Let’s talk breakfast food. There are waffles, bacon, omelets, biscuits and gravy. Yogurt for the health conscious, cereal of all varieties. But when it comes to the blandest of the bland, there is but one food that leaps to the front of the pack: Oatmeal. This does not include the oatmeal I once had at Coventry Deli in Logan Square, however. Still, it begs the question; why discuss breakfast in a column on SUVs? You see, for better or for worse, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee captures the spirit, the consistency and the flavor of oatmeal.
As the TV spots for the Jeep Grand Cherokee explain; The Things We Make, Make us. Chrysler has made the plain, boring, getcha through the day oatmeal. Until this year, the proprietary recipe’s for oatmeal were owned by Ford. With the unwavering sameness of the Ford Explorer, bland was in and it went down just fine for many. But this year, Ford changed the ingredients and took the Explorer out of the simmering oatmeal pot and into the chef’s special pastry tray.
Jeep is not changing the game, they are keeping the customers from going hungry. But it is not enough. Priced as tested at 39K, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo X 70th Anniversary Package (the top end of the lowest line of Grand Cherokee’s) will leave you scratching your head. The vehicle is decent and it’s safe. However, there is nothing intriguing happening here, nothing that takes your breath away. Nothing that truly satisfies your hunger for a game changing SUV.
As tested, the Inferno Red Laredo was not bad. 20 inch wheels give the vehicle a smart profile sitting in a snowy parking lot. It has crisp look, with just the right amount of chrome. But, it’s the plastic around the wheels wells that is disappointing. Because, as is often the case, after a few years of normal wear and tear, this plastic starts to look, well, cheap. At 39K, why not keep the steel going for another 3 inches? The answer: When you are making oatmeal, there is no need to fuss with the details.
The drivers side is solid and tight, the leather felt ok, not luxurious. The controls are laid out comfortably and the center console is appointed with all of the contemporary inputs you’d expect. The nine speaker system and the 506 watt amplifier delivered plenty of sonic power, while the touch screen controls on the Media Center 430 was easy to use. USB ports and jacks for Ipads show that Jeep is at least somewhat on trend. There is a nicer than expected moon roof running about 3.5 feet long down the roof line that is the unexpected touch–a dash of cinnamon if you will– that makes you hope, just for a moment, that there could be more surprises lurking in the bowl.
Nothing surprising on the performance, though. It’s fine, but nothing to write home about. The 290 horsepower Pentastar V6 felt a bit soft in the acceleration from a dead stop but overall felt strong at cruising speeds. There is an available 5.7 liter V8 that is intriguing, if only for the horse power it provides. It’s a Jeep, so after 70 years or so, you’d expect them to have this down, right? You’d think so, but one oddity has to be mentioned: why is the dual zone climate control fan dial so flimsy? Tested on both the Laredo and the Overland, this little dial was so cheap it felt as though it was going to fall off. It’s a small thing for sure, but it makes you wonder what other components are loose and ill-fitting. Then again, ‘The Things We Make, Make Us’. With oatmeal it is always wise to keep your expectations in check.
One surprise worth noting is that the inside of the Grand Cherokee Laredo is actually quiet during the drive. The Jeep representative said it was because of an extra wall between the engine block and the cockpit. He totally forgot to mention the electronic stability control and the Quadratrac II that must have played a role. This is not to be confused with the Quadra-Lift suspension package that adjusts the vehicle’s height to its environment. That’s on the nearly 50K Overland packages and an upgrade from the tested options. Whatever the cause of the quiet, let’s call it the dried fruit in the bowl, it worked well. Having owned several Jeeps, this is the first in a long line, that felt more like a car and less like a truck, both in handling and in cabin noise quotient.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo is a decent looking vehicle, but it is doesn’t stand out. It blends in with other SUVs driving around out there. Rounded and aerodynamic it takes no real chances in its styling. And, once you open the back, it’s clear that the designers had to make a trade off. The sacrifice on the interior space was to make the vehicle look as appealing as possible. For instance, the back seats in some models, particularly the Overland models, feature a reclining function that opens up the leg space. It’s an interesting concept on paper.
The reality is something all together different. Bring that reclining seat to it’s full upright and locked position and the comfort factor dries up. Both the legroom and the headroom become minimal, so you are most likely going to keep the seats in recline mode all the time, lest a taller person be made to feel ridiculous in the back seat when fully inclined. It’s a very awkward position to sit like that. Then try jumping into the back with all of your Northeast Flyers Skate Zone league hockey gear, and it’s a rude awakening. It’s a problem. The angle of the back cargo space is tapered and molded in such a way that it is very tight, smaller than expected actually. Don’t even think about a third row, there is no chance. No room for a third row and not enough room for as much stuff as you’d expect to haul in a premium line Jeep model.
Space is what you expect from SUVs today, especially at this price level. And, at this level of experience building SUVs, you’d expect Jeep to be at the top of this game. Though they are in the game, Jeep is definitely not changing it. The Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo is just getting by. Getting by on it’s laurels, getting by on the Jeep brand name and on a nostalgia long lost to better, more dynamic machines. Now, who’s ready for some oatmeal?