Jeep's Grand Cherokee was one of the forerunners to the current SUV craze, and it's been around long enough--a decade now--that you might think of it as old news. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It got a complete redesign in 1999 that brought a roomier, more comfortable cabin and smoother engines, which helped it maintain healthy sales.
For 2002 a new top-line Overland model has been introduced, with a standard combination of formerly optional equipment that includes suede leather seat inserts and the full complement of hard-core off-road pieces such as skid plates, raised suspension and limited-slip axles.
The Grand Cherokee successfully rides on the thin ice of appealing to four-wheel-drive fashion while actually offering true off-road capability. This is the hard-core off-roader of the class, but it's trimmed to keep up with the boulevard-cruising pavement SUVs.
Four models are available: Laredo ($25,500); Sport ($25,425); Limited ($30,345); Overland ($34,905).
Laredo comes with the standard 195-horsepower inline six-cylinder engine, and a popular variety of power amenities.
Sport foregoes some amenities for the standard 235-horsepower V8 engine and five-speed automatic transmission.
Limited gets loaded with luxury amenities and starts with the base six-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic.
Overland is loaded with luxury equipment, the strongest engine, and the most hard-core off-road features as standard, and comes only as a four-wheel-drive model.
As indicated, three engines are available: the 4.0-liter inline-6; the 4.7-liter V8 rated at 235 horsepower; and the high-output 4.7-liter V8 rated at 260 horsepower.
All Grand Cherokees except the Overland come standard with rear-wheel drive, but that seems like buying a Louisville Slugger just to hit rocks. Four-wheel drive is the soul of the Grand Cherokee and the two full-time systems are available on the Laredo, Sport and Limited models for about $2000 additional.
The current Grand Cherokee retains its trademark slightly slab-sided look, which has always made this Jeep one of the most handsome SUVs in a crowded segment. There's no mistaking it for something else. The current model is three inches longer than pre-1999 versions but rides on the same wheelbase. Slightly rounded edges and a subtle bulge to the roofline have done nothing to mar an instantly recognizable shape.
Our Overland's adjustable pedal option moves the brake and throttle pedals up to three inches closer to accommodate shorter drivers, but if you're a six-footer with proportional legs, you'll leave the pedals all the way forward. Couples of varying heights will appreciate that the system is tied into the key fob operated memory, so you can program it to adjust to predetermined settings depending upon which driver is entering the wagon.
New for 2002 is electroluminescent lighting on the gauges--the dials appear to glow at night compared to conventional gauge lighting where the pointers and numerals are lit against a darker background. It's a pleasing look.
The front seats are comfortable, with thickly padded longitudinal ribs, but they seem a bit cushy for serious off-road driving. The bottom cushion has ridges to keep you in place, but the backrest has no lateral support. This makes it easy to slide into while wearing a bulky coat, but when you charge into a hard corner such as an entrance ramp that leads onto a 65-mph freeway, you may need to use the door to hold yourself in place.
Rear legroom is tight. That hurts on the marathon runs with four fishing buddies, but you won't notice much cramping on an evening with two couples. Climbing into the back seats is much easier than before, however, because the rear doors are wider.
More space is available for cargo because the spare tire was moved from its upright position on the left rear side of the cargo compartment to lie down under the load floor. As a result, you'll have to lift groceries a bit higher because the load floor is relatively high.
The Overland's wood and leather steering wheel isn't as plush or thick as a similarly styled Jaguar wheel, though it has remote stereo switches on the front of its horizontal spokes. That feature relieves the long reach to the dashboard for the radio controls. The long reach is a function of the high seating position. It's also tough to tell at first glance, but the Overland's Redwood Burl inserts in the dash and door panels are real wood.
The initial view from the driver's seat leaves you with the impression the hood is too high, but it slopes down on its sides, so your vision isn't blocked while turning.
The new high-output 4.7-liter V8 is lively. It produces a noticeable 25-horsepower increase over the standard 4.7-liter V8. To get this boost, you need to fill the Overland with premium fuel, since the primary reason for the extra power is a bump in the engine's compression ratio from 9.3:1 to 9.7:1. The more powerful engine also uses more of the pricier fuel, sucking down a gallon for every 13 miles on the EPA's city test cycle. That's one mpg worse than the standard 4.7-liter V8, and the Jeep's fuel tank keeps its 20.5-gallon capacity, so overall range is reduced.
The high-output 4.7-liter V8 accelerates the Grand Cherokee smoothly, and it sounds refined. It produces 260 horsepower at 5100 rpm and 330 pounds-feet of torque at 3600, compared with the standard 4.7-liter V8's 235 horsepower at 4800 rpm and 295 pounds-feet of torque at 3200 rpm. In other words, it produces more power, but revs higher to do that.
The five-speed automatic transmission that comes standard with the V8 engines shifts unobtrusively. Hurrying up a mountain or around weekend-warrior crazies is a breeze with the higher second gear. With two overdrive gears, cruising on the highway at 70 mph means the engine is turning over at just 2000 rpm in fifth. You can brag to your friends that this transmission is actually a six-speed automatic: There are two second-gear ratios, a low second gear ratio for upshifting from first and a higher second gear ratio for downshifting from third. No more than five gears, however, are used in sequence.
The long-travel throttle pedal made our Overland seem sluggish off the line, but this is a perceptual illusion. Experienced off-road drivers prefer a longer pedal travel for precise manipulation of the throttle in tricky situations. Deliberate mashing of the throttle pedal brings a quick launch, quicker than most other SUVs in this class. That's due in part to the relative light weight of the Jeep, whose figure is kept trim by its unitbody construction; many truck-based SUVs are built on a separate frame. This unusual design strategy, also used by the smaller Nissan Pathfinder and Mitsubishi's Montero, results in a platform that is lighter and more rigid than it would be using more traditional designs. This relative light weight helps the Jeep feel faster and more responsive than most V8 SUVs, especially the huge Tahoes and Expeditions.
A surprisingly tight turning circle adds to the Jeep's spirited, nimble feel when maneuvering in close-quarters. But the reality is that it's a big, heavy truck. In most street driving conditions, the Grand Cherokee drives like a truck, with a tall, body-rolling ride. Off-road, or driving down a bumpy, rutted rural lane, it feels controlled and steady. It feels more buttoned down, more maneuverable, and more fun to drive than your neighbor's (pre-2002) Explorer. There's no need to slow down for rough railroad crossings in the Grand Cherokee.
Steering is quick but isolated, despite sophisticated tuning of the front engine cradle and front suspension and steering component mounts. When you turn the wheel you can't feel how much the front tires want to slip on pavement. You don't really steer the Grand Cherokee as much as guide it. But that's the same for all of the top-selling sport-utilities. Like them, the Jeep is still a truck, sitting tall, rolling side-to-side in corners and high winds.
Our 2002 Overland stopped confidently, but with the telltale dive motion of a high-riding off-roader. The Overland's standard off-road suspension lifts the body an inch higher than the standard suspension.
Underneath, the Grand Cherokee still sits atop live axles. The trend among competing sport-utilities is to use independent suspensions for better highway performance. Jeep's new Liberty has an independent front suspension and the 2002 Ford Explorer uses an independent rear suspension. But the big Jeep's live axles are only a drawback on washboard-rutted roads, where the wagon will bounce itself sideways at speed.
The Grand Cherokee is good at staying pointed straight ahead on bumpy roads. A triangle link locates the rear axle, and is directly responsible for keeping the body squarely over the axle. Careful tuning of suspension and drivetrain mounts allows the live axles of the Jeep a lot of compliant movement. The axles move and pivot on large bumps and dirt holes where the independent suspensions of other SUVs reach their limits of travel and ultimately toss about the occupants inside.
Off road, the Grand Cherokee requires fewer try-and-fail attempts to conquer obstacles. It will instill trail-driving confidence you never had, particularly if you know a few off-road skills, such as lifting both feet off the pedals while the Jeep is engine-braking down a mud-slicked embankment, or keeping both feet on both pedals while creeping over a pile of wet logs. You'll learn to make use of the long throttle pedal travel as you finesse the accelerator on slick obstacles.
Two four-wheel-drive systems are available: The lower priced Selec-trac system features a planetary center differential with a fixed amount of torque apportioned to the front and rear axles. The optional Quadra-trac II system varies torque automatically between the front and rear axles depending upon which has more traction. Both four-wheel-drive systems have a low-range transfer case, which also locks the center differentials for maximum traction. In addition, limited-slip differentials are available for the rear axle or both front and rear axles.
Jeep Grand Cherokee is a popular choice for families on the go who like its rugged image. We think, however, that it's creeping too close to the $40,000 mark in Overland guise.
It tracks like Daniel Boone through the backcountry, and Jeep claims that a higher than average percentage of its customers use their vehicles for that purpose. Indeed, only Land Rovers and Toyotas can compete with Jeep when it comes to trail running. When the going gets rough, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is a thoughtful design that delivers.
|Model Line Overview |
|Model lineup: ||Laredo ($25,500); Laredo 4WD ($27,470); Sport ($25,425); Limited ($30,345); Limited 4WD ($32,775); Overland 4WD ($36,905) |
|Engines: ||195-hp 4.0-liter ohv 12-valve inline-6; 235-hp 4.7-liter sohc 16-valve V8; 260-hp 4.7-liter sohc 16-valve V8 |
|Transmissions: ||4-speed automatic; 5-speed automatic |
|Safety equipment (standard): ||ABS, traction control, front airbags |
|Safety equipment (optional): ||side-impact head-curtain airbags front and outboard rear |
|Basic warranty: ||3 years/36,000 miles |
|Assembled in: ||Detroit, Michigan; Graz, Austria |
|Specifications As Tested |
|Model tested (MSRP): ||Overland ($36,905) |
|Standard equipment: ||power windows, keyless remote power locks, power heated mirrors with memory, heated power front leather seats with driver's side memory, fog lights, garage door opener, automatic headlights, roof rails, skid plates on front suspension, transfer case, and fuel tank, cruise control, leather and wood tilting steering wheel with remote stereo controls, power sunroof, front tow hooks, rain-sensing wipers |
|Options as tested (MSRP): ||adjustable pedals ($185); class IV trailer hitch, wiring and power steering cooler ($255); tire pressure monitor ($150); chrome wheels ($870) |
|Destination charge: ||($600) |
|Gas guzzler tax: ||N/A |
|Price as tested (MSRP): ||$ 38,965 |
|Layout: ||full-time four-wheel drive |
|Engine: ||4.7-liter sohc 16-valve V8 |
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm): ||260 @ 5100 |
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): ||330 @ 3600 |
|Transmission: ||five-speed automatic |
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: ||13/18 mpg |
|Wheelbase: ||105.9 in. |
|Length/width/height: ||181.6/72.6/70.3 in. |
|Track, f/r: ||59.5/59.5 in. |
|Turning circle: ||37.4 ft. |
|Seating capacity: ||5 |
|Head/hip/leg room, f: ||39.7/56.5/41.4 in. |
|Head/hip/leg room, m: ||N/A |
|Head/hip/leg room, r: ||39.5/52.4/35.3 in. |
|Trunk volume: ||72.3 cu. ft. |
|Payload: ||N/A |
|Towing capacity: ||6500 Lbs. |
|Suspension, f: ||solid axle |
|Suspension, r: ||solid axle |
|Ground clearance: ||8.3 in. |
|Curb weight: ||4364 lbs. |
|Tires: ||P235/65R17 |
|Brakes, f/r: ||disc/disc with ABS |
|Fuel capacity: ||20.5 gal. |
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of January 02, 2002.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-925-JEEP - www.jeep.com
Copyright © 1994-2003 New Car Test Drive, Inc.