Text: GG van Rooyen
The previous model of the Grand Cherokee didn’t sell particularly well. And the main reason for this was simple: it wasn’t quite, well, grand enough.
Sure, it was a good vehicle, but it didn’t offer the money-is-no-object flagship level of lavishness that other luxury SUVs do. It simply couldn’t compete against vehicles such as the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz ML and Land Rover Discovery 4.
With its latest model, Chrysler have obviously decided to do something about this, because the 2011 version is very different from the outgoing model. Some of the basic design elements have remained, and the SUV is still instantly recognisable as a Grand Cherokee, but it now boasts a muscular and refined appearance that’s on par with other vehicles in its segment. It has aggressively-sculpted sides, accentuated wheel arches and large doors with relatively small windows. It is also 45mm longer and 75mm wider than the old model. Overall, it now has a more commanding presence.
On the inside, the Grand Cherokee has all the bells and whistles one would expect in a premium SUV. Most noticeably, everything inside the cabin is covered in those soft-touch materials that high-end vehicle manufacturers are so fond of. The seats, steering wheel and door armrests are all dressed in leather. The dash seems durable and is also soft to the touch.
The centre console houses Jeep’s nifty Uconnect System, which has satellite navigation, numerous entertainment functions and hands-free phone capability. Predictably, the design is classy and all the buttons and dials have a high-quality feel to them.
The Grand Cherokee is definitely sleeker and more elegant than it’s ever been. Moreover, it has lost its solid rear axle (it now has independent suspension in the front and rear).
So does this mean that it does its best work on tarred surfaces? Well, according to Chrysler, it has lost none of its off-road prowess. In fact, they say it’s far better off road than the old model.
This is due in large part to the fact that it has a new Selec-Terrain traction system that, depending on conditions, automatically selects the best off-road settings for the job.
Another welcome addition is the Quadra-Lift air suspension system, which is capable of increasing ground clearance by 104mm, and gives the vehicle a maximum ride height of 270mm.
Two four-wheel-drive systems are on offer. There’s the Quadra-Trac II with low-range gearing, and the Quadra-Drive II with low-range gearing and a rear electronic limited-slip differential.
The Grand Cherokee is also the first vehicle to sport Chrysler’s new V6 Pentastar engine. The 3,6-litre petrol powerplant generates a healthy 210 kW of power and 347 Nm of torque, and is mated to an automatic five-speed transmission. Chrysler claim that the engine is very fuel-efficient, and that it has a range of 800km on one tank of fuel.
If you’re looking for something a bit burlier, Chrysler’s well-known 5,7-litre V8 engine, which creates 259 kW of power and 520 Nm of torque, also does duty in the Grand Cherokee. There are no oilburners in the line-up at present, but the manufacturers say a diesel powertrain will arrive towards the end of the year.
With two engines and two specification levels to choose from, the Grand Cherokee line-up has shrunk somewhat. Most noticeably absent from the line-up is the entry-level Laredo model. It is still available in the US, but we get only the Limited and Overland models. And this means that the entry-level price of the Grand Cherokee has increased from R435 000 to R531 990.
But the new Grand Cherokee is a very different beast compared to the old model. It now has all the class, refinement and off-road tools needed to tackle vehicles such as the X5 and Discovery 4. It might be more expensive than its predecessor, but it offers better value for money. And if you look at its competition, you quickly realise that it is competitively priced.
When that diesel powerplant arrives to round out the range, it’ll be a serious contender.
2011 JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE MODELS:
Limited 3,6-litre V6 – R531 990
Overland 3,6-litre V6 – R581 990
Overland 5,7-litre V8 – R637 990