims are a few hundred dollars less than before with starting prices at $30,215; there was no Overland trim for the previous-generation Grand Cherokee.

Is the 2011 Grand Cherokee a luxury SUV? No, though it is hugely more refined it connects with traditional Jeep customers, particularly those who expect it to be the very best off-road machine available — even if they don’t really need it to be. –– Bill Visnic, Motor Matters

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