HOLLISTER HILLS, Calif.—It becomes clear while driving the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee around San Francisco, and to the south and east. This is the American Range Rover for those who can neither afford a Range Rover nor want to buy a foreign product. The new Jeep Grand Cherokee is really that good — at about half the price.One thing that has always been striking about Range Rover is its ability to deliver luxury in any situation, whether it's tooling down the Mass. Turnpike or humping over hill and dale to get to a log cabin in Vermont. The new Grand Cherokee can match anything thrown at it by Range Rover (as well as Toyota, Lexus, and Honda to name a few). That is more than amply demonstrated at the Hollister Hills State Recreation Vehicle Area. Heck, California may be broke, but you have to love a state that runs an off-road area as impressive as Hollister Hills.
The Grand Cherokee effortlessly climbs over rocks and boulders as it ascends what seems like a narrow path. An off-road instructor says to simply let the hill-descent control take over. And it does as we descend 600 feet at 2 mph. It's something a Range Rover can do, and now, so can a Grand Cherokee.
Jeep hasn't been in the news lately. As Jim Morrison, head of product marketing, said before the drive, "We've been quiet for some time but we're rolling into our product attack."
That attack includes the Grand Cherokee's three new 4x4 systems as well as a terrain system with a choice of five settings (including snow, which should be popular here in New England). The Quadra-Lift air suspension system can raise the ride height to 10.7 inches or lower it to 6.6 inches. The Jeep Wrangler, a much less sophisticated vehicle with serious off-road chops, has a maximum ground clearance of 10.6 inches. You're never going to want to drive a Wrangler more than 25 miles at a clip if you're over the age of 25. The Grand Cherokee you could comfortably drive for hours thanks to independent rear and front suspensions.
The driving pleasure is enhanced by Chrysler's all-new 3.6-liter "Pentastar" V-6 that produces 290 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque while getting 22 mpg highway and 16 mpg city in four-wheel drive. Just to beat the Range Rover comparison to death, that truck gets 18 mpg highway and 12 mpg city from its only available engine, a 5.0-liter V-8.
There is an available 5.7-liter V-8 in the Grand Cherokee. It has 360 horsepower and 390 lb.-ft. of torque and features the fuel-saving "multi-displacement" system that shifts to four-cylinder mode while cruising at highway speeds. The trailer towing capacity of 4x2 models with the V-8 is 7,400 lbs.
The Grand Cherokee, while growing in overall length by 1.8 inches, has added room in two crucial areas: wheelbase and width. The 114.8-inch wheelbase is 5.3 inches longer for much needed rear-seat legroom. It's also 3 inches wider, which improves handling, but also gives some added shoulder and hip room in all seating positions. Rear-seat passengers can take advantage of reclining seats for additional comfort.
Grand Cherokee designers aimed for a more aggressive look with short overhangs and wheels placed all four corners of the SUV. They've mostly succeeded. But there's still a rounded look that fails to give this Jeep the rugged look one expects. However, that could make it more appealing to a wider audience, a design trick that has worked wonders for Subaru recently.
On road or off-road, safety has become a main selling point for any manufacturer. The Grand Cherokee includes electronic stability control, full-length side-curtain air bags, seat-mounted front side air bags, as well as blind-spot/rear cross-path detection, among many other features.
Pricing for the Grand Cherokee has dropped across the board from 2010 to 2011 on comparable models, in most cases by a few hundred dollars. The Laredo 4x2, the base model, costs $30,995 — a $495 drop from 2010. The most expensive Grand Cherokee is the Overland 4x4 trim level that costs $42,995. (A 2009 Overland 4x4 cost $45,625 — no 2010 model was made.) All prices include destination.
Frugal owners will appreciate improvements in scheduled maintenance costs and residual value. Jeep says scheduled maintenance costs are lower than the Chevrolet Equinox, Honda Pilot, and Lexus RX 350. The company expects the residual value to approach 50 percent up from the distressingly low 30s for 2010. That high residual number should favor good lease deals.
About Boston Overdrive
|Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
|Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
|John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
|Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
|Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
|George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee