It has been almost twenty years since the Grand Cherokee was first released in the spring of 1992 as a 1993 model year release. The all-new 1993 (ZJ platform) Grand Cherokee was an innovative SUV, it was rugged and fully capable off-road yet it was civilized. Before the Grand Cherokee most SUVs including Jeep’s popular (XJ platform) Cherokee had rough riding road manners and boxy styling by Lego. The (first generation) 1993 Grand Cherokee was more capable off-road than any other previous Jeep at that time, however it rode like a luxury car on the paved roads with its 4-wheel coil suspension. The 1993 Grand Cherokee provided many firsts to SUV buyers, but one of the most popular was the V8 engine option. Before the Grand Cherokee no mid-sized SUV offered anything more than 6-cylinders – following Jeep’s lead many other mid-sized SUVs in recent years have had a V8 option. The 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee was a mega sales success and won 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine’s “4×4 of the Year” award, along with Motor Trend’s “Truck of the Year” award.
Back to the future and it’s now 2011 and the fourth generation of the Grand Cherokee (the WL) has made its debut, it too has received a whole host of awards and accolades just like the 1993 and sales are also way up over the 2010 model which was the last of the third generation Grand Cherokees (the WK). In fact it’s Chrysler’s biggest sales success for 2011 and partly responsible for Chrysler’s return back into financial security. It’s more innovative and capable off-road than any other previous offering from Jeep. As has been the case the last seventy years, Jeep continues this year with more new innovations that most of its competition have yet to offer. In recent years most SUVs which in the past were more rugged in appearance and capabilities have become domesticated with more elegant and flowing lines and all-wheel drive (verses the tradition 4-wheel drive). To many the difference is not understood since most think if four wheels are moving the vehicle can handle any condition. Unfortunately that’s not the case, there are many other factors that make a vehicle capable in rugged off-road conditions. The most important of which is the transfer case, which is responsible for distributing the power (when it receives it from the transmission) to a vehicle’s four wheels. In an all-wheel drive system the transfer case only has one gear – a high gear. For most people who need a SUV to keep the tires planted in adverse on-road conditions, an all-wheel drive system will suffice. However to those who need traction in not only bad on-road conditions but also the worst conditions that off-road terrain can throw at you, then a 4-wheel drive system, which has a transfer case with at least two speeds – low and high is absolutely imperative. Here’s where Jeep comes in the picture, it has for many years with the Grand Cherokee offered rock-solid (no pun intended) 4-wheel drive transfer cases with the best available off-road capabilities while continuing year-by-year to make the Grand Cherokee more civilized. It’s Jeep’s way of ensuring that customers can have their cake and eat it too.
Back in 2009, I had a discussion with a Chrysler representative at a press event. At this time Chrysler was tight lipped on the upcoming fourth generation Grand Cherokee, this was when Chrysler and GM were descending upon bad financial straits; Daimler by this time had thrown Chrysler to the wolves and had already run for cover. I was peppering the polite Chrysler rep with questions on the upcoming Grand Cherokee. He was careful with his words but assured me that Chrysler was committed to the next generation Grand Cherokee. He went as far as to say that it was a vehicle worth waiting for and that Chrysler was really going to put the “the Grand” into the Grand Cherokee. Even though I was given the inside scope that the Grand Cherokee was going to be more lavish and upscale, the Chrysler rep’s heads up did not prepare me for the upscale nature of the 2011 Grand Cherokee Overland. The Overland is the top-of-the-line Grand Cherokee offering just about everything you’ll need to impress fellow country club members. The Limited is the mid-range model offering a good smattering of luxury (a Limited can be equipped almost as luxuriously as the Overland). And then there’s the Laredo, the Grand Cherokee’s base model – however don’t be fooled this model equipped with leather seats and few features can put to shame the 2009 Jeep Cherokee Overland (an Overland model was not offered for 2010), due to the much better interior of the new fourth generation Grand Cherokee. That’s right a base Laredo is better than the previous generation top-of-the-line Grand Cherokee. Now that’s a great leap forward, so you can imagine how good the new Overland model is.
All the shortfalls in previous Grand Cherokee’s interior are gone. The new 2011 Overland interior can go toe-to-toe with the grandest luxury sport utilities from Europe – no longer inferior to the best Land Rover, Mercedes, and BMW have to offer. Everything from the ultra comfortable seats to the wider than last year interior cabin, will give you separation anxiety when you depart from the Overland’s cabin. With the Overland comes standard premium leather seating surfaces with edge-piping, these seats are more upscale than the leather seats offered in the Grand Cherokee Limited or Laredo models. Standard, in the Overland the front seats are both heated (to keep you warm in the winter) and vented (to keep you cool in the summer). The rear seats are just heated. Both front seats are 8-way power adjustable with the driver seat having the memory feature so that different drivers can save their seating position settings. Getting to the dashboard layout, it is a work of art – you can tell that a lot of time and effort went into designing every little detail of the gauges and readouts. And it’s fantastic to have a digital readout that actually tells you the exact temperature of the engine. All materials on the dash, console, and around the interior cabin are upscale with the Overland – no shortcuts or skimping by Jeep, it’s the real deal here. Real wood and metal trim are used in a tasteful manner. Even the plastic materials used compliment the interior. For the real hard to please, if the Overland does not do it for you the Overland Summit most certainly will. The Summit is an upscale trim package available on the Overland. Even the Grey Poupon crowd will love this interior which consists of a black and saddle (chestnut) two-toned interior with saddle colored Nappa heated and ventilated leather seats (with black and chestnut accent bindings), and real black olive burl wood trim (decorating the dash, side door panels, and the heated steering wheel). The new steering wheel is much sportier and classy in appearance than the previous Grand Cherokee steering wheel. It’s small round hub design with three spokes, and is a welcome departure from the bulky hubs that most vehicles have been stuck with for the last 20 years since driver-side airbags were first mandated. On the steering wheel are plenty of easy touch buttons; which include the stereo system volume, cruise control, and U-connect controls. And standard there’s a new Command View Dual-Pane Panoramic Sunroof.
Complimenting the wider interior cabin, interior space has increased all over – 17 percent more to be exact. Front and rear leg room have also improved; previous Grand Cherokee model owners will see immediately the increased interior space. Trunk space has also increased and is very spacious, and the electric opening rear hatch is a nice addition. The spare tire has moved from outside (underneath the rear) to below the rear cargo floor, which makes the tire much more accessible – the cargo floor pops up to expose it and a cargo tray which is perfect for emergency supplies like road flares and emergency tire inflator cans.
The front-end especially the headlights, is a modern retro version of the (second generation) 1999-2004 (WJ) Grand Cherokee. The overall body style is burlier with softer edges than last year’s Grand Cherokee. The overall look is very eye-catching, Jeep did a great job with the new design – it still has the familiar Jeep lines in a very modern looking package. Even the new rear taillight design is attractive – however it looks very similar to the current BMW X5’s rear taillight design. The Overland adds to the design with exterior chrome accents and trim.
In past Grand Cherokee Overland models, a V8 was standard. This year Jeep is shaking things up, and now making the new Pentastar 3.6 liter V6 standard on all Grand Cherokee models. On the flip side of the coin, for those wanting the powerful 5.7 liter Hemi V8 (360 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque), it is now available on every Grand Cherokee model. The 5.7 liter Hemi V8 needs no introduction; it has been a popular engine option on the Grand Cherokee since 2005. Even with the recent uptick of high gas prices dealerships have difficult time keeping the Hemi Overlands on the lot. I took trips to three local Jeep dealerships in my area, and the sales reps gave me the same consensus – all sold out of Hemi Overlands but still had a few V6 Overlands in inventory. Even with its Multi-Displacement System (MDS) cylinder deactivation system, the Hemi still sucks down gas like it was still $2.00 a gallon. However its gas mileage is much better than the 1993 Grand Cherokee equipped with the 220 horsepower 5.2 liter V8 – so after almost 20 years the Hemi has 140 more horsepower and better gas mileage than the old 5.2 liter V8 which is what I would consider progress. The EPA mpg ratings for the Hemi equipped 4×4 Grand Cherokee are 13 city and 19 highway (14 city and 20 highway for the 2-wheel drive Grand Cherokee), however the fantastic passing gear of the Hemi and the quick around 7 second 0-60 mph and around 15 second 1/4 mile times which is impressive considering the Overland weighs in at a hefty around 5,000 lbs. Rewind back to 1993, the first inline-6 Grand Cherokee had a curb weight of around 3,600 lbs – another sign the Grand Cherokee is a bigger overall vehicle than its predecessors. The 5.7 Hemi, which was once the standard engine on the third generation (WK) Grand Cherokee Overland, now costs a pricey $1,995 to check it off on the option list.
One interesting note, Jeep is really downplaying the Hemi, before there was at least an external “HEMI” badge to denote that a Hemi lurked under the hood. Now there is no external badge or decal, only the most observant onlookers can tell the difference by the presence of the dual exhaust system’s (dual outlet) exhaust pipes out back (the V6 only has one pipe out back). It’s a good-looking system and long overdue, previous Hemi Grand Cherokee’s had a free flow dual exhaust system with dual cats that looked all performance until underneath the middle of the vehicle both pipes entered into one big muffler and then into a smaller muffler/resonator with final exhaust departure through one exhaust tip which was barely visible. Indeed the new dual exhaust system is a welcome change.
Back to the new 3.6 liter V6, it’s a DOHC 24 valves per cylinder design with Variable Valve Timing (VVT). It provides a lot more horsepower, torque, and much better gas mileage than last year’s 210 horsepower 3.7 liter SOHC V6. The 3.7 liter V6 was adequate and reliable, however the new 3.6 liter V6 is just the shot in the arm the Grand Cherokee needed. With gas prices skyrocketing in the last year, it was a smart move for Jeep to make this powerful V6 standard on all Grand Cherokee models. This engine produces horsepower and torque numbers that a few years back were only available on a V8. With 290 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque the 3.6 liter V6 is a serious contender. Gas mileage is an impressive 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway (16 city and 23 highway for the 2-wheel drive models). Driving the Overland with the V6, most buyers won’t miss the V8, it has no acceleration dead spots; it provides plenty of punch throughout the rpm range and it likes to rev. The only shortcoming is that the V6 could have some more punch off the line (it was good but not as good as it could be), the mandatory 3.06 rear axle ratio sure helps the gas mileage but it hampered off-the-line-performance a little. An optional 3.73 or better rear gear ratio would certain fix this. The same could be said about the Hemi Grand Cherokee it has a 3.45 rear axle ratio but it has 390 lb-ft of torque so the off-the-line launches are plenty powerful (but still would be better with a 3.73 or better rear axle ratio). For the 3.6 liter V6, 0-60 mph takes a little over 8 seconds and the 1/4 mile run takes around 16.4 seconds. Now these are the same performance numbers you could expect from the first generation 5.2 liter V8 equipped (ZJ) Grand Cherokee (that was over 1,000 lbs lighter than the current model), which made the 5.2 liter Grand Cherokee the fasted 4-door SUVs on the market back in its day. And as mentioned earlier the 5.2 liter Grand Cherokee had much worse gas mileage than even the current Hemi. If your not yet convinced about the 3.6 liter V6 Grand Cherokee, well it has a towing rating of 6,500 lbs which in the past a Grand Cherokee owner was forced to buy a V8 to tow over 5,000 lbs. The Hemi Grand Cherokee has a towing rating of 7,400 lbs.
One very interesting step in the right direction is the new oil filter design used by the 3.6 liter V6 will have the average car owner doing oil changes as fast as a NASCAR pit crew. The old days of sliding under the car and removing the messy oil filter are gone. There is an opening (you twist off the plastic round cap) on the top of the V6’s top shroud cover that allows easy access to a tube that has a plug that comes off with a socket wrench – you pull out the old oil filter cartridge (which is connected to the plug) and slide the new one in. It’s just that easy and mess-free – also worth mentioning as an added bonus the filter is 100% biodegradable.
Both the V6 and the Hemi V8 come equipped with Chrysler’s 5-speed automatic transmission. It’s a reliable unit and very smooth shifting. However it appears that by the start of the next model year this unit will be replaced by a world class ZF 8-speed automatic transmission which should help to increase fuel efficiency and performance for both Grand Cherokee engines.
Another area that had me almost in shock was how quiet both the V6 and Hemi equipped 2011 Grand Cherokees are on the road. There’s no road noise, squeaks, or rattles – even the base Laredo is as quiet as a church mouse. This includes rolling over rough terrain such as curbs, potholes, and other obstacles. The new independent rear suspension really helps in this respect; it’s so much better than the solid rear axle suspension of last year’s model. The rigidity of the chassis is unbelievable, it seems you can stretch it over rough terrain in any type of crazy configuration like kids back in the 1970s and 1980s did to Stretch Armstrong dolls, and not even a squeak can be heard.
And not to forget why many buy Jeeps, the 4×4 Overland comes standard with the new Quadra-Lift Air Suspension, which the driver can use center console buttons/controls to adjust the suspension for any type of driving condition. This includes lifting the suspension a full five inches higher for some serious off-road clearance. Also located in the center console are buttons/controls for the standard Selec-Terrain Traction Control system – giving the driver total control over any type of driving condition. The 5.7 Hemi equipped Overland comes standard with Jeep’s full-time Quadra-Drive II 4-wheel drive system while the V6 Overland uses the full-time Quadra-Trac II 4-wheel drive system. All this equates to the 2011 Grand Cherokee Overland being more capable off-road than any previous Grand Cherokee. The Overland comes standard with 20-inch aluminum wheels with 265/50R20 all-season tires. This combination is not trail-rated however when the optional Off-Road Adventure II package is ordered 18 x 8-inch aluminum wheels with P265/60R18 on/off-Road tires replace the 20-inch wheels and tires giving the Overland Jeep’s trail rated certification. Also included in this package are a front suspension skid plate, fuel tank skid plate, transfer case skid plate, towing hooks, and an underbody skid plate.
The 4-wheel drive Grand Cherokee Overland has a base sticker price of $42,375 ($38,875 for the 2-wheel drive Overland) while the 4-wheel drive Overland Summit’s base sticker price is $45,995 ($42,495 for the 2-wheel drive Summit). This is a tremendous value for what you get – in this day and age with the shrinking dollar the Overland has not accented up in price. Five years ago a 4-wheel drive Overland had a base sticker price of around $43,000, and the new 2011 Overland is right in that ballpark and yet offers so much more. With all things considered the Grand Cherokee Overland with all its features is a bargain at twice the price; please don’t tell the folks at Jeep. Of course they know what they are doing, after-all over four million Grand Cherokees have been sold in the last 20 years – so they must be doing something right.
Written contents in this article – © 2011 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved