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2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Base MSRP: $30,215 to $42,295
Reviewed
July 2011
by ConsumerSearch

Pros
  • Exceptional off-roading capabilities
  • Smooth ride on both pavement and the trail
  • Upscale interior
  • High safety ratings
  • Big towing capacity
  • Value
Cons
  • Poor fuel economy
  • Heavy curb weight

A new take on an old favorite

With every redesign, auto manufacturers look to amend the features that flopped in previous models, while maintaining the elements that drivers love best. For its 20th birthday, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee has undergone significant changes throughout, prompting one major consumer organization to applaud the new Jeep's competence and refinement, and Motor Trend to declare the redesign "a huge improvement over the previous generation." Available models include the Laredo, Limited and the Overland.

On the outside, the iconic square exterior has been chiseled to a sleeker body. The Grand Cherokee is now "about 2 inches longer, 3 inches wider and one-half inch taller than the 2010 model," observes Cars.com, adding "its wheelbase has grown by 5.3 inches to 114.8 inches overall." The Grand Cherokee also has an elegant feel that reminds MotherProof.com of the Porsche Cayenne. "It just looked better than ever," says Courtney Messenbaugh. "The softened exterior lines, sparkly chrome trim and large wheels housed under conspicuous fenders work together for a ‘wow' factor that I've never previously gotten from a Jeep."

Car and Driver ranks the Grand Cherokee number one in a comparison test against the Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota 4Runner, and since-discontinued Kia Borrego, saying, "The Jeep is our favorite. It's an everyday do-it-all of high caste that doesn't mind getting grimy." Automobile Magazine "preferred driving the Jeep" over the 2011 Ford Explorer because "it felt less mundane."

Consumer Guide Automotive testers rate the Jeep Grand Cherokee well for its quietness, roominess, comfort and ride quality, though they still don't name it as a Best Buy or Recommended Pick, stating, "The new Grand Cherokee is a very strong entry in its class, and deserving of consideration from buyers in this crowded segment."

Results are mixed when testers compare the Grand Cherokee against the more expensive Land Rover LR4. Cars.com calls the Jeep "a no-excuses SUV if there ever was one and, in effect, takes on Land Rover at its own game." Motor Trend disagrees, stating that the Grand Cherokee is "attractive, easy to operate, highly capable, and offers value and quality, yet the Jeep is neither as luxurious nor as strong a performer as the Land Rover."

Four-wheel-drive tradition upheld

The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee maintains its stance as a serious off-roader. "Even though the new Grand Cherokee significantly improves the SUV's on-road refinement," says Cars.com, "it doesn't come at the expense of its off-road chops, which are impressive."

Not only is the Grand Cherokee available in either 2WD or 4WD versions, but there are also a number of off-road options to choose from. The first is Quadra-Trac, which Cars.com describes as "a single-speed system that splits engine torque 50/50 front to rear, while the latter two systems have a two-speed low-range transfer case that can vary how much torque goes to each axle." A major consumer organization says that the basic combination of Quadra-Trac and the standard V6 engine should likely satisfy most drivers who opt for a 4WD system.  Both Automobile Magazine and Consumer Guide Automotive criticize the lack of a low-range gear with the Quadra-Trac I set-up.

According to Automobile Magazine, the Quadra-Drive II is "standard on the Overland V-8," and "adds a limited-slip rear axle." Motor Trend tested Jeep's third system on a series of off-roading trails, reporting, "the Quadra-Trac II four-wheel-drive system provides plenty of confidence in the rough, and it's easy for drivers of all experience levels to operate."

Both the Quadra-Drive II and the Quadra-Trac II include Selec-Terrain with which, as Cars.com explains, "you simply choose the appropriate setting for your conditions -- Sand/Mud, Snow, Rock, Auto or Sport -- and the Grand Cherokee configures its systems to provide the appropriate response to your conditions."

Rounding out the off-road packages is the available Quadra-Lift air suspension technology, which Cars.com measures as raising the Grand Cherokee from 6.6 inches to 10.7 inches. MotherProof.com appreciates the lower setting for younger passengers, reporting "it sits lower to the ground than a traditional SUV." Motor Trend also likes the air-lift setup, with settings "making it easier to clear rocks on trails, or provide a lower ride height from improved wind resistance on the freeway."

"Pumped up on its air springs to its full 10.6 inches of clearance, an Overland rarely drags its belly," reports Car and Driver, "though sharp impacts do occasionally crash the suspension against the bump stops with a jarring thud." Not all reviewers are as impressed with the changes in height, with Cars.com saying that "the ride gets a little cushier still if you get the optional Quadra-Lift adjustable air suspension, but the difference is subtle."

Engines and performance

The 2011 Grand Cherokee comes standard with a flex-fuel (E85-compatible) 3.6-liter V6 engine, with the option of upgrading to a 5.7-liter V-8. Jeep pairs both engines with a 5-speed automatic transmission that includes overdrive. With 290 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, Automobile Magazine says that the new Pentastar V6 "blows away the old 3.7-liter's 210 hp and 235 lb-ft." Reviewers testing the six-cylinder Grand Cherokee agree with ConsumerReports.org in its conclusion (available via a new post open to any website visitor) that the new V6 engine is a smooth operator, but must be pushed into higher revs to deliver the advertised power.

Consumer Guide Automotive reports that the V6 "has enough muscle to allow Grand Cherokee to easily keep up with traffic and cope with nearly any traffic situation." And though they note it is not "sluggish," they concede that "it never quite manages to feel quick either."

Cars.com discusses a similar driving experience. "The V6's performance is strong enough," they report, but feel that the hefty 4,850-pound curb weight impedes the Grand Cherokee, saying, "lugging all that weight around makes the V6 labor; you can tell that it's working hard when you're accelerating." They report that at "highway speeds, the V6 cruises easily at 70 mph," adding "the transmission readily kicks down when you need more power to pass, and it shifts smoothly."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates 18 miles per gallon overall for both the two- and four-wheel drive Grand Cherokee when outfitted with the 3.6-liter V6 engine. Two-wheel-drive examples come in slightly better with 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway in comparison to 16 city/22 highway with four-wheel-drive. As a flex-fuel engine, the V6 is capable of running E85, but at lower fuel economy. The 2WD model gets 13 city/17 highway/14 overall, while the EPA reports12 city/16 highway/14 overall for the 4WD Grand Cherokee.

Consumer Guide Auto says there is "noticeably more muscle" with the optional 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine. With 360 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque, Motor Trend says this engine has "no trouble bringing the relatively lightweight sport utility up to speed. The Grand Cherokee reached 60 mph in 7.3 seconds."

Though the V8 increases horsepower and towing capabilities, MotherProof.com calls the resulting fuel economy "less-than-impressive." Car and Driver says the larger engine doesn't necessarily translate to better performance, noting that "the Jeep's fuel-inhaling V-8 returned near-V-6 acceleration times." With 4WD, FuelEconomy.gov estimates drivers will see 13 city/19 highway/15 overall with the V8. This improves slightly with 2WD drive at 14 city/20 highway/16 overall.

In comparison with the Ford Explorer, Automobile Magazine reports that even though both SUVs' V6 engines have "virtually the same output … the Jeep seemed to have an easier time passing pickups and semis." Motor Trend was impressed with the V8 Grand Cherokee's ride and responsiveness but when pitted against the Land Rover LR4 it finishes a close second. "…While on-road feel and gut instinct suggest the Grand Cherokee is outperforming the Land Rover, in actuality, the LR4 is faster to 60 in the quarter mile."

One of the largest advantages to Jeep's available V8 is the increase in towing capabilities it provides, taking the Grand Cherokee from a 5,000-pound tow rating with the V6, to 7,400 pounds with the 2WD V-8. For optimum towing, Cars.com recommends, "the optional Trailer Tow Group IV Package, which features heavy-duty engine and engine oil cooling, a 220-amp alternator, a full-size spare tire and a Class IV receiver hitch with wiring harness." In a review summary that's available to all via its website, ConsumerReports.org notes that the V8 Grand Cherokee easily pulls light trailers, while V6 models struggle under similar circumstances.

Upgraded comfort and class

The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee's improved ride quality and substantially upgraded interior are commonly cited as highlights. Cars.com sums up the overall experience of driving the new Jeep, saying "the new Grand Cherokee manages to provide on-road driving refinement that can go toe-to-toe with the best that the crossover segment has to offer -- and it does so without sacrificing its considerable off-road capabilities."

Motor Trend calls the interior controls "more intuitive than in the Land Rover," and says "the cabin is comfortable and genuinely attractive." Automobile Magazine also prefers the Grand Cherokee's "more traditional, and more user-friendly, climate controls" in comparison to the Ford Explorer. "The Grand Cherokee cabin isn't as wide and spacious feeling as the Explorer's," it reports, "but the Jeep doesn't seem like such a big bus from behind the wheel, either."

Car and Driver calls it a "fashionable ride," saying, "from behind the wheel, the Jeep feels just as expensive as it isn't." They praise the cabin, calling it "an airy interior of piped leather and genuine timber trim, with a high button count." Alongside the Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner, Car and Driver finds "an order of magnitude more posh than that of the other trucks here."

Automobile Magazine notes that "the Grand Cherokee has resisted the three-row trend" and used the space provided by the enlarged exterior to create a roomier backseat that "has become more welcoming to rear passengers." It adds that "thanks to wider-opening doors and a 5.3-inch-longer wheelbase, access to the back seats has finally opened up. Once there, passengers enjoy a significant four more inches of legroom than before."

Similarly, cargo space improves over the previous-generation Grand Cherokee. According to Cars.com, the 2011 Grand Cherokee "measures 35.1 cubic feet, which is 5.6 cubic feet larger than the prior model's cargo area. With the Grand Cherokee's backseat folded, cargo room increases to 68.7 cubic feet." However, they also note that it is a smaller area than the Toyota 4Runner and Nissan Pathfinder, which measure 47.2 cubic feet and 49.2 cubic feet, respectively. Motor Trend also laments that compared to the Land Rover LR4, "there isn't as much space inside the Grand Cherokee, for people or gear." In their comparison testing, they find LR4 is "roomier inside and can carry more than 90.3 cubic feet of gear" with the seats folded down. 

On the road, Consumer Guide Automotive calls the quiet ride "another Grand Cherokee strong suit," saying "wind noise is very well controlled. Likewise, this SUV does an admirable job of filtering road noise." Testers at Cars.com declare, "The Grand Cherokee's ride comfort is its most impressive quality," and summarize: "It really does drive like a crossover."

Safety and reliability

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety names the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee a Top Safety Pick, reporting that it has good performance in front, side, rollover, and rear tests. It points out that standard safety equipment includes "four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, anti-roll control, traction control, active head restraints, rear-wheel drive, a backup camera with rear sensors and six airbags, including side-impact airbags for the front seat and side curtains for both rows."

Of the midsize SUVs tested for roof strength, the Grand Cherokee returns the highest amount of force at 21,545 pounds of peak force, and has one of the top strength-to-vehicle weight ratios in the category.

In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tests, the 2011 Grand Cherokee receives a rating of 3 stars (out of five) for rollover resistance, 4 stars for the frontal crash protection and 5 stars for side crash protection. Its overall safety score is 4 out of 5 stars. The 12 service bulletins on record show a few issues with the electrical system and software problems, each of which was addressed, along with some other minor complaints.

Two reviewers note that the top-tether anchors are tricky to reach, and MotherProof.com says that "latch anchors need to be easier to access and use." Reviewer Courtney Messenbaugh explains, "I wasn't able to fit my three car seats into the SUV, but the car seat testers in MotherProof.com's Car Seat Check were able to fit their three car seats in it, which shows you that you should take your car seats with you if you're planning to take a test drive."

Research sources

Car and Driver, Motor Trend and Automobile Magazine compare the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee alongside other midsize SUVs, including the Ford Explorer, Land Rover LR4, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner. Motor Trend and Car and Driver both take their Jeeps to off-road trails to put the 4x4s through their paces. Consumer Guide Automotive, Cars.com, Mother Proof and Consumer Reports provide comprehensive evaluations of the Grand Cherokee. The Insurance Institute performs safety tests for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, while gas mileage is from FuelEconomy.gov.

Where To Buy

Our Sources

1. Car and Driver

Testers at Car and Driver pit an upgraded 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee against other mid-size SUV competitors Kia Borrego, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner. The test track was a series of 4x4 trails in southern California, where the Jeep was declared the winner for being "an everyday do-it-all of high caste that doesn't mind getting grimy."

Review: Jeep Grand Cherokee vs. Kia Borrego, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota 4Runner - Comparison Tests, Aaron Robinson, September 2010

2. Automobile Magazine

Twenty years ago, following the 1990 debut of the Ford Explorer and Jeep's 1992 launch of the Grand Cherokee, Automobile Magazine tested these two popular SUVs. Following the 2011 redesign of both models, testers take the similarly priced 4x4s out for a rematch.

Review: Comparison: 2011 Ford Explorer vs. 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, Joe Lorio, March 2011

3. Motor Trend

Motor Trend appreciates the growing trend of combining four-wheel drive vehicles with comfort and even luxury. For their road test, drivers ran a 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee against a 2010 Land Rover LR4. The Santa Barbara, California test course includes freeway cruising and four-wheel trails. Motor Trend awards first place to the Land Rover, saying that it "performs better on- and off-road, tows more, and has a nicer cabin.

Review: Round One: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee V-8 vs. 2010 Land Rover LR4, Allyson Harwood, October 2010

4. ConsumerReports.org

Editors at Consumer Reports test-drive the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, approving of its off-road driving and most of its pavement tests. Only the Grand Cherokee is tested for this article, though Consumer Reports does compare it against the Nissan Murano, Volkswagen Touareg and other "car-based SUVs." This review summary is available to all; no subscription is needed.

Review: Test Complete: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, Nov. 1, 2010

5. ConsumerReports.org

This comprehensive summary from Consumer Reports details road test feedback, interior components and safety information for both the Laredo and the Limited versions of the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Review: Jeep Grand Cherokee, Editors of ConsumerReports.org

6. Cars.com

Mike Hanley from Cars.com discusses changes in the redesigned 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and compares it with other popular competing brands, including Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota 4Runner and Land Rover. He appreciates the level of refinement paired with the four-wheel-drive capabilities that most have come to expect from Jeep, but feels the V-6 is underpowered and the interior needs more improvement for the price.

Review: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mike Hanley, June 20, 2010

7. ConsumerGuide Automotive

ConsumerGuide Automotive goes over the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee with a fine-toothed comb, examining engine performance, handling and comfort, and rating it against all other vehicles in its class. Overall, the Jeep takes home higher rates than the average mid-size SUV tested by ConsumerGuide Automotive, but it does not make their Best Buy or Recommended lists.

Review: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee: Overview, Editors of ConsumerGuide

8. MotherProof.com

MotherProof.com puts the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee through everyday paces, trading 4x4 trails for car seats and family errands. The real-world report provides a base of facts, but there is no side-by-side testing or off-road trials.

Review: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, Courtney Messenbaugh, Jan. 26, 2011

9. FuelEconomy.gov

At FuelEconomy.gov, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency measures the fuel consumption of the two- and four-wheel drive Grand with both a V6 and V8 engine.

Review: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

10. IIHS.org

The Insurance Industry for Highway Safety gives the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee good marks across the board and awards it a Top Safety Pick for 2011.

Review: Jeep Grand Cherokee, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

11. SaferCar.gov

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration changed the way it tests vehicles, leading to stricter requirements and more rigorous tests. With this more scrupulous testing, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee received an overall 4 stars out of 5.

Review: 5-Star Safety Ratings, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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