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2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4x4

Leaps and Bounds


The latest Grand Cherokee is a fine tow vehicle with excellent road manners, all while staying true to its Jeep heritage.

Approach the new Grand Cherokee Overland 4x4 from any angle and it’s readily apparent what kind of SUV this is. The telltale design cues are there, from the seven-slot grille, round headlamps and trapezoidal wheel arches to the profile reminiscent of its forbearer. This is unmistakably a Jeep.

Step inside, however, and you might not recognize its cabin. Real wood accents and perforated leather seats and French-stitched leather dashboard trim might have you staring in disbelief, asking, “This is a Jeep?” Believe it.

Based on the Mercedes-Benz ML chassis, with fully independent front and rear air-adjustable suspension, the Jeep Grand Cherokee marks a big leap compared with the model it replaces. It’s quiet, comfortable and it’s fitted with some of the best interior materials we’ve seen in a domestic SUV. It also tows remarkably well for an vehicle known more for its off-road capability than for pulling trailers.

TOWING WITH IT

We’re always a bit apprehensive about towing with a truck or SUV with an independent rear suspension. They can present handling quirks while towing a trailer through turns, particularly if the pavement is less than ideal.

But let’s be up front: The Grand Cherokee Overland 4x4 pulls with authority, thanks to a short rear overhang, a respectable 7,200-pound capacity and an automatic air suspension system that tames the jounce that comes with tongue weight. It’s compliant, with excellent control that inspires confidence in a driver.

On our usual test route, we drive over pockmarked freeways, and up and down a 2-mile-long 7 percent grade. On flat terrain, the Jeep lumbers along at 60 mph with a trailer in tow at a leisurely 1,700 rpm, thanks to a low 3.47:1 rear axle ratio and a 0.67:1 overdriven fifth gear. Once we headed up the grade, the Jeep downshifted to third gear and easily maintained 60 mph at 3,500 rpm with the cruise control engaged. Even when a truck moved into our lane, causing us to have to brake a bit, we were able to climb back up to 60 mph with little effort from the 5.7-liter Hemi V8.

Downshifts with and without the cruise control engaged are buttery smooth, with little more than a change in rpm and a surge in momentum. Upshifts are a nonevent. Shifts are barely perceptible, even with a trailer in tow and a heavy foot, which shows some outstanding powertrain engineering, given that transmission pump pressures are at their highest at deeper throttle positions and under heavy loads. This transmission rocks.

If the Grand Cherokee has a shortfall for towing, it’s negligible. The blind-spot monitoring system can’t be shut off, at least as far as we could tell. The system, which illuminates a small LED in the exterior mirror sounds a bell alarm (and turns down the stereo momentarily) when someone enters your blind spot to the left or right, is sensitive enough to detect your trailer, so it tends to trigger when making turns of 45 degrees or more to either side. It’s negligible on the highway, but around town it can be a little intrusive.

We always recommend having at least a couple of thousand pounds of towing capacity in excess of what your trailer weighs, and our 4,300-pound test trailer was probably a fair representation of what people will be towing with a Grand Cherokee. The Grand Cherokee pulled the load much better than we expected, which is always a treat.

LIVING WITH IT

Obviously, the more a truck or SUV can tow, the more cumbersome it becomes as a daily driver. The Grand Cherokee is longer than the model it replaces, in overall length and wheelbase, but you’d never know it by driving it. The 5.3-inch increase in wheelbase expands interior room—without sacrificing maneuverability.

Obviously, Jeep engineers think of off-road capability first, which means the front and rear overhangs are short for initiating uphill ascents, but those same short overhangs make this SUV a breeze to park. This thing just whips into parking spaces, even from the near side of the through-way. It’s a bit wider than the VW Touareg we tested earlier this year, but it’s short doors front and rear make it easy to get in and out. Even with its longer wheelbase, it has a tight turning circle. It’s possible to turn it around within the width of a typical residential street.

The Overland edition comes with a lot of nice features and once you’ve sampled one at this trim level, it’s hard to imagine going with anything less, but lots of buyers inevitably will. The leather seats are heated, and thanks to their perforated surfaces, they are cooled too. The steering wheel is heated, even on the section with wood inlay.

Without a trailer attached, the Grand Cherokee is downright snappy, sprinting from zero to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds. And it does it without any hint of wheel spin. The 360-horsepower Hemi V8 delivers a broad, flat torque curve thanks to variable valve timing and, of course, the five-speed transmission. The engine also featured the multiple displacement system, which cuts out four of the engine’s eight cylinders through the use of eight deactivating hydraulic lifters. Like the Dodge Ram we tested earlier this year, you can’t feel the system engage, but a light on the dash alerts you that you are running on four cylinders. And unlike the Ram, you can’t hear when the system engages, thanks to the nice quiet exhaust system.

Jeep literature says a diesel will available on European models. We’d like to see that engine offered for U.S. models. Not every buyer will choose the oil burner, but it would be nice if it were available.

In terms of ride and handling, the Grand Cherokee handled daily duties well. If it were our choice to make, we’d probably prefer tires with a bit more sidewall than the 265-50R-20s fitted to our test vehicle, which would help soften the ride a bit. It might even be better off road. In fact, you can get 265-60R-18s on the Overland, Limited and Laredo X, and that might be the better way to go for towing and overall comfort.

OVERALL

No doubt the Jeep Grand Cherokee will be suitable to off-road enthusiasts. And if those same off roaders happen to have a 20-foot runabout, or a trailer full of ATVs or dirt bikes, they will still have all the SUV they need.

SPECIFICATIONS

CHIEF COMPETITORS
Acura MDX, BMW X5, Chevrolet Traverse, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot, Land Rover LR4, Mercedes-Benz M Class, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota 4Runner, Volkswagen Touareg

STRENGTHS
- Air suspension works great for towing
- Sumptuous interior with high-quality materials
- Ideal for use as a daily driver
- Tight turning circle; easy to maneuver
- Longer wheelbase enhances interior room
- Highly refined five-speed 545RFE transmission
- Short overhangs are great for ease of parking, off roading and towing

WEAKNESSES
- Blind-spot monitoring system can’t be turned off
- P265-50R-20 tires make for a firm ride
- A diesel engine option would be nice

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy Estimates

City 13
Highway 19

ACCELERATION

0-60 mph towing — 12.8 seconds

40-60 mph towing — 8 seconds
0-60 mph nontowing — 7.7 seconds

40-60 mph nontowing — 4.7 seconds


POWERTRAIN

Engine — 5.7-liter Hemi V8 with MDS and variable valve timing
Horsepower — 360 at 5,150 rpm

Torque — 390 lb./ft at 4,250 rpm

Compression ratio — 10.5:1
Transmission — Five-speed 545RFE automatic

WEIGHTS

Curb weight — 5,304 pounds

Tow rating — 7,200 pounds

Gross vehicle weight rating — 6,800 pounds

Gross combined weight rating — 12,204 pounds

CHASSIS

Axle ratio — 3.47:1
Fuel capacity — 24.6 gallons

Tire size 
 — P265-50R-20
Brakes — Four-wheel disc with single-channel antilock and electronic stability control
Suspension Front — Short and long arm, independent, gas-charged shocks with coil-over springs
Rear — multilink independent, coil spring, twin tube shocks

DIMENSIONS

Overall length 189.8”
Maximum width 84.8”
Wheelbase 114.8”
Base price $41,120
Price as tested $44,915

TRAILER TOWED

U-Haul rental with a 1995 Mazda Miata

WEIGHT TOWED

4,300 lbs.

INFORMATION

Customer service 877-IAM-JEEP (426-5337)
Web site www.jeep.com

PHOTOS

Thanks to a 5.3-inch increase in wheelbase, the interior of the Grand Cherokee has enough legroom—really—for three adults. The four-wheel-drive system has settings for sand, mud and snow. It also has switches for descent control and ride height.

The Grand Cherokee's electrical connections are top-shelf stuff, with a plug for boat trailers and one for trailers with electric brakes. The rear cargo area featured a net for holding grocery bags and a pull-back cover to conceal your luggage.

A Hemi up front offers up 360 horsepower, and is fitted with variable valve timing and Chrysler's multi displacement system, which deactivates four cylinders. Half-shafts at the rear are a first for the Grand Cherokee and really make for excellent road manners.

 

Unmistakably a Jeep from the front, the Grand Cherokee had optional polished steel exhaust tips at the back.

 

KEYWORDS

new Grand Cherokee, towing with a Jeep, 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, M class chassis

 

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