Review: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4×4
By Kevin Miller
“Comfy Throne, Cushy Ride.” Those are my first logbook phrases written about the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and they summed up my experience with the latest generation of Jeep’s flagship SUV. Entirely new for 2011, the Grand Cherokee benefits from Chrysler’s improved interior materials and design, lending the big truck a luxurious feel. That luxury is backed up by heated leather seats, infotainment system with navigation system and awesome sound, and an air suspension which gives a velvety ride as well as increasing ground clearance for off-roading.
The new Grand Cherokee still looks like a Jeep, and is a thoroughly modern evolution of the nameplate’s traditional SUV appearance. All four doors open nice and wide, and provide access to a wide interior. Materials on the dash are very nice soft, grained plastic; below the beltline of the dash and doors, plastics are hard and shiny, with a grain matching the upper material. My Laredo tester had a dark-finished faux wood accent on the black plastic dash, which complemented the charcoal leather seats but lent the interior a somber atmosphere. Instruments were clear, with Chrysler’s Electronic Vehicle Information Center (EVIC) between the analog speedometer and tachometer, which can display vehicle speed or other trip computer information.
The leather-upholstered front seats are wide, cushy and supportive, which to me was a throwback to the first-generation Grand Cherokee I remember piloting nearly two decades ago; unfortunately, bolstering is nearly nonexistent. In addition to two cupholders on the center console, the JGC has bottle holders plus large illuminated pockets molded into the front doors. The Grand Cherokee itself is wide, with plenty of room for three adults (or three car seats) across in back. A flap in the cargo area that makes the load floor flat when seats fold make the upper LATCH anchors a bit difficult to access when installing child seats. The back seats have adjustable back rake angle, and there is a folding center armrest that contains two cup holders; the back doors also have molded-in bottle holders.
The luggage compartment is wide and deep, accessed by tailgate or by separately-opening glass within the tailgate, though the Grand Cherokee is too tall to make that method very useful. The D-pillar trim is very styled/sculpted, which hampers rearward visibility and reduces cargo space somewhat. The seatbacks fold forward in a 40/60 split to create a large, flat load floor.
The infotainment system mentioned above employs a color touchscreen and integrates a hard disc drive, satellite and terrestrial radios, a CD player, navigation system, and Bluetooth phone functionality. The up-level audio system offers clear, loud sound reproduction; pre-loaded songs from the hard drive sounded better than I’ve ever heard digital music reproduced.
The infotainment screen is not as large nor as high-resolution as those used in other Chrysler products such as the 2011 Dodge Journey and 2011 Chrysler 300. The navigation system features Garmin-branded programming, which has better functionality and displays than the non-Garmin branded system I sampled in a 2010 Chrysler 300C SRT8 a few months ago. A handy feature of the system is that it displays the speed limit of road you’re driving on, and displays the speed in red if you’re speeding.
When phone calls were received, the touchscreen usually displayed the name of the caller from my phone. Unfortunately for me, when a blocked call came in the system displayed the name of the last caller. That meant that it looked like my wife was calling me back as I transported friends to the train station, but when I answered the phone affectionately, it was not my wife. Talk about awkward.
The Grand Cherokee Laredo I tested was equipped with the optional 5.7 liter V8. I was surprised that the Jeep had no exterior badging to show the powerful mill was present. The V8 offers a muted exhaust burble through dual tailpipes, and smooth, strong power delivery. Other Autosavant contributors have sampled the Grand Cherokee with the standard Pentastar V6 and found power merely adequate. The five-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and as expected, though it doesn’t offer rev-matched downshifts, even when chassis controller is in Sport mode. Manually selecting gears using the manual shift gate does not produce instant gear changes; there is a significant delay.
On the road, the steering felt imprecise and disconnected, likely due to both the SUV’s off-road nature and tall tire sidewalls. At times the Grand Cherokee felt particularly “truckish,” with lots of weight that equated to inertia when setting off from a stop. Steering is slow, both in the sense that it has slow gearing and in that it is slow to return to center, meaning the big SUV can be tiresome after a log of tight driving, or even just running a lot of errands around the suburbs. Still it had a nice tight turning radius for maneuvering in parking lots.
The optional Off-Road Adventure II package on the Grand Cherokee I tested features Quadra-Lift air suspension and the Quadra-Drive II all-wheel drive system, which provides a chassis control called Selec-Terrain. The Selec-Terrain offers a Sport setting for rear-wheel-biased, on-road driving, which does a great job providing rear-bias and a bit of rear wheelspin (thanks to reduced stability control) along with a lower setting of the air suspension; this was my preferred mode when I was running around town in the Grand Cherokee.
Other settings of the Selec-Terrain control include Snow, Auto, Sand/Mud, and Rock; there is also a button to select a low-range transfer case. I had the opportunity to attend Mudfest, an annual SUV competition put on by the Northwest Automotive Press Association (NWAPA), where I was able to use the low-range and Mud setting on a course of deep mud with a log bridge to cross. A Jeep representative was riding co-pilot, helping me understand and appreciate the sophisticated four-wheel drive system which is just extra weight when plodding through the suburbs.
Minor flaws? On more than one occasion, opening the car during (or after) rainy weather caused water in weather stripping at the top of the driver’s door to flow off of the door and onto me. I found the automatic lamps to be overly sensitive, turning on when I drove under an overpass at freeway speed, only to turn immediately off again when back in daylight. Too, when driving with headlamps on, a green indicator illuminates in the instrument panel which is disproportionately bright and quite distracting at night.
During my first two days with the grand Cherokee, I drove 240 mostly-highway miles, with consumption indicated at 17.2 MPG by the trip computer. During my remaining time with the big Jeep I covered 200 miles almost exclusively in aggressive suburban stop-and-go driving, returning an average of just 12.5 MPG. Combining those two figures calculates an average just below 15 MPG over my 450 miles in the Grand Cherokee, which is close to the EPA’s estimate of 13/19/15 MPG city/highway/combined.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4×4 has a base price of $32,215. The one I tested included the $4,000 Laredo 25X Package (leather-trimmed bucket seats; power 8-way driver and front passenger seats; heated front seats, dual zone climate control, ParkView rear backup camera, ParkSense rear park assist; Uconnect handsfree phone; Media Center 430; nine-speaker 506 W Premium Sound; Security Alarm; Remote Start; 115 V auxiliary power; TPMS; Leather-wrapped shift knob; cargo cover; universal garage door opener; 18-inch aluminum painted wheels; P265/60R18 on/off road tires); $2,125 Off-Road Adventure II Package (Quadra-Drive II 4WD system, Electronic Limited-Slip rear differential; Quadra-Lift air suspension; Trailer Tow Group IV; Heavy Duty Engine Cooling; 220 A alternator; Skid Plate Group; Tow Hooks); $1495 for the 5.7 liter MDS VVT V8 Engine (Selec-Terrain System; Quadra-Trac II 4WD; Hill Descent Control; “Trail Rated” badge; Dual bring Rear Exhaust Tips; Power single-pane sunroof ); $395 Media Center 430N (30 GB hard drive with Garmin Navigation system), and $780 destination charge, for a total MSRP $41,860.
During my week with the Grand Cherokee, I wondered aloud whether it is an American Range Rover; even in base Laredo trim it is nicely kitted, comfortable, and extremely competent off road. The other autowriters in NWAPA agreed with that assessment, naming the Grand Cherokee as Mudfest’s SUV of the Year, citing its combination of luxury, utility, and off-road capabilities as deciding factors. The newest Jeep’s added passenger space, improved refinement, and improved dynamics make it a solid competitor among the dwindling population of SUVs that still embrace off-road adventures.