Really, build quality and overall refinement couldn't get any worse.
It was something that Jeep couldn't afford to mess up, mainly because the outgoing third-generation Grand Cherokee was simply not good. Not good as in it was no longer competitive. Compared to, for example, the Toyota 4Runner, the Grand Cherokee had become an unrefined SUV whose interior consisted of plastic so cheap they'd make Kmart shoppers blush with embarrassment. Such was the state of the Cerebrus-owned Chrysler at the time.
Things hit rock bottom, partially thanks to the economic meltdown that hit the US in the beginning of 2007. Chrysler wasn't prepared for that tsunami (neither was GM) and nearly went under. Despite the problems in the Jeep lineup, the iconic off-road brand remained really the only bright spot in the Chrysler portfolio.
Point being, it had value and if Chrysler couldn't afford to keep it, someone else would be more than happy to buy it, specifically Chinese carmakers. Because of all that, it was vital for the redesigned, fourth-gen Grand Cherokee to be stellar. And so it was. Jeep revealed its new Grand Cherokee in 2009 at the New York Auto Show as an early 2011 model. It was instantly recognizable as a Jeep but it also showcased something else desperately needed: refinement. It just looked more premium than before. That's because it was. The exterior design was all new and was significantly more aerodynamic than before.
Jeep claimed a 146 percent increase in torsional rigidity over the previous generation, and issues such as noise, vibration and harshness were significantly reduced. As was the case with all previous Grand Cherokees, the new one retained the unibody construction. However, it now featured a four-wheel independent suspension that greatly improved its on-road manners. Like its Dodge Durango cousin, the Grand Cherokee was still built on a Mercedes-designed platform. But perhaps one of the new model's best items was its base engine.
Chrysler invested a significant amount of money in its 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, an engine that was intended from the get-go to be utilized in many models, including the Chrysler 200 and 300, and even the Dodge Challenger. With 290 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque on tap, it is a fully modern, state-of-the-art design, featuring dual overhead camshafts, high-flow intake and exhaust ports, Variable Valve Timing and Electronic Throttle Control with integrated speed control. The engine is so solid, in fact, that it replaced both the 3.7- and 4.7-liter engines from before. For those looking for a V8, there's the 5.7-liter Hemi and, finally, the Grand Cherokee comes equipped with a truly excellent gearbox, an eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters.
Even with the base engine the Grand Cherokee can tow up to 6,500 lbs. The 360-hp, 390 lb-ft Hemi has a 7,400 lbs maximum towing capacity. Point being, the cheaper and more fuel efficient V6 is more than suitable for most buyers. And for those who seek both torque and increased efficiency there's the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel and its 240 hp and 420 lb-ft. According to official EPA estimates, it can achieve 30 mpg on the highway and drive up to 730 highway miles on a single tank. Unlike yesterday's dressing down of the third-gen model's interior, there's been, for the most part, nothing but praise for the new interior design. Not only is it more attractive with a combined luxury/rugged look, but the build quality and fit and finish are dramatically improved.
There's plenty of soft-touch plastics throughout and, holy crap, panel gaps are non-existent. Jeep also wisely expanded the trim levels, which previously consisted of the base Laredo, upgraded Limited and even more luxurious Overland. Yes, there was also the SRT8, which we'll go into more detail tomorrow. For this new Grand Cherokee, there's a total of eight trims, including the SRT. Heck, there's even rumors of a ninth, powered by the supercharged 6.2-liter Hellcat V8. By expanding the trim levels, prices range from $29,995 for the Laredo all the way up to $64,895 for the SRT. In other words, a Grand Cherokee to fit many budgets.
Just to give you an idea as to how solid this gen was from the get-go, a facelift arrived for the 2014 model year and, based on some new reports, yet another refresh is due for 2016 or 2017. FCA obviously sees the SUV's longevity as a huge asset and it remains totally competitive. Why bother investing in an expensive redesign just yet? Not only are domestic American sales climbing, but demand has increased in overseas markets such as China as well. The oil burner now makes the Grand Cherokee even more attractive to European buyers as well. When it first launched way back in 1993, that original Grand Cherokee was a smash hit for many reasons, but perhaps the most significant was that it was packaged properly.
The subsequent two generations, however, were not. Like the original, today's Grand Cherokee is both a proper off-road SUV and a refined luxury vehicle that's a genuine alternative to, say, premium sedans and other crossovers. But why stop with luxury and off-road capabilities? Why not leverage the SUV's popularity with some badass on-road performance? For that, SRT was called in to assist.