The trail up the hill is rocks, and the drop down is so steep that only the seatbelt keeps me from falling into the windshield. Naturally, the redesigned 2011 Grand Cherokee takes it in stride, along with improvements for a smooth asphalt ride as well.
It uses a Mercedes-Benz platform, has a selectable terrain mode similar to Land Rover’s, and throws in Chrysler’s newfound attention to interior quality.
It starts at $37,995 for the base Laredo E, followed by Laredo X at $42,995, Limited at $46,995 and Overland at $49,995. The trim levels are differentiated both by features and off-road capability.
The 5.7-litre Hemi V8 is unchanged, but the previous 3.7-litre V6 is replaced with Chrysler’s all-new 3.6-litre V6. It provides 80 more horsepower, but with an improvement in fuel economy.
Grand Cherokee offers three 4x4 different systems. The base Quadra-Trac I, standard on the Laredo models, is full-time four-wheel. Quadra-Trac II is optional on Laredo X, and standard on Limited and Overland; it adds low range and can send all engine power to the front or rear axle.
Quadra-Drive II, optional on all but the base model, is similar but adds an electronic limited-slip differential that sends full power to a single wheel if the other three are helplessly spinning.
The interior design doesn’t break any new ground – I like the simple, big-buttoned centre stack, but some might find it too austere — but it’s light-years ahead of its predecessor in materials and finish.
The previously cramped rear seats are now fine for six-footers, and the cargo area is larger, including two nifty removable storage bins tucked around the spare tire, and flat-folding rear chairs. All models features dual-zone a/c, power driver’s seat, pushbutton start and active front head restraints.