The Inside

The previous-generation Grand Cherokee lacked an interior to match its price, but the all-new cabin in the 2011 model uses premium materials and a less blocky design to give the SUV a more luxurious bearing. Upscale materials include a stitched leather dashboard and real wood trim on Overland models, and interior panel fit seemed much better compared with the old Grand Cherokee.

Despite the strides, there's still room for improvement. The silver trim that runs from the center of the dash down to the console isn't pretty, and the buttons for the optional automatic air-conditioning system don't have an upscale, well-oiled feel. The bin door at the front of the center console doesn't sound the greatest when closing, either. You might call this nit-picking, but in an SUV that can easily run into the mid-$40,000 price range, you should expect every detail to be accounted for. (Jeep said the Grand Cherokees were preproduction models, but I doubt these aspects will be much different from the ones on dealer lots. Be sure to check it out yourself if this is important to you.)

All of the Grand Cherokees I drove had leather seats, but base Laredo versions come standard with cloth upholstery. Front-seat cushioning is firm, but the seats were comfortable for a day of driving. Part of the credit goes to the longer seat cushions and the extra thigh support they provide. I'm 6-foot-1 and often find that I could do with longer seat cushions in many of the cars I test, but the Grand Cherokee's cushions were just right.

The longer wheelbase helped add an extra 4.4 inches of backseat legroom to this generation. With the front seat adjusted to where I'd drive, backseat legroom was generous, with a few inches between my knees and the front seatbacks.

The backseat doesn't slide forward or back, but I didn't miss the feature because of the ample legroom. The rear backrest is split 60/40, and you can adjust its angle by pulling a lever on the sides of the second-row seats, which is far more convenient than the top of the backrest where some automakers choose to place the release.

The same handle folds the seats flat with the cargo floor, and lifting it begins an orchestrated dance where the backrest comes down, the seat cushion drops closer to the floor and the head restraint flips forward so as not to get caught on the back of the front seat. It all happens in one quick motion.

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