January 30, 2011

Grand Cherokee catches up, forges ahead

The leading Grand Cherokee has its air suspension pumped up. Compare the space in the wheel wells to the one behind, at normal ride height. Some 104mm of lift is available from 'park' level.
• A Range Rover rival for half the price (well, sort of)
• Considerable off-road ability
• Try the new V6 before ordering the V8

The outgoing Grand Cherokee was remarkable off-road for its electronic traction control setup – one of the best in the business. Otherwise, there wasn't a lot to tell it apart from its rivals, other than the Jeep was very obviously American and the others weren't! Now, the Grand Cherokee has evolved and adds some really good on-road/off-road stuff. This includes an all-independent off-road-ready suspension that uses airbags on some models for adjustable height; the first appearance of the Chrysler-family Pentastar V6; electronics to set the vehicle up for different types of off-road terrain; a new platform developed during the Daimler days; a scorching on-road sports mode; and major improvements to the room and quality of the five-seat interior.

Lots of cargo room with the seats flat.
Wheel wells intrude a bit, though.
Until the arrival in 2007 of the JK Wrangler, and specifically the Rubicon version, I believed that, except for its overall size, the Grand Cherokee was the most competent off-roader in the Jeep family. Despite owning a two-door Rubicon, I'm beginning to wonder if the new Grand doesn't deserve to share the mantle.
Over in Tasmania for the Australasian launch, I drove a V8 Limited specified just as we're getting them in New Zealand and its off-road abilities were notable. This was due to two things. First, the Quadra-Lift air suspension (which is not fitted to our V6 model) offers excellent ground clearance; its highest setting better than my lifted Rubicon. It goes up in two stages, the first offering 33mm more clearance, the second, another 65mm. On the other hand, it will drop to 40mm below normal to help people get in and out, or to help hitch the towball to the trailer. Second, an extremely well sorted hill descent control allows the Grand to idle down steep descents with the ease of a manual Rubicon in low first – which is to say, at a crawl (Speeds range from 2km/h in low first, according to the specifications, to 12km/h in Drive). These attributes are augmented by one of the best electronic traction control systems in the business and a system, Selec-Terrain, to tune the vehicle to the tails conditions.
Nerve centre for Selec-Terrain.
Click on picture to get a big view.
It's the best knock-off of Land Rover's original that I've yet encountered. It has settings for snow, sand/mud or rock and an auto mode in which the computer figures it all out. The Selec-Terrain dial also accesses the on-road Sport mode with lower ride height, more-aggressive gearshifts, more power to the rear wheels and milder stability control that only intervenes when it really looks like the driver's about to screw up big-time.

On the road, the all-independent suspension, along with 20-inch Kumho Solus road tyres of the V8, really help the new SUV, although that's not so say the old one was bad.  4wdNewz readers will know that 20-inch is an iffy rim size as the choice of tread patterns is limited. Fortunately, for $2500, Jeep will sell you an off-road adventure group comprising 18-inch alloys and underbody skid plates, although with all that clearance the plates might almost be superfluous. The V6 comes with 18s.

New Zealand gets three versions, with a fourth, the mighty SRT-8, in the offing for 2012. The three available this year are all in Limited trim, New Zealand for now deciding to pass on the base Laredo the Aussies are taking. The one with the Pentastar is $79,990. This 24-valve alloy V6 produces 213kW and 353Nm of torque at a rather high 4800rpm. A version will be dropped into the JK Wrangler, possibly next year, as a running change. On the road it performs far better than is specification might suggest and has good mid-range torque. The V6 version does without the air suspension.

Jeep sees the bulk of its business here in the $86,990 Limited with the upgraded 5.7 litre multi-displacement Hemi V8 producing 262kW and 520Nm of torque at 4250rpm. Coming later this year is a new diesel, replacing the Mercedes unit in the previous model. Jeep goes back to the Italian VM company for this one, a 3.0 CRD producing 167kW and 540Nm at just 1600rpm. It could be the pick of the crop. Price is yet to be determined.

For those wanting to tow, the V8 and diesel are rated for 3500kg braked, the V6 for 2268kg.

Its good to see Jeep back on track, so to speak, with a worthwhile replacement for the outgoing Grand Cherokee, especially after the dreary KK Cherokee in 2008. 

Here's another post on the King Jeep.

It's nice inside, with better materials and better use of space.
Another photo showing the suspension in battle mode. As with the previous model, you can detach the nose skirt before heading off on the track, saving a trip to the parts department on Monday. Even with the suspension high, approach and departure angles aren't great (standard height equivalents in brackets) at 34 degrees (26) and 29 (26).
This is hardly a steep descent, but the hill descent control is up to any task, works in any gear including reverse, and even in neutral.
My drive mate is using power to get up this sandhill, but the excellent traction control would have allowed a gentler technique.


  1. It would need to be better than the last model. The trouble with Jeeps in general is that they are unreliable and very expensive to repair.

  2. Their only expensive to repair if you go to one of the dealers.