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Wolf in Jeep's Clothing

The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Well, maybe the new Grand Cherokee isn’t really a wolf in the Little Red Riding Hood sense—although, upon spying the 20-inchers stuffed under the fenders of the new Overland model, you might just find yourself saying: “My, what big wheels you have!”

1949 Willys Station Wagon

I’d say it’s more a wolf like some of those cool guys back in the 1950s, the ones who dressed just right and knew how to attract the girls with nothing more than a look. The new Grand Cherokee has that look, at least to my eye where it finally no longer looks like a large trying to squeeze into a medium-sized pair of underwear. Going back to the original Grand Cherokee, introduced in 1992, they always looked to me to be trying to be something they weren’t. Something just seemed off about the proportions. But Chrysler seems to have hit the nail on the head this time around, and just in time, as they’re desperately in need of something new to bring people back into the showrooms after the disastrous past couple of years on the sales charts.

Looks, as you know, aren’t everything where a Jeep is concerned. Depending on how you stand politically, you can probably either credit or blame Jeep with creating the SUV market. No, not in 1992 with the introduction of the Grand Cherokee. No, it wasn’t the 1984 Cherokee either, or even the 1963 Willys/Kaiser Jeep Wagoneer—although you’re getting closer.

Try going back to 1946 with the introduction of the Jeep Station Wagon. Four-wheel drive, an all-steel body in an age when many station wagons still were constructed partially of wood, the Jeep Station Wagon was likely the first go-anywhere family vehicle. It wasn’t quite a car, it wasn’t exactly a truck, and it had that Jeep-look front end. It was way ahead of its time.

The 2011 Grand Cherokee is at least a grandchild to that old station wagon, which stayed in production in North America until the 1965 model year and until 1970 in Argentina, where it was sold as the Jeep Estanciera. Only now it’s not quite the utility wagon it was some 60 years ago. It’s now a luxurious, go-almost-anywhere utility wagon, dressed more for a night on the town than a romp in the fields. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The four-wheel drive is still there, only now you choose among three different systems: full-time four-wheel drive; a two-speed transfer case; or electronic, limited-slip differential. An air suspension system can lift the Grand Cherokee up to 4.1 inches from its park position to a ride height of almost 11 inches—high enough to traverse the concrete curbs in most any swanky mall as you fight over that last parking spot on Black Friday.

A new V-6 engine claims an 11 percent increase in fuel economy. An available panoramic sunroof extends from the windshield to the rear of the Grand Cherokee for working on your tan while you drive. A power remote liftgate, available Smartbeam headlights which adjust to ambient light and oncoming traffic (all cars should have this), larger front and rear door openings to accommodate ever-larger drivers and passengers—the Grand Cherokee certainly moved eons ahead of that old 1947 station wagon in the niceties department. And there are other options available which didn’t even exist back then: live mobile TV, internet capability, and voice-activated communications system.

Some models are “Trail Rated,” or designed to perform in a variety of challenging off-road conditions identified by five key consumer-oriented performance categories: traction, ground clearance, maneuverability, articulation, and water fording. Perhaps when you think of off-roading, the Jeep that comes to mind is the Wrangler, which looks more the part. But who says off-roading means roughing it? Certainly not the folks at Jeep. Starting at $30,215. Available now.

Read more of Jim Corbran's You Auto Know every other week in Artvoice, and more frequently on Artvoice Daily.

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