The 2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee is the updated version of what was once the hottest family vehicle in suburban USA; overall, it's a much better vehicle than the Grand Cherokee that rose to popularity in the '90s, yet it manages to keep its classic styling. The Grand Cherokee last saw a redesign in 2005, when its ride and handling were quite dramatically improved; overall, the 2009 Jeep Cherokee's lightweight unibody and trail-rated suspension deliver performance and refinement that compare favorably within the class of five-passenger SUVs.
There's quite the range of powertrains available on the Grand Cherokee. The selections begin with a 210-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 and five-speed automatic transmission. As this combo delivers only 1 mpg more than the much-improved-for-2009 305-hp 4.7-liter V-8 and doesn't feel nearly as peppy, skip the V-6. For 2009, the HEMI V-8 engine puts out 357 hp and 389 pound-feet of torque. The new V-8 also includes a Multi-Displacement System (MDS) to boost fuel economy. For those who want pure performance, check out the 2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, a rip-roaring on-pavement-only edition with a monster 6.1-liter HEMI rated at 420 hp.
Another interesting option is to go with the 3.0-liter clean diesel V-6 produced by Mercedes-Benz. The diesel packs a huge punch while sipping fuel; it's relatively quiet and comes with impressive towing ability. Mileage from the 2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee Diesel (18 mpg city, 23 highway) is roughly 30 percent better than the gasoline V-6. This theoretically delivers a cruising range of more than 450 miles from its 22-gallon tank.
The 2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee does include real off-road ability, especially if you specify a four-wheel-drive model (all include high- and low-range transfer cases). Jeep offers several packages and individual options beyond the four-wheel-drive system to increase the Grand Cherokee's already formidable off-road capabilities, including locking differentials and skid plates.
Previous editions of the Jeep Grand Cherokee tended to ride harshly on paved roads, a side effect of being able to crawl over boulders and scamper across sand dunes, but engineers have finally solved the ride/handling compromise to the satisfaction of most.
The interior of the 2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee is where you'll see the benefits of opting for one of the more modern crossover vehicle designs instead of this venerable off-roader. The cabin of the Grand Cherokee is surprisingly tight--possibly due to the floor being higher than expected--and even normal-height front-seat occupants might find their heads brushing the sunroof enclosure. In back, there's enough space for three, but it's not luxurious. And because of the Grand Cherokee's sloping roofline, there is no third row of seats available, and cargo room is limited to only 35 cubic feet behind the seats. However, with the addition of Sirius Backseat TV to the options list, kids probably won't mind riding there.
The quality of the materials and switchgear inside the 2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee--including lots of easily scratched plastics--is another issue. Some of it isn't great, but the real wood used in the Overland trim level is an exception and quite tasteful.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee performs respectably in crash tests, with top five-star results from the federal government and "good" scores from the IIHS in all except side impact. Electronic stability control and side airbags are included.
The Bottom Line:
The 2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee works well on road and trail, but a cramped interior and low fuel economy indicate that there are better choices for suburban families.