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The Daily Drivers | By Peter Couture and Lyra Solochek, Times Staff Writers

The Daily Drivers: Redesign refines the 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo

Anyone keeping track of Chrysler's ongoing rebirth under Fiat control would do well to watch the Jeep Grand Cherokee. It's one of the automaker's bestselling vehicles — some might even say its flagship — and this redesigned version of the midsize SUV appears to be evidence of a new commitment to quality. Time will tell.

Appearance: The profile is a little less boxy than previous Grand Cherokees, but Chrysler's redesign is more evolution than revolution. The sculpted side panels with pronounced horizontal lines and muscular fenders simply highlight the iconic Jeep style. The double-circle headlights are now more streamlined and integrated under one lens, setting off Jeep's familiar seven-slot grille. The rear hatch is more sloping than in the previous model and the new horizontal taillights wouldn't be out of place on this SUV's stylish competition. Overall, the subtle changes give the Grand Cherokee — dare we say it — a slightly more European air. (That's a good thing.)

Performance: The new Pentastar V-6 didn't disappoint. The 3.6-liter, 290-horsepower mill was badly needed. But the 5-speed automatic seems dated in a 6-speed world. The carlike handling felt more precise than previous Cherokees we've driven, with little body lean. With the Quadra-Trac I 4-wheel drive system, going off road is easy. This high-range, all-time mode keeps the SUV planted in multiple conditions. One thing we didn't like: the estimated mileage of 16 (city) and 22 (highway) for the new V-6. You'd think Chrysler could squeeze a few more MPG out of the new engine. And with gas prices creeping up . . .

Interior: This is where the new Cherokee seems radically different. The automaker whose style once seemed limited to ill-fitting gray plastic has much improved its fit and finish. (Even Peter's wife, who has bad memories of rental Chryslers past, was impressed.) Sure, there's still plastic, but it's of better quality. We may be in the minority here, but we like the minimalist display and controls in Chrysler's audio and nav systems, which we find easy to use. Our tester had the panoramic sunroof, which can bring in a lot of light, but is also comes with a handy power retractable screen. There's adequate headroom up front, and the rear, while not expansive, offers adequate leg room. We also liked the backup camera with parking sensors.

Our 3 favorites

Peter Couture

Overall vibe: It may be an elusive quality, but there really is a new feel of refinement.

Steering wheel: I'm a sucker for thick, leather-padded wheels.

Off-roading: If you need to veer off the blacktop, you can do it.

Lyra Solochek

Power outlets: The 115-volt plug is handy to power our kids' portable games and players with a regular cord.

Panoramic sunroof: Makes for a bright and airy cabin.

Ride: Smooth, quiet and drives like a car.

The bottom line: Is this a glimpse of the new Chrysler? We hope so. The Cherokee seems to be on equal footing with the competition. If the long-term reliability is there, then the Cherokee could vault back to the head of the class.

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo

Price: $32,215 start, $39,010 as tested

Powertrain: 3.6-liter V-6 VVT with 5-speed automatic, 4x4

Horsepower: 290 at 6,400 rpm

Torque: 260 pound-

feet at 4,800 rpm

Curb weight: 4,660 pounds

Dimensions

in inches:

Wheelbase, 114.8

Length, 189.8

Width, 84.8

Fuel economy:

16 miles per gallon city, 22 mpg highway

Safety features: Air bags and curtains, ABS, stability control, active head restraints, hill start assist, trailer swap damping, speed control

Other trim levels: Limited (starting at $36,718), Overland (starting at $38,410)

Options worth considering: Backup camera with park assist, panoramic sunroof, remote start, leather seats

Website: www.jeep.com/en/2011/grand_cherokee/

The Daily Drivers: Redesign refines the 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 01/07/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 7, 2011 7:24am]

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