2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

For the Jeep lover, there’s nothing nicer than the Grand Cherokee. It’s been the iconic brand’s flagship since 1993, when it replaced the ancient Grand Wagoneer in that role, and quickly became a household name in the then-burgeoning SUV segment.

Three generations later, and the Grand Cherokee is all-new, all over again, for 2011. The look has been updated with clean, Euro-inspired lines that are classy, if a bit generic. Perhaps more important than appearances is a brand-new V6 engine, the 3.6-litre Pentastar, which makes 290 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque and essentially replaces two engines from the previous generation Grand Cherokee: the 3.7-litre V6 (210 hp/235 lb-ft) and a 4.7-litre V8 (305 hp/334 lb-ft).

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland. Click image to enlarge

On paper and in practice, the 3.6-litre is a major upgrade from the old 3.7, being a more modern engine that runs smoother, stronger and more efficiently. The Pentastar’s Natural Resources Canada fuel consumption ratings are 13.0/8.9 L/100 km (city/highway), numbers that nearly match those of the diesel V6 – 12.0/9.0, city/highway – offered in the old Grand Cherokee.

That diesel, by the way, did not migrate into this new truck, and I suspect the Pentastar’s fuel efficiency is the reason. I can think of an equally good reason why there should still be diesel offered here, though, and that reason is torque. As in, the Pentastar doesn’t make enough of it where it counts in a truck, at low engine speeds. Play pin-the-throttle-to-the-floorboard from a stop and the Grand Cherokee feels slow off the line, especially when trying to make a quick left turn on a busy arterial road, as one does. In one instance, there was a tense moment or two as I willed the truck to get moving with a couple of choice words. Real acceleration happens once the tachometer shows north of 2,500 revs, at which point the engine feels adequately strong, but it’s still no powerhouse.

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland. Click image to enlarge

The transmission is complicit too in this, being programmed aggressively to optimize fuel economy. In gentle acceleration, the shift into second gear causes the motor to fall flat, prompting the driver (me, in this case) to add more gas to get the show on the road. A couple of times, this was enough to make the gearbox shift back into first gear. Once at speed, the gearing seems just right; the motor spins at about 2,000 r.p.m. at 100 km/h. Again, however, gaining more speed requires more throttle input than seems necessary, especially if you need a downshift for a quick pass on a two-lane road. I wound up using the manual shift function to do this myself, rather than letting the transmission – which feels slow-witted, but is actually just too bent on saving fuel at every turn – do the thinking.

By all appearances, this Grand Cherokee seems to have been designed around the HEMI V8: its 360 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque would move this car with ease, and it would easily fit in the engine bay, which is practically half-empty when fitted with the 3.6-litre. Again, what would be the best fit, figuratively speaking, is a diesel, which will apparently be offered in other markets, but not here.

Inside the Grand Cherokee, you’ll find comfortable front seats with the right kind of support where you need it. There’s adequate space, but not as much as the car’s exterior presence suggests: the front footwells are narrow, with much of the real estate taken up by the driveline tunnel, while the rear seat is really no roomier than that in the most accommodating of compact cars. Cargo space is a win, however, thanks to a wide cargo area with surprisingly little intrusion from the rear wheel wells and seats that fold almost perfectly flat.

The interior is attractive, but closer inspection in my tester revealed that it’s not quite as well put together as the nice design suggests. Panel fits are just okay, and there are sharp edges on a few of the plastic bits. The leather-covered dash is classy, and the control layout is good; my only problem was the Ford-esque turn signal stalk, which also includes the wiper controls. The Overland trim includes dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front and rear seats and a heated steering wheel, and all of them bring warmth quickly on cold days. The blower motor is noisy, making an awful moaning sound at higher speeds.

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