In the Jeep scheme of things, the Jeep Grand Cherokee or GC is the luxury Jeep; posh and cushy without betraying Jeep tough chassis and off road abilities. It rides on a 2,915.9mm wheelbase; 127mm longer than before, with 78mm of it for the benefit of improved rear-seat legroom. It is 78.7mm wider and has 17% more cargo room at 1,027 liters.
Code named WK2, it is the third and a half generation from the '93-'98 ZJ, the '99 -'04 WJ and the '05 -'10 WK. Instead of CJ-Willys bits and inspiration, today's GC is based on the same architecture as the Mercedes-Benz ML-class. Out goes the live axle replaced by independent multilink suspension, and luxury has moved it upmarket. Unlike the Mercedes that uses alloys for suspension members, the Jeep uses cast iron. The Jeep now has Land Rover-style terrain-selection system, called Selec-Terrain, as well as three different all-wheel-drive systems and and air suspension.
Previous GC's were as All American as can be; drag strip capable V-8's with floaty springs and brakes needing a lot of clearance. It wasn't made to win slaloms, eco-runs nor space efficiency challenges. But a major drawback of the outgoing Grand Cherokee was its deficit of "grandness." It wasn't even roomy enough for rear-seat passengers.
We drove a Limited model powered by Chrysler's new 3.6 liter Pentastar V-6. For those who want the top of the line, the Overland has 16-valve pushrod 352hp 5.7-liter MDS modular displacement V-8 [HEMI in Chrysler speak] under its hood. The Overland V-8 has Quadra lift air suspension as standard. Both have the Quadra-Drive II four-wheel-drive system.
The new aluminum "Pentastar" 3.6-liter 60-degree 24 valve quad-cam variable intake and exhaust valve timing V-6 makes 289PS at 6350 rpm and 347Nm at 4300 rpm, an increase of 81PS and 34Nm over the ancient 90-degree iron block 3.7 liter V-6 fitted to the previous GC. A five-speed automatic is the only gearbox. The V-6 did between 9.83 to 10.20km/L on the highway in our test. 0-100 times are close to 8.9seconds. This V-6 revs effortlessly in 3rd gear hitting 6,350rpm with 211km/h to show for it. Besides a trip computer, there's an ECO mode and blue shaded rpm zone on the tach to guide fuel efficiency.
The 4x4 systems, though tweaked, retain the same names as before. QT II or Quadra-Trac II has a two-speed transfer case runs up to 50% of the torque to the front wheels or 100% to the rear depending on available traction. The HEMI-V8-only QD II or Quadra-Drive II adds an electronically controlled limited-slip rear differential.
QT II and QD II come with the Selec-Terrain, a Land Rover style knob selector for programs for different conditions: sand/mud, snow, rock, sport, and auto. Depending on the program chosen, the stability control, the torque transfer, and the transmission react differently, starting in second gear with a fixed 50/50 torque split in snow.
On paved roads, where a large part of GCs will spend their lives, they are well behaved: luxury Jeeps are indeed sumptuous and innocuous. Its got a Mercedes like comfortable, supple ride that isolates harshness. Head toss and body roll are all well controlled. We suspect that the alloy suspension members of the Merc will be less prone to long amplitude hopping on long stretches of undulating asphalt vis-a-vis the Jeep's heavier cast iron bits. The steering has a tight and very Mercedes-like quality to its overall weighting, loads up predictably and doesn't have much on-center slack. The brakes are well up to the task of dealing with the Grand Cherokee's considerable 2,041kg. On the highway, the five-speed automatic showed eagerness to downshift from a speed blunting overdrive in 5th to 4th on slight grades. There currently is no plan to offer a CRDi version.
The 2002 GC was an incongruously tight place to spend time surrounded by cheap interior plastics and loud logos. When the Germans were in bed with Chrysler in Auburn Hills, the levels of fit and finish moved up several notches in quality and looks. No overt utilitarian touches here. Just pure luxury SUV. Lots of crisp Mercedes switches, soft plastics, decent and supple stitched leather plus real wood trim, fruits of what was once a good marriage. Warts and all, it also has Mercedes' overly complex push-push-and push some more system activation of the remote steering wheel buttons of the trip computer. The seats are comfortable and the interior is hushed even at 160km/h. Jeep wisely fits a rear view camera as standard on both Limited and Overland spec levels. The 2011 Grand Cherokee's styling moves away from the "box with fender flares look" in the future.
The Grand Cherokee's price posits it between smaller BMW X3's, Audi Q5's, Mercedes GLKs and Lexus Rx's with Toyota's Prado on the other end. Lower down the price scale, one can consider the Mazda CX-9, Subaru Tribeca, Chevrolet Traverse and the new Ford Explorer. Or the Mitsubishi Pajero which is more off road capable than most of these. But not all of these offer hard core off-road capabilities which can only be matched by far dearer Land Rovers like the LR4 or Mercedes' G-wagen. In looks and form, it sits as proudly stylish as any current Range Rover or even the first generation BMW X5.
Six years ago, Chrysler stunned naysayers by introducing the sophisticated and daring 300C. A dandy of an American car that rode and handled like a Merc. The 2011 GC isn't meant to redefine the class but the GC is as competent in thinking and execution as the 300C showing that Chrysler, Jeep's owner, with the help of Mercedes at one time, has again found its engineering nous. This Jeep, like all of today's Jeeps, are as modern as they come without losing the superior off-road abilities that Jeep staked its reputation on. The pricetag is at Php3.68-million.