Test Drive: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 5.7 4X4 car test drives jeep
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 5.7 4X4. Click image to enlarge
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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

Photo Gallery:
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

As Assistant Editor, Jil McIntosh reported in her First Drive of the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, there’s much to like about this redesigned mid-size sport-ute: improved handling and ride, a quieter, roomier and better finished cabin, a more powerful base engine, and more luxury and safety features – but the thing that sticks out in my mind is its value for money – at least when it comes to the top-of-the-line Overland model with the optional 5.7-litre V8 engine (MSRP $51,895).

To get this level of power, refinement, luxury features and off-road ability in a competitor, you’d have to look further upmarket, namely at luxury SUVs like the Land Rover LR4 ($59,990), Infiniti FX50 ($64,550), Audi Q7 ($69,200), Mercedes-Benz ML 550 ($69,700), BMW X5 xDrive 50i ($74,300), Porsche Cayenne ($76,000), and Lexus LX570 ($89,950).

Test Drive: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 5.7 4X4 car test drives jeep
Test Drive: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 5.7 4X4 car test drives jeep
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 5.7 4X4. Click image to enlarge

True, you may be able to get a little more horsepower, a better automatic transmission, and some additional safety features in these luxury SUVs, but for the most part, the Grand Cherokee 5.7 is as capable, well-equipped, and well-finished as they are, for $10,000 to $40,000 less!

Underpinning the new Grand Cherokee is an all-new unit body platform shared with the next-generation Mercedes-Benz ML SUV (obtained while Chrysler was still part of DaimlerChrysler). The new Grand Cherokee’s platform is reported to be 146 per cent stiffer than the old one, and includes a new independent rear suspension for improved ride and handling, and a new optional air suspension that allows the driver to raise and lower the ride height.

As well, the new Grand Cherokee’s wheelbase is 134 mm longer which increases ride comfort and adds quite a bit of needed interior room, especially rear legroom and cargo room. The new Grand Cherokee is still a mid-size SUV though – its overall length has increased by only 79 mm.

The new base V6 engine is a Chrysler-developed 3.6-litre DOHC 24-valve V6 with variable valve timing that produces 290 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque – that’s quite a jump in horsepower and torque when compared to the previous 3.7-litre SOHC 12-valve V6 with 210 horsepower and 235 lb.-ft torque. Plus, the new 3.6-litre engine improves fuel economy by 14 per cent, according to the company, and runs on E85 (85 per cent ethanol/15 per cent gas) if you can find a service station that sells some. By the way, the EPA estimates that using E85 fuel in the Grand Cherokee increases fuel consumption by 36 per cent!

Test Drive: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 5.7 4X4 car test drives jeep
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee; photo by Jil McIntosh. Click image to enlarge

The subject of this road test, however, is the fully loaded Grand Cherokee Overland with the carryover 5.7-litre overhead-valve V8 engine developing 360 horsepower and 390 lb.-ft. of torque, with a towing capacity of 7,200 lbs (3,266 kg). This engine has variable cam timing and a cylinder deactivation system to shut off half the cylinders while coasting or cruising to improve fuel economy. Though the 5.7 V8 is not a new and sophisticated high-revving overhead cam engine, it does offer gratifying throttle response and generous torque (390 lb.-ft. @ 4,250 rpm), smooth running, low-revving highway performance, and excellent towing power. Curiously, it’s not called a “Hemi” any more, but that’s what it is. The 5.7-litre V8 engine is available as a $1,900 option on all but the base Grand Cherokee trim level.

The high-performance SRT8 model with a 6.1-litre Hemi V8 has been discontinued for the time being, and the diesel model, which disappeared in 2009, is not in the works – but you never know!

Test Drive: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 5.7 4X4 car test drives jeep
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 5.7 4X4. Click image to enlarge

Both V6 and V8 engines are mated to a carryover five-speed automatic transmission, now a bit dated amongst all the new six, seven and eight-speed automatic transmissions on the market. This would appear to be the major competitive disadvantage of the Grand Cherokee when compared to its luxury competitors, but in terms of day to day operation, its smooth and responsive performance when mated with the torquey V8 engine will not disappoint many owners. The five-speed auto includes a tow/haul mode which adjusts shift points to accomodate heavy trailers, but the transmission doesn’t include a manual shift mode. Admittedly, the addition of one or two more highway gears would have gone a long way to improving fuel economy which according to the EPA, averages out at to 15.2 L/100 km. I was seeing over 18 L/100 km during a week of mostly city driving. Fortunately, the 5.7-litre engine takes Regular gas. Rumour has it that a new ZF eight-speed automatic is under development.




About Greg Wilson

Greg Wilson is a Vancouver-based automotive journalist and contributor to Autos.ca. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).