Thursday, November 29, 2012

Test Drive: 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4X4

By Ben Aghajanian, UpShift Contributing Editor

Syracuse, NY-

We all know Chrysler went through some tough times in the last few years. Plant closings, the divorce from Daimler, a lousy economy, a horribly mismanaged segment under Cerberus Capital Management, and a managed chapter 11 bankruptcy. Many people will agree that the partnership with Daimler yielded little for Chrysler in terms of good product, except for the 300C/Dodge Charger. And, to the surprise of some, the new-from-the-ground-up 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The new Grand Cherokee actually shares some components with the Mercedes-Benz ML-class, but the Jeep is built at Jefferson North Assembly—in the heart of Detroit, Michigan.

They certainly nailed the appearance on this new Jeep—it looks worthy of its “Grand” moniker. Even in base Laredo trim, it’s not covered in unpainted plastic, nor is the interior filled with dummy buttons. The exterior design looks like it could be a direct evolution from the “WJ” (1999-2004) model, and this is a good thing. The 2005-2010 model was a much less attractive design, inside and out.

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Indeed, the things that went wrong with the last generation Grand Cherokee have been fixed here. The legendary 4.0L inline six that was discontinued when WJ production ended has finally been replaced with a worthy successor—the 3.6L, DOHC Pentastar V6, putting out 290hp and 260lb-ft of torque, 90% of which is available between 1,600 and 6,400rpm. It’s a relatively smooth motor, but has a bit of a snarl (in a good way) once the revs build past 3,000rpm or so. The 5-speed automatic, another Mercedes-Benz carryover, does not shift extremely quickly, but all shifts were very smooth and I wouldn’t characterize them as slow. The Autostick manual mode works as advertised. Passing on the highway was drama-free and the Jeep easily dropped down to 4th or 3rd gear to do so. That said, the 8-speed automatic is rumored for next year’s model and I think the closer gear ratios will make for a much more responsive powertrain. The 5-speed works fine, and cruising at 70mph the engine is turning at about 2,000rpm, but first gear is very long and hampers accelerating quickly from a dead stop. Most consumers probably won’t be bothered by this too much, but if the Jeep was loaded with people or gear, it would likely be more obvious.

The Jeep feels very solid too—as though it’s crafted from a single block of steel. Indeed, Chrysler claims torsional rigidity is up 146% over the old model. The doors close with a solid thunk. It feels like a piece of real quality. I would love it if the 3.0L VM Motori diesel were offered in the U.S.; a torque-rich diesel would complement the Grand Cherokee perfectly. One of the things I’m starting to miss on newer cars is the general feel of effortless torque. While it is impressive that almost all the torque on the Jeep is available from 1,600rpm, 260lb-ft is not exactly plentiful when it’s pulling around nearly 5,000lbs of curb weight.  The 3.0L diesel has over 400lb-ft of torque, and gets better fuel economy. To me, it’s a no brainer—perhaps they will introduce it on next year’s model (a diesel was available on the last-generation model, after all). 

Jeep did a nice job in redesigning the interior on the new Grand Cherokees. The dashboard is covered in soft-touch material, the doors are nicely finished and fits are good, and the controls all operate with good feedback. The one thing I did not like is how the steering wheel audio controls are set up. The controls for adjusting radio stations and volume are hidden on the backside of the wheel, unlabeled. By the end of my drive, the only thing I definitively figured out was the volume adjustment. Stick to the main radio controls on this one—straightforward and easy-to-use. 


I really liked many of the other features of the Jeep. The rear liftgate glass that opens independently of the whole tailgate is a great feature that is missing from competitors, such as the UpShift long-term GMC Acadia. It’s very convenient if you are just throwing some small things in the back, or hauling a long item that needs to hang out the rear window without having the entire tailgate up. The cargo area also has a useful cubby on each side for additional storage. There is a 115v power outlet in the rear console, too. Rear seat room was decent: not limo-like, but comfortable for your 6’ 2” driver.

This particular Jeep rode on Goodyear Fortera tires mounted on 17-inch wheels. The ride was well controlled for a 5,000lb rig, and suspension damping was good on some rough pavement. It was a touch floaty, but this is probably a result of the comfortable ride—this wasn’t the SRT8 model, after all. 

Overall, I was quite impressed with the Jeep. I’d be eager to drive a V8 model, as well, to see how much the bigger engine affects handling, and how much acceleration differs between the two. I’m also looking forward to the next-generation automatic, because it could take this Grand Cherokee from good, to, well, Grand.

UpShift Blog would like to thank Lowery Bros. Chrysler Jeep for providing the vehicle for this review.

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