Keeping Chrysler Viable: the New Grand Cherokee

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

In a revealing conference call this week, Fiat-Chrysler chief Sergio Marchionne tried to put to rest persistent rumors that the company has no rapidly forthcoming product. Most diagnoses of the company’s miseries focus on the lag between putting out mere face-lifts and having really new product in the pipeline to sell.

Marchionne, Mr. Charm, attempted to address that impression by reporting that a number of Fiat-based compacts will be here by fourth quarter 2011. The new Grand Cherokee, a 2011 model, will launch next month; updated Charger and Chrysler 300 cars will come later this year.

The 2011 Grand Cherokee is the company’s headliner… and maybe its savior. The new car looks the part, appears to have all the right mechanicals in place (including a new standard V6), and is priced right.

Prices, just announced, are for three model levels (Laredo, Limited, and the new Overland), in either two-wheel- or four-wheel-drive configurations. The Laredo 4WD has an MSRP of $32,995; the Limited 4WD starts at $39,995, the Overland 4WD model at $42,995. Prices include a destination charge of $780. A full list of features is in the press release here.

We are particularly taken with the new standard Pentastar V6, which puts out 290 hp and gives 23 mpg fuel economy and a 500-mile-per-tank range. If you want to get piggy, the 360-hp V8 is still available. New is a feature called Selec-Terrain, which provides adjustable settings for differing types of terrain. Also new is the Quadra-Lift air suspension, which can raise the vehicle over 6 inches for off-roading.

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee interiorAt the same time, the car is designed to compete with some pretty luxurious offerings from the likes of Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz. The interior has been totally redesigned, and all kinds of gizmo-goodies are available, of course.

Full disclosure: I had a ’93 Grand Cherokee Laredo for a couple of years and for the most part enjoyed the car, if not its gas bills. The 5.2-liter V8 was great in the mountains and for pulling out of sticky situations in the city. It was a practical if unexciting car. Since then, Jeep products have declined in quality, along with most of the Chrysler line.

Let’s hope the new GC gives the company the kind of boost it needs, quiets the skeptics, and helps restore the Jeep name.

Would you be in the market for an SUV like this? What would attract you?

—jgoods

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