New York: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Posted 07 April 2009 - 10:35 PM
Despite always being a unibody vehicle, like many body-on-frame SUVs, the Jeep Grand Cherokee has been largely shown the door by a raft of new crossovers that have played to consumers looking for improved on-road performance. Oh, back when the current WK model was new for 2005, then-DaimlerChrysler made a splash with a new double-wishbone suspension that was better able to soak up tarmac imperfections, but some hardcore brand loyalists felt betrayed because the improved ride came at the expense of axle articulation. Not wanting to risk offending brand acolytes with their new 2011 model, Jeep faced a pair of seemingly divergent goals: Improve off-road ability while making the vehicle more attractive to a wider, street-oriented mainstream audience. In other words, as Chrysler's vice-president of design Ralph Gilles put it to us, Jeep's mission was to "put the 'Grand' back in Grand Cherokee."
Let's get this out of the way right now: Both domestic and global auto markets have evolved greatly from the late-Nineties salad days when Jeep once managed to shift 300,000 Grand Cherokees. And while last year the GC sold under a third of that total, it remains a linchpin in the company's operation, particularly as the larger three-row Commander model is not scheduled to receive a replacement. The company's fortunes are incredibly shaky right now, but if it is to survive in any form, products like the GC will still need to be able to shoulder a heavy burden. Does the GC have the muscles for the job? Follow the jump to find out.
Jeep's solution to its two-audience conundrum is the model you see before you, and while it shares lots of familiar cues, in the metal it looks at once far more aggressive than the exiting lantern-eyed WK, and ultimately more crossover-like. While it retains iconography like the seven-slot grille, the new headlamps have a meaner look thanks to a furrowed-brow appearance granted by the new hood. Perhaps the most dramatic departure is the profile view, where a new CUV-like tapering greenhouse takes up residence above a dramatically scalloped bodyside graphic. According to Gilles, the door panel indent is so pronounced that the company says they were "one step away from needing a compound hinge" to pull it off. If that profile looks longer to you, that's because it is – the wheelbase has swelled by four-inches, with that extra space dedicated completely to rear-seat passengers (+ three inches) and cargo room (+ one inch). The rear end is all-new as well, with a cleaner license plate surround and more horizontally oriented tail-lamps that emphasize the Grand Cherokee's wider width. Loyalists take note: Your pass-through rear glass has been retained.
So, this new model has a longer wheelbase and a more refined, crossover-like aesthetic. How exactly is that going to appeal to the mudpluggers in the audience? Well, Jeep has added a bounty of new off-road minded technology, in addition to new powertrains and a stiffened structure.
Starting with the engine choices, the volume model is expected to be the company's new flex-fuel "Phoenix" V6. The variable-valve timing equipped 3.6-liter engine nets 280 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm – a substantial 33% bump in horsepower and an 11% boost in torque over the departing V6. Backed by a carryover five-speed automatic, it is also a more efficient powertrain, with a claimed 11% increase in fuel economy. This new six-cylinder is scheduled to appear in many more products, potentially showing up in seven or eight different applications. Jeep officials expect the V6 to account for more than 50 percent of Grand Cherokee sales, a big switch over the WK GC, which skews more than 75 percent in favor of the V8.
Speaking of which, the 5.7-liter HEMI V8 has also been worked on, and it now generates 360 hp and 390 lb/ft of torque. Sizable efficiency gains are also expected, as the variable-valve timed engine will also use the company's cylinder deactivation technology (Multi-Displacement System) more often than in previous incarnations, and the gearbox picks up a sixth cog, as well. Regardless of which engine is selected, total range ought to improve, with Jeep quoting over 500 miles for the V6 thanks to the 24.6-gallon fuel tank (four gallons larger than before).
All of that power is nothing without added control, and to that end, Jeep has taken pains to greatly improve torsional stiffness in the chassis, something that both everyday commuters and off-roaders will appreciate. The new structure (based heavily on the Mercedes-Benz ML) has upwards of 5,400 welds, including 53% more spot welds and 42% more arc welds. There's also a further 38% increase in structural adhesive use. The net-net is a chassis that's 146% stiffer – one that Jeep says bests the Toyota Highlander and BMW X5 for rigidity and allows for a maximum tow rating of 7,400 pounds.
So... what about that off-road hardware we talked about? During our private walkaround at Chrysler's Auburn Hills headquarters, Scott Kunselman, vice president of Chrysler's Jeep and truck product team was clearly excited to tell us about all of the new off-road gubbins that the company has managed to pack into this new model.
While lower-end models make do with a standard steel springs, there is an all-new Quadra Lift air suspension option that allows the driver to dial up ground clearance of up to 11.1 inches to crawl over boulders and downed tree branches. It's exactly the sort of equipment that helps increase the GC's breakover angle despite having a longer wheelbase (a full complement of skid plates is optional). That air suspension can also be lowered to parking height for easier ingress and egress, and if it's anything like Land Rover's air suspension setup, it figures to offer a more accommodating ride in the bargain.
Another bit of tech that reminds us of those boys from Solihull is Jeep's new Selec-Terrain system, a rotary controller that comes with models spec'd out with the top-shelf Quadra-Drive II 4x4 system. Selec-Terrain enables users to gird the vehicle's various systems (electronic limited-slip differential, traction control, stability control, two-speed hill-descent control, anti-lock, and so on) for various ground conditions, including Sand/Mud, Snow and Rocks. There is also a default automatic setting, and unlike the blokes at Land Rover, there is also a Sport mode that lowers ride height and allows for a bit more hooliganism before the electronic nannies kick in.
Predictably, there are more available creature comforts than ever before, including a much-improved interior with additional space, richer materials, tighter panel gaps, and more available toys. Some of the optional niceties include a mammoth twin-panel panoramic roof, an intelligent remote start (which automatically heats or cools the interior based on outside air temp), a collision warning system, adaptive cruise control, and a blind-spot/rear cross path detection system.
On the surface, at least, it looks like Jeep has managed an unlikely feat at the most crucial of junctures – it has seemingly imbued the Grand Cherokee with the credentials necessary to simultaneously court a wider roadgoing audience while giving it the goods to finish the job off road. That Chrysler has given this vehicle a 2011 model year designation while others are still introducing their 2010 lineup is not an error – the embattled automaker needs all the hits it can get right now as it seeks further government relief and help from Fiat. Wheeling out the GC well in advance of its debut in showrooms should only help the company build its case for eventual viability... and that thankless task will clearly be the 2011 Grand Cherokee's biggest obstacle to overcome.
Posted 07 April 2009 - 10:39 PM
But I actually think the current Grand Cherokee looks better, especially when lowered with nice wheels. I'll bet the SRT guys will prove me wrong when their edition rolls out, though.
Posted 07 April 2009 - 10:45 PM
The interior...builds on the design them of the current one but with better integration and it actually looks nice...not cheap.
Posted 07 April 2009 - 11:05 PM
Posted 07 April 2009 - 11:06 PM
Posted 07 April 2009 - 11:06 PM
The entire greenhouse is Journey. Needs more Trailhawk...much too safe.
Posted 07 April 2009 - 11:13 PM
However the only thing that made the Trailhawk's greenhouse stand out was the really wide C-Pillar and the really thin windows. Oh and no B-PILLARZ
Plus IMO the whole design was kind of overwrought.
Posted 07 April 2009 - 11:14 PM
the interior does look nice ish.
I wouldn't buy it.
Posted 07 April 2009 - 11:15 PM
Posted 07 April 2009 - 11:19 PM
Nope, I like the new one a lot better. It looks like an evolution of the second gen GC, which was my favorite until now.
Posted 07 April 2009 - 11:20 PM
The interior is much improved, though they went overboard with rounding out squares into squircles. Driver's footwell still looks narrow.
I fear this might be too over-engineered for its own good. Consumers will treat it like just another Murano or Highlander competitor.
Edited by empowah, 07 April 2009 - 11:22 PM.
Posted 07 April 2009 - 11:27 PM
Posted 08 April 2009 - 12:04 AM
I guess they figured to go after the high end consumers they had to replicate some of the high end design cues. modeling after lexus with the soft surface elements was a poor choice: the more rounded effect the metal on the doors is making is perhaps more refined looking, but in the end you lost all the trademark Jeepness and rugged character. how does the tahoe still pull off ruggedly handsome and upscale at the same time? through details but keeping butch character throughout the lines. this has lost inherent Jeep character. Jeeps are square and antiquated, that's a good thing. the trailhawk adds aggressiveness to modernize the jeep wagon, and it would have served them better to stand out more.
not trying to pick on you, but you're paying too much attention to the headlamps and hood to make a visual connection. look over the form the roofline makes at the rear and you'll notice a very Jeep characteristic trait, the squared off greenhouse, has been lost. the entire jeep rugged look has been lost, and doane is right, there's too much journey, ie generic crossover, to the greenhouse.
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