Back in late 2010, I added a white, 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee with the optional 5.7-liter V-8 “Hemi” engine to my stable.
This was the first of the new fully-redesigned Jeeps. For the 2011 model year, the Jeep was re-worked from the ground up and most reviewers agree, it was well done.
I’m writing this review as an owner, so I have unique perspective on the vehicle. I literally bought the first one to ship to the Seattle area so I’ve had it since late summer 2010.
The new Jeep is built on the underpinnings of the Mercedes-Benz M-Class. The quality of a Mercedes is apparent in the way the vehicle drives.
The redesigned Jeep looks more aggressive than the old. It’s still obviously a Jeep, but somewhat cooler. It’s no Range Rover. It’s not a truck that wows you with its exterior appearance, but it’s no slouch to look at either. Especially since I dressed up the car with some nicer chrome rims!
On the inside, the Jeep has improved significantly. Even some of the down-model Jeeps still have nice interior appointments. There’s less plastic than you might think. We’re talking no more Motel 6. The Jeep interior has stepped up to Holiday Inn level. After looking at Chevrolet Suburbans costing $20,000 more I can safely say the Jeep interior is superior to anything from GM in the same class. But you don’t buy a Jeep because of how it looks on the inside or out. You buy it because you want to go off road, or haul stuff or carry people. So engine performance is key. This model year, Jeep introduced a V-6 for the Grand Cherokee, but I can’t resist Hemi engines and I am not one bit sorry I went that way. The big V-8 has plenty of power.
The suspension (with contribution of a stiffer unibody from Mercedes) is much better than the old Jeep and the vehicle rides and handles so much better than before that it’s noticeable, even to people who aren’t car guys.
This Jeep is trail rated and since my primary use for this vehicle is as my work truck, i.e., taking my photo gear out on expeditions, I do take the Jeep off road. For that, I have a very reliable, easy-to-use four wheel drive system that has so far, in 15k plus miles, has proven effective off road. Selec-Terrain lets you choose one of five traction-control modes according to driving conditions: Auto, Sand/Mud, Sport, Snow, and Rock.
There’s 7,400 pounds of towing capacity and plenty of room for four very large people in this car or four large people and one unlucky smaller person who gets crammed in the back seat between two big folk. The rear cargo door lifts up and out of the way and that is the way I like it. The rear seats fold down in one second flat at the pull of a lever. There’s no magic hand shake or special dance required to get the seats to lay flat and to turn the entire back end of the Jeep into cargo space. I can haul just about anything I like back there. It’s easy, smooth and clean. In my long-term test of the Jeep it’s become one of my favorite features. Other manufacturers should copy Jeep when it comes to the ease with which you can fold down those rear seats.
The Jeep is big and roomy and sits high off the ground, and while I have no proof it provides me any real additional safety, I feel safer in it. It comes with the usual list of standard safety gear; dual front, side, and curtain airbags; traction and stability control; anti-lock brakes with integral trailer-sway control; and rough-road detection logic. Hill-start and hill-descent help are programmed into its stability systems, and active headrests are standard, too.
My Jeep also includes parking sensors and a rearview camera. I wish I had ordered the blind-spot detectors; adaptive cruise control; and a collision-warning system that senses when the SUV is approaching cars ahead too rapidly and sounds a warning. I have those systems on my Jaguar and miss them on the Jeep. Maybe next time.
Visibility is very impressive in the Grand Cherokee. The combination of the hood shape (easy to see the corners) thin pillars and a huge rear window make seeing out of the Jeep very re-assuring. Compare this with the new Range Rover Evoque (which I really want to buy mind you) and you’ll understand that the Evoke LOOKS cool but is not cool to look out of. Visibility in the Evoque just plain sucks compared with the Jeep.
After 15k miles, my Jeep still runs solid. The engine pulls very well considering its inside an SUV. There are no significant rattles. The car is solid, tight and well-made.
I do have a few complaints. Fuel mileage isn’t quite what I hoped for. My mileage street/highway combo is only about 17 mpg. The vehicle does run on regular gas, in fact it’s the only vehicle I own that does, so that helps with costs, but I would expect the engine to be somewhat more efficient.
Quality-wise, the 2011 Jeep has done much better than older models I’ve owned. I have suffered some issues. My right rear taillight burned out – fixed and covered under warranty. No big deal. My tire pressure gauges went haywire for about a week and then self-corrected. Again, no big deal – but it was unsettling. The biggest problem I faced was a serious failure of the braking and four-wheel drive system. Now mind you it didn’t actually fail. The warning lights did their job. One day driving from the studio to lunch, the brake light warning system and the four-wheel drive warning system started flashing. There was no actual problem operating the vehicle, but when I see a warning light pertaining to brakes, I take it seriously. Fortunately, I was only a mile from my local Jeep dealer and dropped it off to find that there was a major systems failure in progress. It was fixed in two days under warranty. If I didn’t have other vehicles available to me, I would have been majorly inconvenienced by this and had to pay for a rental car. What’s worse, had this happened when I was 100 miles out in the middle of nowhere, my goose would have been cooked. It was uncomfortable.
I have many miles on the car since those problems with no repeat of the issues. My verdict is this is a very good vehicle. It’s not great. It’s not inspiring. It’s not going to get oohs and aahs from the peanut gallery. But it’s very competent. It does the things I need a work truck to do. It hauls people and stuff well. It’s fun to drive. It’s powerful. It’s practical and it’s reasonably affordable, more so comparing it to offerings from Range Rover, BMW, etc.
The redesign is a success in my opinion. The Jeep Grand Cherokee has always been a favorite of SUV buyers who want to buy American. I think if the company keeps producing vehicles of this caliber at this price, they’ll be just fine.
My long-term test verdict is: Highly Recommended with the caveat that you need to watch this model carefully to make sure there is no wide-spread issue with the brake/four-wheel drive system that I experienced.