Évaluations/Avis

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee un tour

Every inch of sheetmetal is new, although it's still so unmistakably Grand Cherokee that it's not going to turn heads. Few will say, Wow, look at that new Jeep, although they probably should, because it's so much cleaner. The real Wow will come when they drive it.

The lines are more fluid than before, and are 8.5 percent more aerodynamic, with a Cd of 0.37, lowered from 0.40 after 250 hours in the wind tunnel. This brings better economy, with less interior noise. It has a wider stance and shorter nose with less front overhang, giving it a subtle look of substance. It's a fast windshield, meaning more sloped than before.

And it definitely has substance, being longer and heavier, stretched in the wheelbase by 5.3 inches, although it's only 1.8 inches longer overall thanks to less front overhang. It's also 3 inches wider, for better handling and more interior space.

The seven-slot chrome grille is defined by six chrome slats over the black slots, while the headlamps sweep like winglets out from the top corners. Smooth frontal fascia with black airdam, recessed to lessen drag, and tidy small foglamps in trapezoid pockets. Aerodynamic bellypans run the full length of the chassis, chasing fuel mileage.

The sides have big rectangular concave sculpting, as if it's a place where Jeep meets BMW, and slightly trapezoidal wheel arches, a distinctive if still subtle touch. The side glass is straight and unaffected, with black B pillars, darkly tinted glass and stainless steel trim. Cool.

Jeep says the rear styling gives a nod to the 1963 Wagoneer that started it all, and it's true (although we wonder how many besides us will remember Mom's '63 Wagoneer in high school that we snuck to the drag strip in the next state, one Sunday afternoon, and ripped off crowd-pleasing 4-wheel-drive holeshots).

The backlight balances the slope of the windshield, although, retro touch notwithstanding, the entire rear view looks like that of a thousand other full-size SUVs. That's because function rules, as it should; when SUV rear-end styling gets fancy, visibility is often lost. The taillamps are bigger and extend into the liftgate, with four backup lights whose beams improve the video view of the rear back-up camera, an area where some cars are lacking.

There's an aerodynamic body-colored spoiler, level with the roof and over the sloped liftgate, and it looks good. We also like the flipper glass window in the liftgate, which has a convenient opening handle. The vehicle locks with the press of a button on the door handle, like at the tailgate. This is nice.

The body-colored parts in the Laredo (mirrors, door handles, ding strip) look better than the chrome trim on the upscale Overland, whose 20-inch wheels with five thick spokes just look big and bright and unimaginative. Far more Jeeps will be Laredo models (65 percent, expects Jeep) with 17- or 18-inch wheels, which look better.

There are some new colors, including a dark green that's non-metallic, bringing a welcome and rugged touch, like a nod to the Wrangler.

intérieure

No Jeep has ever felt this high-quality inside (especially when it gets rolling). The interior is totally redesigned, headlined by four more inches of legroom in the rear seat, with 19 percent more cargo space. A fold-flat front seat is standard, adding to the 68.7 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats flat. The rear seats recline 18 degrees, and with the added legroom, life is easy back there. The Grand Cherokee would make a great family vacation vehicle. There's also an abundance of storage pockets and bins, including two bins under the cargo floor. A new rear suspension allows the spare tire to be stored inside the vehicle under the cargo floor, as opposed to underneath it.

The front door openings are 2 inches wider and 2 inches higher, and the rear doors open 78 degrees compared to 67 degrees on the previous model. That increased convenience is just one of the many details that make the 2011 Grand Cherokee such an improvement.

Jeep engineers also spent a lot of time on NVH, and their work is reflected in the very quiet cabin, even with the throttle floored, even over rough pavement. There are three layers of noise insulation, adding to the weight but worth it.

We found the leather seats in our Laredo X test model to be just right, even almost sigh-inducing, with excellent bolstering too, not to mention totally adjustable with lumbar support. We haven't seen a model with cloth seats, but Jeep has always done good rugged cloth. The stitching on the Overland's leather dashboard looks classy.

The instrument panel is redesigned, nicely, with clean white numbers and needles and nice backlight. The tachometer adds a blue area, from 800 to 2500 rpm, a reminder of the best fuel-mileage range.

The three-spoke steering wheel tilts and telescopes, and includes cruise control with audio buttons at the back of the spokes. The Overland steering wheel is wood from about 10 to 2, and it makes the steering wheel too thick, because of the heating elements.

The LED lighting in the cabin works well, to erase the yellow harshness of the old days. There's an optional giant dual-pane Panoramic sunroof that opens wide to the sky. So you can see the stars, maybe better than you can see out the rear window through the rearview mirror. The sloped backlight and rear headrests pinch the space for visibility.

The location and operation of things on the center stack, such as the electronic switchbank and HVAC controls, is all good. Except for the position of the shift lever, which does not lend itself to manual shifting in the Sport mode, because your elbow hits the center armrest. You have to cock your elbow high and bend your wrist too much. If you do much shifting like that, you'll be screaming for paddles on the steering wheel.

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