2011 Cherokee: Chrysler's new 'soft touch' Jeep

The Grand Cherokee shows the influence of Cerberus, the company's new owner, to push quality at Chrysler.

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By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com senior writer

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2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee
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2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee interior

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Under fire for poor quality, Chrysler is unveiling the first vehicle on which its current owner, Cerberus Capital Management, has had a major design influence.

The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee drove up a small flight of stairs Wednesday on its way to the viewing stand at the 2009 New York Auto Show. It shares some of its underlying engineering with the Mercedes-Benz M-class SUV the product of its former owner, Daimler.

While the outside of the new Grand Cherokee looks like a sleeker, more shapely version of today's model, the interior is markedly different, featuring a much more elegant, finely sculptured look than current Grand Cherokees.

In its "Determination of Viability," the Treasury Department cited Chrysler's low scores in "perceived quality" surveys like those done by J.D. Power and Associates. "Perceived quality" includes things like the look and feel of vehicles' interior.

The new interior will feature more expensive "soft-touch" materials in place of the hard plastics common in current models.

With this vehicle, Chrysler executives put the priority on quality even if it meant missing internal cost targets, said Doug Betts, Chrysler LLC's Chief Customer Officer in a recent interview.

"The comparison between the quality of the materials used in the current one to the new one is a pretty significant difference," Betts said.

Besides the more plush interior the new Grand Cherokee will feature other improvements.

Among the new features being offered is an adjustable air suspension system that will allow the Grand Cherokees ride height to go from 6.5 inches when parked up to 11.1 inches for serious off-road driving.

A forward-collision warning system detects when the vehicle may is in danger of hitting another vehicle and warns the driver. Three different all-wheel-drive systems will be offered, catering to drivers seeking various levels of off-road performance.

Chrysler and General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) are both undergoing restructuring as they try to qualify for further federal financial assistance. For its part, Chrysler has been promised $6 billion on loans if it can complete a deal with Italian automaker Fiat. Fiat could supply Chrysler with small cars to supplement SUVs like the Grand Cherokee. To top of page

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