The Grand Cherokee is due for launch in September 2010 (delayed from July 2010); pilots were built in late 2008 for crash testing, ride/handling tests, and HVAC refinement. The final production-intent vehicle was built in January 2009.

Ralph Gilles said that the platform was co-developed with Mercedes (as opposed to being an adaption of the ML as Jim Press implied); the body structure is stiffer than the Mercedes ML.

An Alfa Romeo-based Grand Cherokee has been all but confirmed; below is an artist’s representation of how hit may appear. The Alfa might only be sold in export markets, where Fiat and Alfa Romeo are mainstream brands with heavy dealer, service, and parts support; or it might be sold in the US as well, adding an “import brand” stamp to those who positively will not buy an American vehicle. An extended version, dubbed the Dodge Durango, was also planned; this would go beyond the old Commander idea and provide minivan-like interior space.

Personal impressions (Jeremy White)

The exterior is very nice; the sculpting is dramatic yet smooth. Ralph Gilles told me they are almost at the “tear point of the metal and the sculpting could not be made deeper without other design compromises. The power liftgate is a new design, seemingly hidden within the rod covering.

The interior is very comfortable with just about all surfaces “soft touch” and good faux wood trim abounds. The control stack aluminum-look plastic is the only part that doesn’t seem top notch, but it is still good quality. Interior panel gaps are tight and controls felt good. The air lift suspension was nice and the sunroof is huge. The dash and seats and instruments are well laid out and ergonomic. The two tone interior on display (Brown/Charcoal) has a nice contrast and color and the leather is very soft. Some of the dash seems to be leather and has stitching similar to the Ram. Back seat room is better than current Grand Cherokee and far better than the Commander.

Direct injection was left out of the V6 — an engineer explained that it caused more roughness and noise than was desirable on a luxury vehicle, and that the benefits did not merit using it at this time. It appears that three rows of seats will only be seen on the Durango version, which might be longer.

The new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee will deliver better on-road performance and, despite having more power, up to 11% better gas mileage from its Pentastar V6. The new Quadra-Lift air suspension system with the Selec-Terrain system allows the driver to choose the drive system that best matches on- or off-road driving conditions (or go with “automatic”).

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee powertrains: the flight of the Phoenix arrives

The base engine is a flexible-fuel 3.6-liter V-6 engine pumping out 280 horsepower (209 kW) and 260 lb.-ft. of torque (353 N•m) @ 4,800 rpm — an improvement of 70 hp and 25 lb-ft over the current 3.7 liter V6. Despite that, and a heavier vehicle (4,470 lb vs 4,261 lb), gas mileage should be 11% higher.

The 3.6-liter V-6 engine is a completely new, state of the art design with dual overhead camshafts (DOHC) and a high-pressure die-cast aluminum cylinder block with variable-valve timing (VVT). Gas mileage is better than the Toyota 4Runner and similar to the less off-road-worthy Honda Pilot.

The Phoenix V6 comes with the Mercedes W5A580 five-speed automatic, which has adaptive electronic control or Electronic Range Select (ERS) driver-interactive manual control. The gas tank has been increased to a 24.6 gallon capacity, which allows for a range of around 500 miles.