The Jeep Grand Cherokee is generally considered the first luxury SUV. Since 1993, it’s proven that you don’t have to trade off-road prowess for on-road comfort and style. Needless to say, the Grand Cherokee has spawned numerous rivals. So, to keep pace, a third generation Jeep Grand Cherokee is ready to strut its stuff. Only this time, it had a little help from one of its imitators.
At first glance, the all-new, mid-size 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee appears more evolutionary than revolutionary. But, as most if its design was finished before Chrysler’s divorce from Daimler, the new Jeep GC shares it’s basic chassis with the latest Mercedes-Benz ML.
That process resulted in some growth. Over five inches of added wheelbase, and nearly four extra inches of width. But less than two inches is added to length, with just a half inch more for height.
A rugged front fascia still sits below a Jeep seven-slot grille, which is now flanked by logoed headlights with an HID option. The rest of the styling is smoother and more refined, yet still recognizable as a Grand Cherokee. Two details we really like; a removable front air dam to improve the approach angle, and this well integrated lift gate-spoiler.
Chrysler’s long awaited Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 bows with the new Grand Cherokee. This twin-cam, variable timer delivers 280 horsepower-70 more than last year’s 3.7. Torque is up to 260 pound-feet, with 90 percent at only 1600 rpm, important for low gear slogging.
Carryover is an optional 5.7-liter pushrod Hemi V8 for 360 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque, with fuel saving cylinder cutoff. Transmissions are five-speed autos. The V8 has Chrysler’s trick manual-mode multi-speed unit with different second gear ratios for upshifts and kickdowns. Rear drive is standard, with three 4X4 systems available.
For the V6 only, automatic Quadra-Trac I with a single-speed transfer case; for both V6 and V8, Quadra-Trac II with a hi-low transfer case, and Quadra-Drive II, which adds an Electronic Limited Slip Differential. New with Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive II is Selec-Terrain. Reminding us of Land Rover’s Multi-Terrain Response, the driver dials in one of five traction control settings.
When coupled with the Quadra-Lift air suspension, Selec-Terrain coordinates up to 12 powertrain, braking, and suspension systems including Hill-Start Assist and Hill Descent Control. Quadra-Lift also allows the driver to raise the GC up to three extra inches, for a total of 11.1 inches of ground clearance, or lower the chassis up to one and a half inches. It’s also self-leveling for towing.
Our first impressions of the new V6 are that while it is a huge improvement in power, response, noise, and smoothness, it still is just adequate for the two-ton plus Grand Cherokee. The Hemi V8, however, never left us wanting for power.
No doubt a product of its Mercedes ML roots, is the Grand Cherokee’s first time independent multi-link rear suspension. While some purists will worry about off-road durability, it results in a big boost to on-road manners. There’s far less front push, and far more rear end obedience around fast corners. Body roll is, however, still rather loose. It’s a fine setup for most owners. Still, if you see deep mud or boulder-hopping in your future, opt for the air suspension.
The interior of the new Grand Cherokee is a bigger step up than the exterior, not just classier, but more sophisticated with great fit and finish. The top level Overland trim has leather on the dash and seats, plus wood accents. A panoramic sunroof is optional. Front seats are thick and supportive, with optional heat and ventilation.
Satellite radio is standard on all Grand Cherokees, but Bluetooth is not. Other options include satellite TV, and navigation with a 30-gig hard drive. Second row occupants get a welcomed improvement in leg room and knee clearance-to the tune of four more inches. Seats also now recline.
Cargo room is up too. 36.3 cubic feet. Drop the 60/40 bench for 68.3 cubic feet of gear. The rear liftgate now has a separate opening glass, and power assist is newly available.
Jeep Grand Cherokee fuel efficiency has never won prizes, and it still won’t. Government Fuel Economy estimates are 16 city, 23 highway for the rear-drive V6. 4X4 takes one from highway, and the V8 goes down hill from there. The 2011 Grand Cherokee Laredo starts at $30,995 in 4x2 form, and $32,995 as a 4X4. Both about $500 less than last year. With the V8, air suspension, and uplevel trim, prices go well into the 40s.
The new Jeep Grand Cherokee is still thirsty. But, otherwise it’s an eye-opener, from its sleek exterior, to a more spacious and better crafted interior, to its enhanced powertrain and all-terrain hardware. It may still be a traditional SUV, but it shows what impressive progress is possible when you apply new thinking to old virtues.
Long Term Updates
Date: December 2011
The redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee is one of the sales leaders at the resurging Chrysler Group. We liked it so much, we awarded it with our Driver’s Choice Awards for best Large Utility.
So, we expect a lot from our new long term 2012 Limited 4x4 model. With less than 1400 miles on its clock, we don’t have a handle on fuel economy yet, but we do know the standard, 280-horsepower, 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 feels smooth and willing.
Our loaded GC has one of the biggest, and easiest to use Nav screens we’ve ever experienced.
We also like that the second row has added badly needed legroom. But, it could use a little more.
Still, we think growing families of five will love the new Jeep Grand Cherokee even if the tires never get muddy.
Date: December 2011
About a month ago we added this 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee to our long term fleet. Now, at the 4300 mile marker, we have a better handling on fuel economy from the standard 280-horsepower, 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. It stands at 20.3 miles per gallon of regular. While that doesn’t sound impressive, it’s still about 10% better than last year, and we’ve frequently seen 24 on the highway.
And, our Driver’s Choice Best Large Utility is one smooth interstate companion. Seat comfort is excellent, and this is easily the quietest Jeep ever. And, no matter how bad the road conditions, the Quadra-Drive II 4x4 system with Select-Terrain really inspires confidence.
Date: February 2012
The success of the new generation Jeep Grand Cherokee is a big reason that sales for the Chrysler Group were up over a third last year. We’re very pleased with the smooth and ample power from our Limited 4x4’s standard, 280-horsepower, 3.6-liter twin-cam V6.
After nearly 6,000 miles, fuel economy is averaging 19.2 miles per gallon of regular. That’s nothing to write home about. But, it matches the government’s combined fuel economy rating and is higher than any GC before it.
So far we’ve seen more gravel and mud than snow and ice, but our GC’s Quadra-Drive II 4x4 system with Select-Terrain has a mode for just about anything Mother Nature can throw at us.
The addition of more leg room and reclining seatbacks make spending lots of miles in the second row quite doable, and the extra cargo room always comes in handy. The Grand Cherokee is one of the few utilities where the back glass opens separately from the hatch for loading small items.
One more reason the Jeep Grand Cherokee is a winner for us and consumers too.
Date: February 2012
Our long term 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee is also turning into our favorite long distance runner. In just 3 months, the odometer has already tripped over 8,500 miles - its comfort, ride, go-anywhere four-wheel drive system, make it an easy choice. We love the passing response of the standard 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. No wonder we picked the Grand Cherokee as our Drivers’ Choice Best Large Utility two years running.
But, what we don’t love is fuel economy. The Grand Cherokee is pretty thirsty at 19.4 miles per gallon of regular. Still, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is one of the vehicles powering Chrysler’s sky rocketing sales. And, living with one, it’s easy to see why.
Date: March 2012
Just when we thought an unusually warm winter would give us a pass on seeing if our Long Term 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4X4 was as capable as it appears, along comes an icy Midwest storm that provided all the proof we needed when driving back from the Chicago Auto Show. Just turn the Selec-Terrain dial to “Snow” and go!
We let the Quadra-Trac II two-speed transfer case and electronic limited slip differential do the rest. The Chicago round trip was part of the nearly 11,000 miles we put on our Grand Cherokee in just 4 months. A lot of the other miles, however, were around town. That’s where the marginal 19.3 miles per gallon of regular comes in. Considering our Jeep is a V6, we expected better.
On the other hand, the latest Grand Cherokee is extremely comfortable, and versatile. It’s not as big as some rival utilities, but a family of five will find plenty of space. All of which supports our picking the Grand Cherokee as our Drivers’ Choice Best Large Utility two years in a row. Fortunately for us, this long termer has a long way to go.
Date: May 2012
Take a quick look at our GC since it seldom sits still for long. In 6 months, we’re pushing 14,000 miles as it has become the key crew hauler for our staff. Mileage overall, even with a modern V6, continues to be less than hoped, dropping to 18.7 miles per gallon of regular. However, that is for largely stop and go driving. Excellent comfort and go just about anywhere security do make up for a lot of that. Plus, our GC is 100% trouble free.
Date: June 2012
When we do take a long trip, we smile every time we do it in this 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Summer is here and boy will this Jeep get a vacation workout! It’s already nearing 17,000 miles after 7 months with no problems, except for its cost of operation. Mileage has eked up to 19.3 miles per gallon of regular, but that’s still low. We absolutely love the Pentastar V6. It’s willing and able for any chore. No wonder the Jeep Grand Cherokee is both a critical and sales success.
Date: July 2012
A summer vacation favorite, the "GC" has been with us for 8 months and has racked up an impressive 19,300 miles. With no mechanical problems to report, mileage continues to inch up with more and more highway use and now stands at 19.6 miles per gallon of regular. The Pentastar V6 is a stellar performer. Combined with a very well done interior and advanced four-wheel drive, this Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV is one confident and comfortable way to see all of roadside America.
Date: September 2012
We’ve had a lot more time and distance in our 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited. Summer vacations have really packed on the miles. We’ve past 24,000 in just 10 months with zero mechanical faults. No sign of the “ticking” sound that some Pentastar V6 powered vehicles are having. The air conditioning did freeze up on one cool and very humid morning. But, shutting it off for 10 minutes cured that. A lot of interstate travel has resulted in a nice boost in economy to 21 MPG using regular fuel. That helps make the V6 GC a wonderful long distance hauler, for kids, pets, or watercraft trailer. We never got to try the Selec-Terrain four-wheel drive system in snow, but it can handle muddy camp grounds without breaking a sweat.
Date: October 2012
We strive to drive long term test vehicles 24,000 miles in a year so we can judge how well they will hold up for two to three years of normal service. While we don’t make that goal on some vehicles, others like our 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited have left that benchmark in the dust.
Also a Drivers’ Choice Winner, our V6 GC passed 24-grand in mileage two months ago. Now, in its eleventh month with us, we’re closing in on 27,000. All with zero mechanical issues. Of its numerous safety features, we find the Adaptive Speed Control annoying, but the Forward Collision Warning and Rear Cross Path Detection are great additions. All together they do make for a safer SUV.
Fuel economy continues to be mediocre at 21.0 MPG using regular grade. Chrysler’s plan to add the 8-speed automatic to the GC will be welcomed. Otherwise, between the Pentastar V6 and Selec-Terrain four-wheel drive system, there aren’t many paths that this very luxurious Jeep can’t travel…well.
Date: November 2012
We’ve been very pleased with our 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee. After a full year of service the only disappointment is fuel economy. Even with a modern 290-horsepower 3.6-liter V6, it stands at just 20.7 miles per gallon of regular. The GC will soon add an 8-speed automatic and that should boost mileage about 15-percent.
We’ve had no notable mechanical issues. Even tire wear is good after 28,000 miles. The Quadra-Terrain four-wheel drive control system was more than a match to the heavy rains from Hurricane Sandy. It looks like another of our Drivers’ Choice Winners is serving us well, and soon it will be even better.
Date: January 2013
The goal of a long term roadtest is to simulate up to three years of normal use in only twelve months. Well with 29,906 miles on its clock at test end, we did just that with our 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4X4.
Our Drivers’ Choice pick for Best Family Utility proved to be extremely comfortable for long trips, and extremely capable for the worst weather and terrain we could find.
We also put to rest any doubts about Jeep quality as we never had to visit the dealer to fix anything.
What would have liked to fix is fuel economy. Our average of 20.4 miles per gallon of Regular is nothing to write home about. The 290-horsepower 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 is a great performer, but the GC needs fuel economy help.
Fortunately help is on the way with an 8-speed automatic on 2014 models, along with the return of a V6 turbo diesel option.
Both great additions to a great SUV, and one we are very sorry to see leave us.
Engine: 3.6-Liter V-6
Torque: 260 Lb Feet
EPA: 16 MPG City/ 23 MPG Highway